Provocation in Ma'aleh Adumim

Editorial

Haaretz

Adar2 18, 5765

The desire to avoid doing anything that might sabotage the prime minister's political efforts to achieve a majority for the disengagement plan has postponed the public debate about the final border with the Palestinians. But no matter how strong the desire to support Ariel Sharon at this stage and to postpone debate over the future of the settlements to a later stage, it is difficult to accept the revelation that the government plans to build another 3,500 housing units in the area known as E-1, between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, and thus obstruct the territorial contiguity needed for a Palestinian state, something Sharon has already agreed on.

The construction plan for Ma'aleh Adumim is the basis for a new dispute between Israel and the U.S. and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Approval of the construction plans could cloud the atmosphere between Israel and the PA, and even spark a renewal of violence. It is impossible to continue demanding of the Palestinians that they prevent terror when Israel is not keeping its commitments to suspend all settlement activity.

The map of a solution between Israel and the Palestinians is already more or less clear, along broad lines. For a decade there has been talk of "settlement blocs" that would be annexed to Israel as part of a final agreement. Ever since, after the prime minister made the political change that gave birth to the disengagement plan, there has not been a significant difference between the maps of Sharon, Ehud Barak and Yossi Beilin. The Americans also agree that settlement blocs remain, and the Palestinians have also agreed to that in exchange for territorial compensation.

The heart of the dispute now is the size of those blocs and their boundaries. Sharon apparently wants to keep shaping the blocs up until the last moment, to thereby annex into the settlements more land. Thus, every American attempt to map the settlements in cooperation with Israel has failed so far.

Ma'aleh Adumim is a large town, with more than 40,000 residents. Presumably, the chance that it will be evacuated is nil. The question of what will happen to the territory between it and Jerusalem must be determined in the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Logic says the area should be preserved for Palestinian construction. Israel should not be interested in blocking the connection between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, and it should leave open negotiations about the Palestinian capital, the special status of the Temple Mount and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Presumably the negotiations over Jerusalem and its environs will be part of the difficult process of shaping an agreement. An addition, or even the planning of new housing in sensitive areas without taking into account the needs of the other side, is not wise.

The question whether the Americans are winking their agreement or deliberately ignoring Israel's new expansionist intentions is not the point. A demonstration of some sensitivity toward the Palestinians at this fragile state of the relationship is far more important than adding any new territories.