Expanding settlements a dangerous mistake

November 22, 2002

Israel would undermine what security it has if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon follows through on a plan to expand Jewish settlements in and around the West Bank city of Hebron.

Last week, after Palestinian gunmen killed 12 Israeli guards and soldiers in Hebron -- home to 450 Israelis and 130,000 Palestinians -- Sharon argued that expanding the settlements in one of the West Bank's most volatile and divided cities would boost security by linking Jewish communities.

In fact, the expansion would do the opposite, by displacing thousands more Palestinians and sending a message that Israel is on the West Bank to stay. That's why most Israelis oppose expanding settlements, as does the Bush administration.

More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the protection of the Israeli military. In many cases, the settlements have broken apart the towns and villages that are home to millions of Palestinians.

Successive Israeli governments, including Sharon's, have provided subsidies for settlers but officially limited expansion to what they have called natural population growth. A government-sponsored expansion would go far beyond that and make withdrawing just that more difficult.

Israeli officials acknowledge that there can be no long-term peace unless many of the outlying West Bank settlements are eventually dismantled. They also argue that to do so now would only be caving in to terrorism. True, but to officially sanction expanding the settlements would be equally foolish and even reckless.

Even in these times, the Israeli government should not take a course of action that will make Israel less secure and set back the diminishing hopes for peace even further.

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