Monday, January 25, 2021

Peace without Land:  New East Jerusalem settlements and the U.S. brokered peace process

By Sam Gilbert - June 01, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]

Construction in a settlement. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.


On Wednesday 19 May 2013, Israel cleared construction for 1000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem. The announcement came less than a week after Senator John Kerry’s most recent visit to the region aimed at reviving peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. According to Aljazeera English, Israel’s plans to build 800 new units in Gilo and 300 in Ramot was leaked to media by the Israeli housing and construction Minister. 

The announcement came only days after Kerry had appealed to Israel to avoid taking any “provocative” measures. The U.S. has condemned the actions by Israel as “counterproductive” to the peace process.
Many Palestinians view the new construction and the timing of the information leak as evidence of Israel’s attempt to undermine the Peace Process before it begins. In response to the leak, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “We consider the recent decision of the Israeli government to build a thousand homes in East Jerusalem as effectively destroying the efforts of Kerry.”
Israel claims that these settlements have been in the “pipes” for years and that Palestinians are using this announcement as pretext for not entering into peace talks. “The Palestinians continue to look for excuses to escape negotiations," an Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post on Friday. “In this case as well, they have raced to the microphone with old recycled arguments and incorrect data, rather than doing the one basic thing – to sit and talk on all the issues.” 
Palestinian negotiators have long argued that the peace talks, whose purported goal is the establishment of two states for two peoples, cannot in good faith take place while Israel continues its settlement campaign which undermines the territorial and demographic integrity of a future Palestinian state.  
Settlements are considered the greatest obstacle to peace in that they are systematically destroying the proposed end game of the entire process: the two-state solution. According to the 2012 UN fact finding mission on the Impact of Settlement on Palestinians, “The establishment of settlements in the oPt is a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state that undermines the right of the Palestinians people to self determination.”
The nearly 1100 new units in Ramot and Gilo reflect an Israeli policy in East Jerusalem to create a “demographic balance” 60/40 in favor of Jewish residents by inserting settlers into predominantly Palestinian areas, while simultaneously establishing an outer layer of settlements severing geographical continuity of the city from the rest of the West Bank (1). Considering that a two-state solution is dependent on the contiguity between a capital and the rest of the country, Israel’s continual settlement and its efforts to sever East Jerusalem for the West Bank damages the already questionable validity of a two-state solution. 

Peace or Process?
These “facts on the ground” have led many to be severely skeptical of the peace process itself.  Since the historic Oslo agreement in 1993, the settler population has more than doubled in the occupied territories and the separation barrier now reaches deep into West Bank, encircling settlements and functionally annexing large tracks of land to Israel.  According to Middle East Historian and Oslo negotiating advisor Rashid Khalidi, “It [the peace process] was never designed to achieve independent Palestinian statehood. It was never designed to end the occupation. It was really designed, of all people, by Menachem Begin, to make permanent Israeli control over the occupied territories. And that is what has succeeded until now.
Amer, a 27 year old student at Birzeit University, echoes this sentiment. “My whole life I hear about the Peace process, the talks.  “We (Palestinians) hear this, but we listen to our eyes. And what they show me is the occupation; the settlements, the fences and walls, all are growing. Israel has never wanted peace and Palestinians don’t need peace. We need Palestine!”  
Yet the larger question is whether the process itself has ever been about a just resolution to the conflict, or just a form of conflict maintenance?
When asked about Kerry’s efforts to resume negotiations, Amer chuckled, “Don’t you know the U.S. has 51 states?  Israel is the newest, added in 1948.” This recognition of the United States’ ideological, economic and military support for Israel leads many to question the sincerity of America’s position as an impartial mediator for peace. Since Israel’s creation, the US has issued more than 50 Security Council vetoes in order to protect Israel from international scrutiny (1). This coupled with the 155 billion USD in aid to Israel since its creation (the most out of any country in world) (3) makes the US’ position as an “honest broker for peace” difficult for Palestinians like Amer to accept. 
The construction of these new settlements in East Jerusalem may halt the resumption of talks between both governments. Yet the larger question is whether the process itself has ever been about a just resolution to the conflict, or just a form of conflict maintenance? What is clear is that with every new settlement the viability of the espoused two-state Solution diminishes, while Palestinians and Israelis alike wait to see what the future of their respective nations or nation will look like.
Work Cited
1)  “Report of the Independent International fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”  Human Rights Council.  22 session, Agenda item 7
2)Aruri, Naseer.  “United States policy and Palestine:  Oslo, the intifada and Erasure.” Race and Class. 52.3 (2011): page 3-20.   Print
3) Khalidi, Rashid.  Brokers of Deceit:  How the US has undermined peace in the Middle East.
Boston, MA:  Beacon Press, 2012. Print  

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