Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Future Northeast of Jerusalem

The ruling clique running Israel today is composed of post-Zionists swept into office with the program of unilaterally retreating behind the wall. Since the Second Lebanon War, with its thousands of rockets raining down over Israel from Southern Lebanon and Gaza, both of them territories from which Israel had recently retreated unilaterally, this program has been put in deep freeze. Meanwhile, the current government is holding steady with an approval rating of 2% on a poll with a margin of error of +/- 3%. It's mathematically possible, if not in actuality, that the current government's true approval rating is -1%. Despite their rock bottom ratings, the current government is so politically entrenched that it seems impossible to remove them. They're far too weak to do move in any direction, far too strong to be evicted, and the next scheduled elections aren't until around 2011.

Foreground: a bunker built during the peace process. While the rest of the country lived in the euphoria of negotiations and eternal peace with the PLO, the army began fortifying for the conflict they knew was coming. Background: Tel Tzion/Kochav Ya'akov.
Even if the government had credibility, after the painful retreat from Gaza and the subsequent shelling of Sderot, 68% of Israelis oppose any further unilateral withdrawals. And even if there were widespread support for some sort of negotiated withdrawal, which there isn't, the Arab clans and factions are so busy massacring one another that it's difficult to figure out with whom Israel would negotiate in any case.

The winding bypass roads and rusty barbed wire fences of northeast of Jerusalem make for some grim scenery, but the fact is, they will be with us for some time to come. The walls will not, however, stand forever. The nation has thrown up its hands on the diplomatic process and now focuses on the raging bull of economic growth, and just living life, but meanwhile the settlements are growing at breakneck speed.

The view from my balcony, with some of the locations I've mentioned indicated.

Based on figures from anti-settlement groups like Peace Now, compiled from the records of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the five major settlements of northeast Jerusalem, being Beit El, Psagot, Kochav Ya'akov, Maaleh Michmas, and Geva Binyamin/Adom are growing at 10% annually. This is five times the overall Israeli population growth rate of around 2%, and far beyond the Arab population growth rate as well.

A graph I made based on information gathered from Peace Now and the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Meanwhile, plans for all development west of Jerusalem have been cancelled. The Safdie Plan, a development initiative which was to have felled thousands of acres of forest west of Jerusalem to alleviate Jerusalem's rapid growth in Jewish population, was stopped dead in its tracks by environmentalists. To the north is Ramallah, and to the south is Bethlehem, both Arab cities under the anarchic Palestinian Authority, so the only remaining direction left for Jerusalem's growth is into the empty hilltops to the East.

Several new developments are in the planning phases which will, if they pass from planning to building stages, link these northeastern settlements more tightly to the city of Jerusalem. These include several large-scale building projects for tens of thousands of housing units and a tunnel directly under Qalandiya which will link up the northeastern settlements with the 443 highway to Jerusalem, making it possible to live in these places and commute to work in Tel Aviv. Of course, these plans will be fought tooth and nail by opponents of Jewish population growth, both foreign and domestic, but if they succeed, they may encourage enough growth and construction to transform the Beit El area into such a built up zone that it will be impossible to break apart.

I believe that the current situation is a temporary phase. Most Israelis today forget that the major coastal cities of today, with their skyscrapers, airports, highways, and rail lines, were, eighty years ago, "Homa UMigdal," "Wall and Tower" settlements. The road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv was once a far more dangerous journey than route 60 is today. Outposts become settlements, settlements become towns, and towns become cities. The nations of the world have a giant bullseye painted on Jews living out here, and every Israeli government has talked about uprooting them. I may be wrong, but I think there will be Jews living here for a long time to come.


muse said...

What about the growth of Ofra and the Gush Shiloh yishuvim?

Evan said...

Well, I've never been there, so I couldn't say, though I would like to visit some day. Only been here 10 months!

Yaakova said...

I think NBN could make good use of your graph. You might consider emailing it to them. It gives a lot of hope and encouragement for those who are "on the fence" (pun intended!) about living beyond the green line.

Evan said...

Thanks yaakova. I think that NBN tries to keep quiet the number of people making aliyah who move to the territories. Their number one priority is to get people to make aliyah, regardless of political affiliation, and they do not want to get side tracked into arguments over the fate of the territories. Of course, you'd have to ask them, but I'm pretty sure that's their position.