Playing Ball With The Settlements


President George W. Bush, preparing for his initial visit to the Middle East, tried to maintain a middle ground, supporting Israel but gaining Arab backing for a comprehensive peace settlement.

This week, the ball was literally in these settlers’ court.

On the eve of the president’s visit, which is certain to focus attention on the status of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, these two settlers, bottom right, play a tennis game on the court of the “unauthorized” outpost of Nofi Nehemya. An armed Jewish settler, top right, works with a Palestinian laborer on a synagogue at Bruchin, another “unauthorized” settlement.

More than 250,000 Jews live on West Bank territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Most live in the more than 100 settlements recognized by Israeli law.

Under U.S. pressure, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for a de facto halt to new construction in the “legal” settlements, but he has not called off plans to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

A spokesman for Olmert said Israel, which first pledged to remove the outposts in 2003 as part of the “road map” for peace, will “expeditiously” dismantle “unauthorized” outposts. Israel says there are about two dozen such outposts; Peace Now says the number is closer to 50.