Palestinian Authority’s Legal Advisor Addresses Prospects for a Just Settlement

Chicago –” International media figure and legal analyst, Michael Tarazi spoke about the way forward for a just settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

As a legal advisor for the Palestinian Authority Ministry of State for Jerusalem Affairs, Tarazi provides legal advice on issues facing Jerusalem –” including Israeli settlements and refugees.

“My goal is to empower you to analyze the situation on your own,” Tarazi told a Chicago audience. His lecture was an overview of the conflict from the Palestinian perspective.

Tarazi is a Palestinian-American lawyer from Colorado who earned degrees at Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is a member of the New York State Bar and he is a former legal advisor to the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department. He practiced securities law in New York, Helsinki, Istanbul, Paris, and Budapest also.

“The one thing that has motivated Israel has nothing to do with peaceful coexistence,” he said. From the Palestinian perspective, the impetus behind Israel is “…to take as much Palestinian land as possible without Palestinians.”

Tarazi’s presentation included extensive maps of Israel and Palestine over time. A map from the time of the Oslo Accords illustrated that the West Bank consists of 13 separate, non-contiguous reservations, which comprise 17.2 per cent of the Occupied West Bank. Although Palestinians make up 85 per cent of the population in the West Bank, they live on 17.2 per cent of the land. The remaining 15 per cent of the population are Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements.

Palestinian infrastructure is funded by the international community, such as Europe and the U.S. However, Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land has been supported at the highest levels of the U.S. Administration, Tarazi added.

While Palestinians and Israelis negotiate about ending the military occupation in the Occupied Territories, Israel continues building more settlements. Tarazi described the Israeli strategy: “We take their (Palestinian) land, but we don’t take their people.”

Israel uses the wall’s construction to carve away the segment of the population they do not want within their Jewish state. Although Israel states the wall is for security purposes, maps of the wall’s construction show Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land without the Palestinian communities. If Israel was building the wall for security purposes, then the wall would be built along the Green Line that divides Israel from the Occupied Territories. This route would be shorter, cheaper to build and more easy to patrol. However, Israel is constructing the wall to create Israeli settlement blocs by usurping as much Palestinian land as possible.

Cases to illustrate this point are the three Israeli settlement blocs of Givon, Adumim and Etzlon. The wall cuts into the West Bank, thereby taking Palestinian land for these settlements and allowing for their continued expansion. “They made it demographically and politically possible to take more land,” Tarazi added.

As a result, the Palestinian reservations between the Israeli settlements can only be connected through underground tunnels and bridges. In October 2003, Israel began issuing military orders to these Palestinian communities that said: “No one has a right to live here and no one has a right to enter unless you have a permit.”

Now, Palestinians must apply for permits to reach their land. An example is Jayyous, a Palestinian farming community that lost two-thirds of its agricultural land and its groundwater wells to the wall. Permits can deny workers the ability to harvest land on the other side of the wall. Sometimes, the head of a Palestinian household is denied the permit, which has permanent consequences. “By denying a permit to one person you encourage a mass exodus of an entire family,” Tarazi said.

With regards to East Jerusalem the wall’s construction is dividing East Jerusalem from the West Bank. This separation has social and economic impacts on the Palestinians. Since Palestinians own 75 per cent of East Jerusalem, Israeli-Arabs who live in Jerusalem and Palestinians who live in the West Bank but have jobs in East Jerusalem are all having a difficult time traveling in these areas for education and health care.

In July 2005, 350 teachers who live in Ramallah but have jobs in East Jerusalem were told they needed permits. First, they were told the Israeli Government needed the permits in English. Then they were told the Israeli Government needed to know all of the subjects within the teachers’ curriculums. In the meantime, school was already a month in session and teachers began finding jobs in the West Bank.

“They basically force the situation so people give up on their livelihood in East Jerusalem,” Tarazi said.

In East Jerusalem, 62 per cent of the hospitals’ staff lives in the West Bank. If Israel does not allow medical professionals access to their jobs, then it forces people to search for health care elsewhere. According to Tarazi, the obliteration of these Palestinian historical and educational institutions is destroying East Jerusalem as a vibrant Palestinian center. Without East Jerusalem, a Palestinian state is no longer possible.

“You will see handshakes and photo opportunities,” Tarazi said, “but you will see nothing that stops this strategy of taking Palestinian land without taking Palestinian people.”

A member of the audience explained that last year Israel took her family’s land. She wanted to know what legal action she and her family could take for the land confiscation. Tarazi explained that as a Palestinian-American with American citizenship, she may have recourse in American law regarding the illegal seizure of American property overseas. However, he suggested she seek legal advice from attorneys who specialize in this area. When asked about compensation for damages, Tarazi gave the same advice.

When asked if the Palestinian Authority would welcome an international peacekeeping force to the region to stop Israel, Tarazi responded that it would depend on what they were going to do. If the intention was to secure the Green Line and stop the occupation, then yes, the P.A. would welcome it.

Another audience member asked what six things Americans can do to stop what is happening.

Tarazi said: “Stop aid, stop aid, stop aid.”