Nicola Nasser
Al-Ahram (Opinion)
December 31, 1969 - 8:00pm

In view of a world consensus on a two-state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict most political analysts and commentators concluded that Israeli prime minister-designate Benyamin Netanyahu, who still refuses to affirm his commitment thereto, would face a "moment of truth" during his recent meetings with visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US presidential envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. Yet the outcome of Clinton's first regional tour as secretary of state and Mitchell's second tour as envoy proved the opposite.

The new Democratic administration of Barack Obama seemed to fail its own moment of truth with regards to passing the only test that could make or break the two-state "vision" as a viable solution and render Obama's "aggressive" approach credible enough to make a difference between US words and deeds: namely to remove the major obstacle of the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise that has brought US sponsored peacemaking to its current impasse since the internationally recognised "legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people" -- the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) -- adopted the two-state approach in 1988.

Ironically, but also instructively, the Israeli settlement watchdog "Peace Now" welcomed Clinton and Mitchell one day ahead of their visit with a startling report issued 2 March. The Israeli Ministry of Housing has finalised plans to "double" the number of the illegal Jewish colonial settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the two-state solution envisions the creation of a Palestinian state, to more than 600,000 by expanding more than 120 settler colonies with the construction of more than 73,302 housing units, of which 15,156 units have already been approved and 58,000 units are pending approval. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported in 2008 that approximately 290,000 settlers live in 120 colonies officially "authorised" and more than 100 outposts that were not authorised, in addition to 200,000 settlers living in 15 colonies in eastern Jerusalem over 41 years. Peace Now reported that settlement expansion in the West Bank increased by 60 per cent in 2008 compared to the previous year. Not a single outpost was evacuated in 2008, the organisation added; on the contrary, the settlers expanded construction in these outposts taking special advantage of the war Israel launched on the Gaza Strip on 27 December.

According to the report's findings, the planned construction would double the size of the colonial settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Givat Zeev, Efrat, Geva Benyamin and Ariel. While the first four colonies would extend the outer layer of "defence" settlements protecting the Israeli Metropolitan (Greater) Jerusalem to the shores of the Dead Sea, which is a natural barrier with Jordan in the east, to drive a wedge of concrete, steel and Jewish demography between the northern and southern West Bank, the fifth colony, Ariel, extends 25 kilometres deep in the northern West Bank to slice it into two Palestinian "Bantustans".

NEGATING TWO-STATE VISION IN JERUSALEM: Historically, whoever rules Jerusalem can also dominate its Arab and Muslim geopolitical depth. The Zionist movement learned the lesson early enough to spearhead its colonial settlement enterprise in Jerusalem where war and peace are made and where the survival of both Israel and the promised Palestinian state will be determined. The current ongoing "Judaicisation" process of the Holy City in the eastern part is the second part of Judaicising its western part.

More recently, since the inauguration of the Obama administration, expansion of Israeli colonial settlement has accelerated, particularly in Jerusalem. On 17 February, The Washington Post reported that Israeli occupation authorities confiscated some 1,700 dunams of Palestinian land to expand the colonial settlement of Efrat by 423 acres to enable the increase in its settlers from 9,000 to 30,000 as part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, "just east of a cluster of Palestinian towns and villages, with biblical Bethlehem at the centre," to close the only left Palestinian outlet on the southwestern outreach to Jerusalem.

On 25 February, the Palestinian presidency invited accredited foreign consuls in Jerusalem on a tour to see first hand the Israeli "E1" settlement plans to connect Maale Adumim to more than 15 colonies in eastern Jerusalem, which in turn connect it to western Jerusalem, which was Judaicised after the 1948 war and where 75 per cent of property is privately owned by Palestinians according to documents of the Orient House, closed together with other Palestinian institutions eight years ago. Being the only geographical connection left between Jerusalem and the West Bank, "the E1 plan would separate the northern and southern West Bank from East Jerusalem, which would prevent the establishment of Palestinian state," presidential chief of staff, Rafiq Husseini, told attending diplomats.

Earlier this month occupation authorities handed eviction orders to Palestinian owners of 80 houses in the Al-Bustan neighbourhood of Silwan town, the last Palestinian demographic community adjacent to the southeastern walls of Islam's third holiest site of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, threatening to displace 1,500 Palestinian Jerusalemites, but more importantly to complete the Jewish demographic siege of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and old Jerusalem.

"It is not only the Muslim and Christian holy sites that are threatened, but also the very human existence of the non-Jewish population in Jerusalem," Mahdi Abdel-Hadi, a prominent Palestinian Jerusalemite and founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, warned 2 March, speaking to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV station. Late February, Israel cut off more than 60,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites from access to the city by closing the only "gate in the wall" between Al-Ram and Dahiyat Al-Barid neighbourhoods. Earlier this month, on 5 March, some 55 Palestinian houses received orders to be demolished in Ras Khamis in the Shufat Refugee Camp. Demographic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the city continues unabated.

Accelerated colonial settlement on the ground in Jerusalem, where the two-state vision promises a capital for the Palestinian people, leaves nothing to speculation that the Israeli military occupation is about to render the final status issue of Jerusalem "non-negotiable", the vision itself a non-starter, and whatever "peace process" that is revived a waste of time for the Palestinians as much as it wins more time for Israel to complete the Jewish metropolitan region around Jerusalem that will completely wall in an area covering 100 square miles by the more than 700 kilometre long wall the Israeli military is building in the West Bank, thus torpedoing the very foundations that would make the vision possible.

Detailed data on Jewish colonial settlements in Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 is mostly dealt with as a state secret. Most of the information is normally made available by non- governmental organisations like Peace Now and usually dismissed as not "official" by governmental authorities.

However, on 30 January, Haaretz broke the news that for the last four years the Israeli government was compiling the "Spiegel Settlement Database", named after the Israeli general who led the effort. The Israeli daily quoted Spiegel's report as saying that in "about 75 per cent" of the settlements "construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued." The database also shows "that in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure [roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations] has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents."

Nonetheless, the whole colonial enterprise could not have developed from zero in 1967 to its current status had it not been for complete governmental authorisation, financing and military protection.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE US POLICY: The modus operandi of US foreign policy persists. The so-called peace process is sustained by Washington as crisis management diplomacy for one merit only: to reign in violent Palestinian reaction to the 60-year-old dispossession and displacement they suffer and the 41-year-old Israeli occupation. The two- state solution vision is pursued by the White House more to help Israel survive a demographic threat and live on as a purely Jewish ghetto in an ocean of ethnic, national, cultural and religious pluralistic societies coexisting in a globalised world than to solve a 100-year-old conflict on the basis of ending military occupation, colonial settlement and territorial expansion.

Nowhere are international law and UN legitimacy more violated and challenged, and for so long, and nowhere has such violations and challenges been protected by the US, than in t he Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories where Washington continues to rule out any role for the world community and where it insists on disarming Palestinian victims, even of stone throwing, while at the same time it uses American taxpayers' money lavishly to arm the Israeli occupying power to the teeth in order that it be unequivocally the region's military and nuclear superpower.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is accordingly sustained as long as it fits in with and doesn't disrupt this strategic context; when it was perceived as doing the opposite it was twice unmercifully militarily attacked, once in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and the second time in Operation Cast Lead six years later. The first was a war on the PA in the West Bank, which culminated in a three-year siege imposed on Israel's peace partner, the late Yasser Arafat, which ended only with his death and the wholesale change of his regime. The second war failed to change the regime of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and therefore it is still an open-ended Israeli mission. Former US president George W Bush put on record the change of the Arafat regime as a precondition to deliver on his two-state vision. On record also, the successor administration of Obama set change of the current regime in Gaza as its prerequisite to deliver.

Neither Clinton nor Mitchell, or as a matter of fact their president or their predecessors, were so far able to find in the rich English dictionary the key words of "occupation" and "settlement" that could make or break peacemaking, thus leaving no space for optimism that they might collectively come up in the foreseeable future with new ideas to force a breakthrough in 60-year-old US foreign policy vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict that would refute Arab accusations of US-Israeli collusion and partnership.

Former US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright stated in March 1994: "We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as occupied Palestinian territory." Successive administrations have committed to her interpretation ever since. This trend culminated in Bush's letter of guarantees to now comatose former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon on 14 April 2004, whereby Bush pledged no return to 4 June 1967 borders, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, deemed the dismantling of colonial settlements "unrealistic" and supported their annexation to I srael. The occupied territories have become ever since "disputed" land. The Obama administration has yet to state otherwise.

Ironically the shift in US policy from dealing with Palestinian territory as "occupied" land to dealing with it as "disputed" whose fate should be determined by bilateral negotiations between an armed-to-the-teeth occupying power and the unarmed civilian victims of the occupation coincided with the launch of the Palestinian- Israeli peace process one year after signing the Declaration of Principles in Washington in 1993. The key to the current impasse, the failure of the signed Oslo Accords and the deadlocked peace process as well as a breakthrough in the conflict should all be sought in this shift, the outcome of which has been totally counterproductive.

The Israeli military occupation has developed into a full-fledged colonisation process. Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declared willingness to "evacuate" 60,000 settlers from the West Bank is only a redeployment manoeuvre that changes nothing in the evolving process. Buying the idea that the autonomous PA rules 90 per cent of its people is merely playing into the hands of a misleading Israeli propaganda ploy.

Without the umbrella of the so-called "peace process", the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise could not have prospered to its present state. Since Mitchell led his US fact-finding mission in 2001 more than 95,000 Jewish settlers joined the enterprise. Of the more than 120 settlement outposts in the West Bank, 58 were established after March 2001; only three have been dismantled, but rebuilt, since the Annapolis process began on 27 November 2007. Since the "settlement freeze" agreed upon in Annapolis, tenders for settlement building in 2008 increased by 550 per cent from the previous year and actual construction increased by 30 per cent, 38 per cent of which was in Jerusalem. The settler population has grown consistently between four to six per cent per year over the last two decades "of peace", a much higher rate of growth than Israeli society as a whole (1.5 per cent).

More instructive on the counterproductive results of the peace process for the Palestinians is the fact that the history of the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise began fully-fledged with the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979 as the first Arab-Israeli peace breakthrough.

While world attention has been focussed for the last 20 years with much fanfare on the viability of the so-called two-state solution and the sustainability of the so-called peace process, as well as on inter-Palestinian and inter-Israeli political wrangling over ruling coalitions which could or would contribute thereto, another solution was being pursued on the ground by the Israeli occupying power and another process was being nurtured by the self-proclaimed and self- imposed US sponsor of peace in the Middle East, away from the spotlights, to pre-empt any successful conclusion of the 20-year-old endeavour since the PLO adopted the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in Algiers in 1988, and consequently for all practical reasons paved the way for the current impasse in the 100-year-old conflict.

Instead of creating a viable Palestinian state on the land conquered and still occupied by Israel since 1967, an expanding autonomous mini-state was established for colonial Jewish settlers on more than 40 per cent of the area of the West Bank. Allegra Pacheco of the UN Humanitarian Office in the Palestinian territories told the BBC on 3 March that, "Israeli settlers occupy 60 per cent of the land."

Consequently an apartheid system was created there, financed by Israeli successive governments, protected by the occupation army and demarcated by a more than 700 kilometre-long wall being constructed by the Israeli military, instead of a status quo conducive to the peaceful coexistence sought by advocates of the two- state solution, thus creating the ideal incubator for terrorist Jewish undergrounds and by reaction for violent Palestinian resistance movements as well, providing all the necessary ingredients for an inevitable prolonged conflict and unavoidable violent confrontation that would unsettle whatever remained of conditions for a political settlement.

OBAMA'S TEST: Obama's "swift" appointment of a "fully empowered" presidential envoy, who reportedly plans a permanent office in Jerusalem, and his making his first Oval Office phone call to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, without a change of substance in the terms of reference of US policy vis-à-vis the conflict, creates only an illusion of the "change" he promised during his election campaign while more of the old same seems sure to follow. Indeed, Clinton's statements during her first regional tour swiftly offset any "positive" indicators.

One day ahead of her visit, Washington announced that it was boycotting a UN sponsored conference against racism (Durban II) because the draft of its final document criticises Israel's occupation and practices. Israel has every right to defend itself, Clinton said, adding it "cannot stand idly by while its territory and people are subjected to rocket attacks". The US "emphasises" its "unrelenting commitment to Israel's security", she said. Palestinians have to commit to the three Israeli preconditions adopted by the International Quartet of diplomatic mediators, she added. Further, Washington will continue its divisive Palestinian policy by pledging to bolster Abbas and shun Hamas. Palestinians have to "break the cycle of rejection and resistance". The US top diplomat appeared only as if vindicating Arab accusations of US-Israeli collusion and partnership, indicating that the Obama administration is about to fail its test of change in the Middle East.

It might sound ungrateful not to mention the billions of US dollars and European euros invested in the PA. US-led donors pledged more than $7.7 billion in Paris in December 2007. $5 billion more were pledged in the international donor conference on the Gaza Strip in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on 2 March. Most of this investment was either bulldozed by Israeli tanks in 2002, bombed to rubble by Israelis in Gaza early this year, or siphoned into corruption over the years. It has been and will continue to be a doomed investment as long as it is intended to sustain US- tailored Palestinian autonomy under prolonged Israeli occupation as the endgame.

If there were no "political settlement" to the decades-old conflict, all similar investment would be "inadequate", Abbas told donors in Sharm El-Sheikh. He was right. It is a waste of taxpayers' money that can yield only an "activity totally inconsistent with the prospect of the emergence of an independent, viable Palestinian state of which the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, would form an integral component... That prospect diminished even more... [a] situation clearly not sustainable from our point of view," Abbas's caretaker premier, Salam Fayyad, told Media Line on 23 February.

Indeed, it is an investment that is only relieving the Israeli occupying power of its obligations under international law, "moderate" Palestinians say; others who are more critical say that US donations are merely part of the compensation Washington should pay for its failed policies that pre-empted peace and an earlier end to the Israeli occupation. For the last eight years, there has been neither "peace" nor "process". The former US administration's last-minute effort at peacemaking, known as the "Annapolis process", has already collapsed, building on its failed promises more failure only.

Real peacemaking seems yet to penetrate the moral consciousness of the US leadership. Obama's administration, if it doesn't intend to change course, would do peace and history a great favour by disengaging from the conflict to pave the way for a more balanced international involvement that would base a political settlement thereof on UN resolutions and legitimacy, if not on justice. Indeed, the moment of truth has come not only for the United States, but also for whatever Palestinian leadership might yet discern a glimpse of hope coming from the White House now under the command of an African American. In historical perspective, this is the strategic context of the current status quo, which is neither sustainable nor conducive to political settlement, let alone the viability of a two-state vision.

* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit on the West Bank of the Israeli- occupied Palestinian territories.


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