Abdullah Iskandar
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
October 24, 2010 - 12:00am

When former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, he resorted when implementing the step in August 2005 to evacuating the settlements and the Jewish settlers by force. Sharon intentionally did not coordinate with the Palestinian Authority when taking this step, in spite of all of the US’s, and especially Egypt’s, attempts. This was in order to assert that dismantling these settlements had no connection whatsoever to the peace process or to negotiations with the PA, but rather was connected to Israeli interests alone. Before Sharon, Menachem Begin had dismantled settlements and evacuated settlers by force from the Sinai during the final stage of implementing the peace agreement with Egypt.

Despite the fact of dismantling the settlements and evacuating the settlers from the Gaza Strip having such a nature, one subjected to purely Israeli interests and considerations, there are those within the PA who consider that such a step taken in the past could be repeated in the West Bank, but within the framework of negotiations. Such a hypothesis involves the estimation that moving forward with the negotiations will define the nature of the solution, not Benjamin Netanyahu’s government moving forward with settlement-building plans in the West Bank, and especially in East Jerusalem. And if negotiations fail to achieve border delineation, Israel will have to dismantle the settlements located outside of its borders. Such estimation bases itself on what took place in the Gaza Strip in terms of dismantling settlements and evacuating settlers, in spite of Israeli popular opposition to taking this step, which was decided by Sharon.

There is a radical difference in the perspective of the Israeli establishment on each of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank, at the levels of ideology, security and economics. Indeed, settlement-building in Gaza and especially in Sinai represented a means to improve the conditions of future negotiations, more than it was an extension of Israeli presence. The West Bank, on the other hand, and especially East Jerusalem, is “Biblical” land first and foremost, and settlement-building there is an assertion of its nature as such. Moreover, it also meets the need for demographic and economic expansion as well as the necessities of security in Israel. Successive Israeli governments have wagered on settlement-building in order to assert their control of the land, after the presence of settlers turns into a de facto situation, one that cannot be undone, in any peace process with the Palestinians.

The most one could say is that the estimation that current Israeli settlement-building will not be an obstacle to negotiations with the PA – based on past experiences of Israeli withdrawal – does not apply to the West Bank. In fact, every stone laid down by Israel in settlement-building is an additional obstacle to reaching a solution.

In parallel to this, there are within the Palestinian Authority others who consider overcoming the predicament of settlement-building in the negotiations to mean moving towards looking into defining the borders between the Palestinian State and Israel, based on the 1967 borders. This comes at a time when the current Israeli government, which has laid down the condition of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State”, has been arousing doubts over the fate it seeks for the Arab inhabitants of the 1948 territories, with what this would imply in terms of population exchange, and subsequently land swaps. Within such a framework, Israel excludes any agenda based on the 1967 borders, proposing instead an agenda based on the “Judaicity” of inhabitants.

As for Palestinian calls, which have met with Arab approval, for heading directly to the United Nations in order to ask for the recognition of the Palestinian State, their importance resides in showing that the current situation has become faced with a predicament that cannot be overcome within the framework of current negotiations, not in their being an alternative to this predicament.

That is the summary of the current situation of the conflict, at a time when it had been hoped that the US initiative to achieve peace would have driven towards overcoming this predicament. And it seems as if optimistic US talk of a possibility for progress has only the function of maintaining some form of action, one that is closer to marking time, if not to retreating…

Perhaps all of these reasons are what drove Richard Faulk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, to conclude that there is no relation between the peace process currently taking place and the illusion that a Palestinian state can be born out of these negotiations.


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