On Wednesday, September 14th, Occupation forces began in earnest the process of building a new settlement on Izbat Salman and Izbat Jalud lands, near Qalqiliya district in the West Bank. Earlier in August, the Occupation forces began moving in bulldozers to clear the way for settlement expansion including the uprooting of 5,000 olive trees during the construction of the Separation Wall. The new settlement, named Nof Hasharon, annexed 350 dunams of Izbat Salman and Izbat Jalud lands.
The residents of these villages located in the southern part of the district are not only unable to cross the Green Line to work but are isolated from Qalqiliya City and also their farm lands which have become their sole source of income.
Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has defined the structure of the Israeli Occupation as "The Matrix of Control" – the various systems of coercion and uses of state and military power to render the Palestinian population docile. The Palestinians and the international community have largely had little capacity to respond to the construction of the Separation Wall, the annexation of property, movement restrictions and various forms of collective punishment being meted out by Occupation forces. If anything, it has divided the leadership in to deciding which methods to utilize in ending the Occupation. Militancy as the chosen tactic of the few has proven to be counter productive – the ‘terror cycle’ has proven to be self perpetuating.
Not only does this signal the end of the Roadmap to Peace, but simply confirms what many in the Jewish and Palestinian sides have been saying for months. Through policies of settlement expansion and land confiscation, as well as the use of the Separation Wall to separate Palestinians from their lands and restricting their movement both towards the Green Line since the outbreak of the Intifada and in to the West Bank, Israel is placing burdensome movement restrictions on the Palestinian population in the name of economic security exacting a heavy economic price.
The atmosphere isn’t right for peace – in fact it was doomed from the beginning. A new governing coalition in the short term with an amended set of Geneva Accords could provide some progress in the mid term leading to some measure of stability by 2010. At that point the US, the European Union or Britain could lead a new round of negotiations. Since high level diplomacy has failed, track two negotiations with the aid of human rights NGO’s should begin in order to help establish the atmosphere for peace.
In the end it failed for a number of reasons. From the outset, it failed to define the "Occupation," thus allowing Israel the room to implement new facts on the ground in the context of a weakened Palestinian state.
The US was heavily biased towards Sharon’s vision of peace which involved expansion of settlements despite public pronouncements by White House officials countering those claims. Throughout the process, Israel had full access to the White House while the Palestinians were not at the table in any serious way. To date, Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan for Gaza has done more harm than good thus far.
Busy with its own wars, the US has fully supported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral approach and further isolated Yasser Arafat. There is still nothing to suggest that a different political climate would have yielded different results.
There was no immediacy placed on the implementation of international law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Territories – the Roadmap to Peace was a case study in Israeli and American disdain for international institutions. This exacerbated the frustration many had, and in fact formalized the structure of the Occupation into the reality it is today – even more complicated, more entrenched and leaving more casualties in its midst.
In East Jerusalem, the story is much the same. According to human rights organization B’tselem, "The Jerusalem Municipality expropriates land, prevents preparation of a town planning scheme for Palestinian neighbourhoods, and refuses to grant building permits, causing a severe housing shortage, forcing residents to build without a permit, after which the Ministry of Interior and Municipality demolish the houses, so the residents move into homes outside the city, and then the Ministry of Interior revokes their residency and banishes them from the city forever." The plan for a Greater Jerusalem with expanded borders is moving ahead with land expropriations, house demolitions and other discriminatory planning practises.
29 highways and bypass roads to service settlements, funded entirely by the United States, have been constructed during the Oslo Peace Process, carving the West Bank into dozens of small, disconnected and impoverished enclaves from the Palestinian perspective. In Jerusalem where the Palestinians constitute 30% of the population, they only have access to 7% of the urban land for residential and community purposes. Even the faint notion of equal rights is a distant possibility. Israeli policies are also exacting a high economic cost to Palestinians, leaving them in a weakened position to negotiate.
The present approach weakens the Palestinian economy and buys time to establish a stronger Israeli presence in the West Bank undermining a substantive discussion for an independent Palestinian state. This Israeli unilateralism could very well lead to a larger ethnic transfer than what is already occurring if it is taken to its more extreme limits.
This begs a more profound question – where are the leaders in Israel and Palestine that will take the region to peace? Who will have the vision, the moral clout, the pragmatic leadership, the support of their people, the distast for conflict and the "Iron Will" to implement it?
Where are they?