by Ze'ev Schiff | Ha'aretz | 15 March 2005
Israel has still not kept a promise that it made the United States last April to demarcate the built-up areas of every West Bank settlement, for the purpose of setting limits on the settlements' growth. As a result, the U.S. has halted the work of the Israeli-American task force that was supposed to deal with this issue.
Israel's commitment on demarcating the settlements - along with a promise to give Washington a list of unauthorized outposts slated for evacuation, including the planned evacuation dates, within 30 days - was contained in a letter sent by Dov Weisglass, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief and now his senior adviser, to Condoleezza Rice, then U.S. national security adviser and now secretary of state, on April 14, 2004.
The parties later agreed that the demarcation would be conducted by an Israeli team, headed by Brigadier General (reserves) Baruch Spiegel, in cooperation with a group of American experts overseen by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer.
The joint task force was supposed to work on the basis of aerial photographs of the settlements. However, Israel had no updated photographs, a fact that attorney Talia Sasson also noted in the report on the outposts that she submitted to Sharon last week. And in the 11 months since Weisglass sent his letter, the government has made no effort to rectify this: It has neither commissioned such photographs from a private company nor utilized Israel's own satellite to take such pictures (the latter proposal was nixed by the Defense Ministry). As a result, the American experts have repeatedly postponed their planned trip to Israel.
Moreover, Israel informed the U.S. that it was only willing to cooperate in demarcating the smaller settlements. However, Washington was unwilling to accept this condition: It insisted that all the settlements be demarcated, small ones and large ones alike.
The decision not to demarcate the settlements was made by the Prime Minister's Office, apparently by Sharon himself. During Weisglass's last trip to Washington, he attempted to reach a compromise with the Americans on this issue, but to no avail. As a result, the joint task force has still not started work.
Weisglass told the Americans that Israel was willing to include Alfei Menashe, a large settlement, in the list of those to be demarcated. However, the Americans were unimpressed by this concession, reiterating their position that all the settlements must be demarcated. What matters to them is the principle of demarcation; the actual process by which the work is done is less important.
Israel has also not yet kept its promise to submit a list of outposts to be evacuated, even though this list was supposed to have been submitted 10 months ago. On Sunday, the cabinet appointed a ministerial committee to discuss the Sasson report, but this committee was not instructed to deal with the issue of a list for the Americans.
Moreover, there is a discrepancy between the number of unauthorized outposts identified by Sasson, 105, and the number that Spiegel gave the defense minister, which was 80 or 81.
Spiegel has now been left with only one task: to carry out a third commitment contained in Weisglass's letter to Rice. This commitment requires Israel to give Kurtzer a detailed map of all the checkpoints and roadblocks set up by the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank, along with a list of all the checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has already removed plus a detailed timetable for the removal of all those that remain.