"Settlements aside, there is the separation wall to consider. Israel, which continues to maintain that the wall was primarily erected for its own security purposes, has proven that it is actually a de facto border. It does not run along the Green Line but deep within the West Bank where the major Jewish settlement blocs are located. Hence, it effectively puts these settlements on the "Israeli" side of the wall, thus cutting into the so-called future Palestinian state and isolating Palestinians both from each other and in some cases, from the land off of which they live. Let’s not forget that the wall alone cuts into approximately seven percent of the West Bank but practically, takes up nearly 40 percent in infrastructure and roads systems."
It is a rare occasion when any Palestinian agrees with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Unfortunately, his statement about the prospects of peace rings hauntingly true.
"In the 16 years since the Oslo Accords, we haven’t managed to bring peace to the region, and I’m willing to bet that there won’t be peace in another 16 years, either. Certainly not on the basis of the two-state solution," Lieberman said.
Palestinians will definitely disagree with the right-wing minister over why peace is not likely, but the fact remains that he does have a very valid point. If peace were to prevail on the basis of a two-state solution, this would have been achieved years ago, at least as far back as the Oslo Accords in 1993. However, the facts on the ground today have completely sabotaged any real chance for two states, or at least for a viable, geographically contiguous Palestinian state, to come into being.
The reasons are obvious. Since 1988, the Palestinians have officially accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, that is, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. This declaration alone had plenty of holes in it, given that practically, it was a relinquishment of 78 percent of historical Palestine. It also meant the fate of over four million Palestinian refugees, kicked out of their homes in 1948 and never to return, would be up for negotiation. Still, in the name of a final peaceful solution and an independent country to call their own, the bulk of Palestinians accepted the future state of Palestine alongside Israel.
Fundamentally, the problem with this solution is not in the actual proposal, which as mentioned earlier, is workable after the initial compromise was accepted. No. Rather the problem lies in what has happened since then and what continues to happen until today. All parties, especially the Palestinians and Israelis, understand that the core of the conflict is about land. One only has to look at the disappearing hilltops of the West Bank to confirm this. Instead of the rolling green and brown hills characteristic of Palestine’s terrain, hideous and foreign-looking red-roofed settlements have blanketed much of the horizon. At present, the 120-some illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem (yes, these are illegal too), along with their infrastructure and Jewish-only bypass roads have devoured huge chunks of the occupied West Bank.
What’s more, these settlements have been strategically placed by Israel in a way that slices the Palestinian territories into divided and isolated cantons, connected only by Israeli-manned checkpoints. The West Bank is no longer one geographic entity, like it used to be pre-1967. Neither is east Jerusalem, also considered occupied territory under international law. Instead of the international community –” in this case the United Nations- ensuring that the occupied territories remain untouched until a final solution for them is reached, it has turned a blind eye for over 40 years to Israel’s colonialist expansion there, the result of which is now half a million Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian land and essentially robbing the Palestinians of any real chance at establishing their own state.
In comes US President Barack Obama. He, unlike many of his predecessors, also understands that land is key to any permanent solution. That is why he has insisted that settlement construction be frozen. The question however, is how effective will this be even if he does secure a freeze on settlement construction for a year, something which looks unlikely given Israel’s obstinacy on the subject? Reports have circulated about Israel begrudgingly accepting a six-month hiatus in settlement construction. That is, with the exception of east Jerusalem and the 2,500 or so housing units in settlements that have already started.
Add to this a recent Peace Now report, which revealed that even if the government agreed to a settlement freeze, this would include only 40 percent of construction in settlements today. The majority of settlement building is undertaken by private companies, over which the government has no control.
Settlements aside, there is the separation wall to consider. Israel, which continues to maintain that the wall was primarily erected for its own security purposes, has proven that it is actually a de facto border. It does not run along the Green Line but deep within the West Bank where the major Jewish settlement blocs are located. Hence, it effectively puts these settlements on the "Israeli" side of the wall, thus cutting into the so-called future Palestinian state and isolating Palestinians both from each other and in some cases, from the land off of which they live. Let’s not forget that the wall alone cuts into approximately seven percent of the West Bank but practically, takes up nearly 40 percent in infrastructure and roads systems.
So, what’s left? There are isolated pockets of Palestinian constituencies living in crowded cities and towns. Each major area is separated from the other by Israeli checkpoints and all are isolated from Jerusalem by a strict Israeli checkpoint and permit system.
East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967 is supposedly to remain unaltered until final status negotiations determine its fate. However, neither has east Jerusalem escaped Israel’s colonialist clutches. Approximately 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the surrounding settlements while individual settler groups continue to take over house by house in strategic areas of east Jerusalem in a bid to Judaize the entire city. Along the road to Jerusalem anyone can see the painful sight of two evicted Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, whose homes are now inhabited by Jewish settlers.
Hence, when all is said and done, a very bleak picture indeed stares back at us – one that tells a single truth. Without a major reversal of Israel’s measures on the ground over the past 42 years in the Palestinian territories, the two-state solution can never come to fruition. For that to happen, there must be an international political will for change, something we have yet to see in full force.
So when Lieberman says that President Obama’s goal of establishing a Palestinian state within two years is "unrealistic", we Palestinians have no choice but to concur.