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Israel's secret land grab
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


January 26, 2005

One of President Bush's priorities for his second term is to broker a Mideast peace agreement that will result in an independent Palestinian state - as early as this year, he had hoped.

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been quietly making that goal more difficult and now maybe impossible.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, as a result of a secret Israeli cabinet decision last July the Israeli government has been confiscating the homes and thousands of acres of land from Palestinians living in the West Bank who have been cut off from their holdings by the new security wall or who have been denied permits to visit their property in East Jerusalem.

Reported Ha'aretz: "In short, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Palestinians lost property worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The State of Israel became the official owner of all these vast holdings - without the owners being able to appeal and without being entitled to so much as one shekel in compensation."

If this is how the Israeli press is handling the story, you can imagine how it's being covered in the Arab press. While refusing to comment, the Sharon government has not denied the land grab.

According to one Israeli official quoted by the newspaper, the government may have seized as much as half the property in East Jerusalem. This is especially provocative because East Jerusalem has historically been Palestinian and is where the Palestinians had hoped to have their new capital.

The groundwork for the seizure is the government's reinterpretation of a 1950 law allowing the new Israeli government to take over the homes and lands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of Israel during and after the 1948 war when, it should be noted, the Arabs were confident that the infant state would be crushed and they would be quickly back in their homes and farms. The "right of return" is a touchy issue in the Mideast peace talks to this day.

Bush has repeatedly said the Israelis should not build new settlements or expand existing ones in the occupied West Bank, and he has accepted Israeli government assurances that the wall snaking through the West Bank is for security purposes and not the demarcation of a final border. Clearly, it seems, the Israeli government has ignored Bush on the first point and misled him on the second.

If Bush hopes to salvage his goal of a settlement - and combat the widespread suspicion in the Arab world that he is at Sharon's beck and call - he will forcefully insist the seizures stop and the property already confiscated be returned to its rightful owners.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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