Michael Jansen
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
November 5, 2009 - 1:00am

The most outrageous thing about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that Israel is making an “unprecedented” commitment to restrict colonisation activity in the West Bank is its total divorce from reality.

During a press conference with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, she said Israel “will build no new settlements, expropriate no land, allow no new construction or approvals” for nine to 12 months. However, she acknowledged that 3,000 housing units either approved or under construction would be built and that the commitment did not apply to occupied East Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli Peace Now movement, which tracks colonisation activity, 1,400-plus new housing units are built on an annual basis in the settlements and that number is rising.Recently, the Israeli government approved a fast track for obtaining approval, which can be a long process. Instead of submitting plans for entire buildings, contractors can provide plans for foundations as a first step.This practice allows Israel to stake quick claims to specific plots of land and, eventually, to build on them.

Peace Now says that in 2008, 1,518 new structures were built or mobile homes put into position. This amounts to a 60 per cent increase over 2007, when 800 new structures were built in West Bank settlements and 98 in outposts. In addition, in 2008, 1,184 tenders were issued for new housing units in East Jerusalem as compared to 793 in 2007. Furthermore, of this number, 747 were issued in December 2007 following the late November Annapolis conference which relaunched the peace process. This shows all too clearly that Israel is using colony construction to preempt negotiations with the Palestinians and dictate the shape of any final deal.

Since Peace Now’s website (www.peacenow.org) is freely available to anyone seeking information on the state of Israel‘s colonisation drive in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Clinton has no excuse for saying that Netanyahu is making “unprece dented” commit ments which the Arabs should consider seriously. In addition to the information provided by Peace Now, she can tap into surveys provided by US intelligence operatives on the ground, as well as satellite photographs of colony expansion.She was obviously trying to project a false impression of what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories.

She is aided in this disinformation campaign by journalists who will not, or do not, do their jobs. In the two dozen agency and Western press articles I read on the row over Clinton‘s statement, only one - in The Washington Post - suggested that Netanyahu is pulling a fast one with US complicity.The Post did not consult Peace Now, but quoted another settlement tracker, Geoffrey Aronson of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, as saying that the number of housing starts Israel will make under the Clinton-Netanyahu deal “would be historically higher than the annual growth in most years in the West Bank settlements”.

But even Aronson does not compute that the 3,000 Netanyahu has fixed is twice the Peace Now average. No one, not even Aronson, touches upon the fact that Israeli colonies have a much larger footprint on the land than the built-up area. Therefore, Israel can easily promise not to expropriate more Palestinian land for settlements.It has plenty of room to expand without expropriation.In certain settlements, including Maale Adumim, the amount of land allocated for settlement is many times the size of the built-up area. Little wonder that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flatly rejected Clinton‘s appeal to begin talks with Netanyahu. He even dared to call her position “illogical” because by allowing Israel to continue colonisation, the US is enabling Netanyahu to make it impossible for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.

Clinton has put Abbas in an impossible situation.He renounced armed resistance and embraced negotiations as the only means to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Therefore, he put all Palestinian eggs in the negotiations basket only to see Israel break them one by one while the US, which is supposed to prevent this from happening, stands aside.

Furthermore, Abbas has been doubly wronged by the US because the Palestinian Authority, under US and European pressure, has honoured its obligations under the 2003 roadmap by curbing corruption, reforming the Palestinian security services, and clamping down on attacks against Israel and Israelis. US political and military figures monitoring the PA’s performance say that it is in compliance with the roadmap requirements. But Israel is not. It has not only refused to freeze all colonisation activity and failed to dismantle settler outposts built since early 2001 when Ariel Sharon became prime minister, it also permitted the construction of new outposts and settlement expansion.

When he was elected in 2005 to succeed Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Abbas was hailed as the best possible interlocutor in the peace process.He had proven his credentials as peacemaker by launching - along with former Israeli deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin - the secret negotiations which produced the Oslo accords in 1993. Instead of taking advantage of a reliable partner, Israel refuses to negotiate seriously while it continues to construct colonies on Palestinian land. Clinton‘s praise of Israel for its false pledge to restrain colonisation just could be the straw for Abbas.He recently declared he would not stand for reelection in the proposed January presidential poll if the peace process remains in the doldrums. However weak, Abbas cannot be easily replaced.

A political vacuum in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is certain to have serious consequences.A violent incident between Israelis and Palestinians could spark a third Intifada in which Palestinians are certain to resort to gun, vehicle bombs and suicide bombings.Israeli colonists would become prime targets. Israel would retaliate against the PA, as it did in 2002, by destroying public infrastructure built up since that time. The lack of leadership would be exploited by Fateh opportunists eager to seize power, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and enjoys considerable support in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There could be a vicious power struggle in the Fateh-dominated areas, further fragmenting the already divided Palestinians.

Clinton’s false words have outraged Arab leaders and citizens alike, particularly pro-Western rulers and politicians who took seriously Obama’s Cairo speech in which he called for peace in Palestine and dialogue with the Muslim world. These leaders are certain to come under popular pressure to distance themselves from the Obama administration.

Relations between Washington and Tel Aviv, spoilt by Netanyahu’s arrogant defiance, are likely to be tense. The Arabs could dismiss US and Western efforts to isolate and sanction Iran for refusing to freeze its nuclear programme. Tehran is likely to try to capitalise on popular Arab disillusionment with Obama. Failure by the US to freeze Iran ‘s nuclear programme could prompt Israel to attack its nuclear facilities.This would have a catastrophic impact on US-Arab and US-Muslim relations and unleash Muslim mili tants seeking to punish the US and its friends by attacking US facilities and interests.


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