Violence. Everyone seems to be talking about reducing or stopping the violence. Conversely, nobody is paying attention to who is carrying out the violence and why it is taking place after four or five years of almost complete calm.
It is frustrating for the Palestinians that the current confrontations between themselves and the Israelis are not perceived by the outside world in context, which is the belligerent Israeli military occupation that is being continuously consolidated through illegal Jewish settlement expansion in the Palestinian occupied territories.
Palestinians say that one cannot separate the ongoing unrest from recent and failed intensive efforts to reach a final comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The failure of those attempts rests squarely upon the continuation of Jewish settlement expansion on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land.
There is a strong belief among many Palestinians that Israel initiated the entire wave of violence that began almost immediately after Camp David negotiations collapsed last summer and the subsequent defamation campaign holding Palestinians responsible for the failure of those talks. Palestinians believe that Israel enacted a series of military maneuvers meant to force Palestinians and their leadership to agree to the Israeli proposals that were rejected at Camp David.
In most cases, what we have witnessed over the last six months is Israeli violence and Israeli economic sanctions that Palestinians have reacted to using violent and non-violent means. It is the Israelis who started the provocation by allowing Ariel Sharon Sharon to enter the mosque in Jerusalem. It was the Israeli military that reacted to peaceful demonstrations in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Galilee by firing live ammunition. The Israeli military has put most Palestinian residential areas under a barbaric siege that is causing poverty and subsequent deteriorating education and health.
Now Prime Minister Sharon is in Washington and everyone is talking about violence, but the causes of the violence are ignored. Just this week, the Israeli government announced the building of 2,800 new housing units in the controversial settlement of Har Homa on Mount Abu Ghneim near Jerusalem.
This declaration has been made during Sharon’s first visit to Washington, on the eve of the second emergency Arab summit in Amman and after six months of confrontations with the Palestinians that have concentrated heavily on the issue of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. This is a clear Israeli message to the entire world that there is no hope of ending the Israeli occupation, no matter what happens and regardless of which international law or Security Council resolution these policies contradict.
The question now is how the American administration and the Arab leaders are going to understand this Israeli message. Are they going to take it seriously and respond by saying that illegal settlement expansion and peace are incompatible? Or will they continue to neglect Israel’s settlement expansion policy and therefore allow for more escalation and further deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship?
As they decide how to respond, world leaders should understand that if Israeli settlement policy continues, it will gradually invalidate the two-state solution – from a purely practical point of view. This, in turn, will make peace an impossibility and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a perpetual hostility.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is the publisher of the Palestine Report.