Settlements plus

The recent and immense Israeli project of the “separation wall” (or what Palestinians have come to know as the “apartheid wall”) has once again raised the specter of ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and the confiscation of Palestinian land. Palestinians have long considered these practices and the policy behind them the single most dangerous threat to the legitimate Palestinian right to self-determination. Settlement is not a new phenomenon that began with Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Confiscating and buying up land, building outposts and homes and bringing immigrants to live there is precisely how European Zionists gradually took over Palestinian land in what has now become Israel.

It is understandable then, that Palestinians are driven by a deep fear that this policy is strategically aimed at further consolidating Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rendering it irreversible. The continuity of settlement during and in spite of the peace process deeply shook Palestinian confidence in a process that, in the Palestinian mind, was supposed to be about ending the occupation in exchange for an end to conflict, and the beginning of peace and security for both sides.

The recent takeover of the Israeli government by parties opposed to the peace process has offered Israelis who do not believe in territorial compromise a new opportunity to continue the rapid confiscation of land and the establishment and expansion of illegal Jewish colonies. This process has been aggravated to such an extent that many moderates from the peace camp–including one of the most moderate, Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyadh–now believe that the rate of expansion of these colonies has transformed the reality overnight and invalidated the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. This, of course, annuls the possibility of a two-state solution, and in turn makes peace itself impossible.

The current settlement project of choice is the “separation wall.” This project will consolidate the past 35 years of settlement growth by building walls to divide Palestinian-populated areas from Jewish colonies that will be integrated with Israel. In spite of the Israeli attempt to give the impression that these walls are intended to strengthen the security of Israelis, it is not hard to see past the smokescreen. One foreign diplomat who conducted a field study of these walls sardonically dubbed them “Settlements Plus.”

While this Israeli government has yet to fulfill expectations that it might exploit the war in Iraq to expand its campaign of violence against Palestinians, it has quietly but vigorously pursued a combination of land confiscation and “closure” in order to build high cement walls in Jerusalem, Ramallah, the Jordan Valley and along the western side of the West Bank. It is a supreme irony that this project, which will for all intents and purposes render the Palestinian state impossible, is scheduled for completion even before the “road map” (which is supposed to be about creating a Palestinian state) even commences implementation. The lack of American attention and diplomatic protestation against this project places grave doubts on the credibility of the American call for an independent Palestinian state. Palestinians are left to wonder about the wisdom of their own strategic decision to seek a two-state solution.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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