Laying the cornerstone

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It must be said at the outset that the establishment of the settlements and their expansion were the means through which the Israeli occupation was born and since maintained. Hence, the removal of the settlements is about undoing the occupation and making amends, and cannot be detached from this context.

There are three important points that stem from this starting point. The first is the recognition that, as long as the expansion of the settlements continues, there will be no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The answer lies in ending the Israeli occupation (and therefore land confiscation, settlement construction, and now the wall), because the occupation is the source of all violence between the two sides.

Second, this linkage between Israel’s occupation and settlement policy extends beyond the obvious land grab. The settlements have a very significant impact on Palestinian life in that they interrupt the contiguity of the Palestinian territories, reduce Palestinian economic viability and control Palestinian water resources.

Finally, in physical geography, the settlements sit on wide swathes of land. Much of the land they are located on was confiscated in a manner contravening international law, and therefore, in the course of correcting this injustice, the land should be returned to its rightful owners. Most of the original Palestinian landowners are still living and have the deeds showing ownership in their hands. In other cases, the land can be made "public land," and put in the care of the Palestinian government.

Because of the concentration and size of the settlements, any thought of solving the settlement problem must begin with stopping their construction, infrastructure development and government incentives offered to attract homebuyers, and the reverse put into play. Making the settlements less financially attractive to live in will take care of a great deal of the current problem. Second, the Israeli government must make clear to its public that the Palestinian territories will be in one way or another under the control of a Palestinian state, and that Palestinian legal jurisdiction will apply to the settlements. After that, the actual removal of the settlements may be undertaken in a gradual manner through long-term arrangements and the like. The important point to be made here is that Israeli settlers now living in the occupied territories may stay in the Palestinian state, perhaps for economic or religious reasons, provided that they abide by the laws of that state. There will be no more expropriation of land not legally their own, and no further infringing on the rights of Palestinians.

The concept of a land swap that was accepted by the Palestinian leadership in the Camp David negotiations, and later approved by the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, might also be used to attach some settlements along the 1967 borders to Israel, provided that we are talking about a very small stretch of land adjacent to the green line, to be exchanged for land of equal quality and quantity on the western side of the 1967 borders. There should be no confusion that Palestinians perceive East Jerusalem or its old city any differently from the rest of the occupied West Bank. While Israel has tried to separate the city, international law is clear–the insertion of new populations in occupied land is a violation and applies equally to Nablus, Gaza or East Jerusalem.

Just as the expanding settlement project has been responsible for continuing the conflict and consolidating the occupation and thereby fuelling instability and violence, reversing the settlement process is the cornerstone to building a peace based on trust, confidence and mutual recognition between Palestinians and Israelis.

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