Yesterday Haaretz published a story on the semi-annual settlement report of Peace Now. Read about it here. The publication is one of those repetitive rituals that we Israeli Jews are so good at. First, there is a report that the settlement activity has doubled in the last six months, in comparison with the previous year. Then, we are told about where the new housing is being built (this year it is mostly in the Hebron and Har Hebron South area). Then, there is the ritual statement from the US about how increased settlement activity is unfortunate and harmful to the peace process (this year it was by Condi, whose tenure at the State Department rivals her tenure at Stanford for ineffectuality.) And finally, there is the reaction of the Council of Settlements of Judea and Samaria praising the settlement activity, condemning the monitoring of Peace Now as "informing", and complaining about government restrictions.
As is almost always the case Haaretz's story runs on the front page and may get an editorial the next day. Yediot Aharonot buries two paragraphs on the report and the reaction somewhere in the paper. Few notice and fewer care.
Peace Now's Settlement Watch, run first by the legendary Dror Etkes, and now by the very able Hagit Ofran, is important because it provides an accurate account of the theft of Palestinian land. Most of the housing is built within the "municipal boundaries" of the settlements, so this is considered by the Israeli government to be ok – as opposed to the illegal outposts, which is supposed to be not ok. But the whole thing is a sham because all building continues on Palestinian private and public land, since Israel has no sovereignty over the Green Line, as is well known (and, my rightwinger readers, as a general rule, if the world and its legal experts don't agree with you, you are wrong, whatever your state happens to be.)
Like everything else that is done here, Peace Now's reports are ineffectual. Israel can't stop the West Bank settlement activity. Like a heroin addict it will do anything for its addiction, even when it clearly wants to break its habit. How do you explain that Israel has not been able to remove illegal outposts, despite its repeated pledges to do so? Olmert doesn't want the outposts, but he simply is unable to move them. These settlements are arguably worse than terrorists attack – they kill generations of Palestinians by making life intolerable, and they thwart the legitimate self-determination of the Palestinian people, recognized in the same document that recognized the rights of a Jews to a Jewish state – the UN partition plan.
Peace Now can't bring peace now or tomorrow, but it provides an important service -- for posterity. The ritual does something for those who participate in it. And that is nothing to sneer at.