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The Moment of Truth

Friday 20 March 2009, by Nicola Nassar

In view of a world consensus on a two-state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict, most political analysts and commentators have concluded that the Israeli Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, who still refuses to affirm his commitment thereto, was to come face to face with his “moment of truth” during his recent meetings earlier this month with visiting U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her “presidential” envoy for peace in the Middle East, George Mitchell, but the outcome of Clinton’s first regional tour as secretary of state and Mitchell’s second tour in the region has proved the opposite:
The new Democratic administration of Barak Obama seems to be failing its own moment of truth by its failure to pass the only test which could make or break the two-state “vision” as a viable solution, rendering Obama’s “aggressive” approach credible enough to make a difference between U.S. words and deeds, namely to remove the major obstacle of the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise that has brought U.S.-sponsored peace making to its current impasse since the internationally recognized “legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people,” i.e., the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), adopted the two-state approach in 1988.

Ironically, but also instructively, the Israeli settlement watchdog, “Peace Now,” welcomed Clinton and Mitchell one day ahead of their visit with a startling report on March 2. The Israeli ministry of housing has finalized plans to “double” the number of the illegal Jewish colonial settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the two-state solution envisions the creation of a Palestinian state, to more than 600,000 by expanding more than 120 settler colonies with the construction of more than 73, 302 housing units, of which 15,156 units have already been approved and 58, 000 units are pending approval. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported in 2008 that approximately 290, 000 settlers live in 120 colonies officially “authorized” and more than 100 outposts that were not authorized, in addition to 200,000 settlers living in fifteen colonies in eastern Jerusalem over forty one years. Peace Now reported that the settlement expansion in the West Bank increased by 60 percent in 2008 compared to the previous year. Not a single outpost was evacuated in 2008, the organization added; on the contrary, the settlers expanded the construction in these outposts taking special advantage of the war Israel launched on the Gaza Strip on December 27.

According to the report’s findings, the planned construction would double the size of the colonial settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Giv’at Ze’ev, Efrat, Giv’at Benyamin and Ariel. While the first four colonies would extend the outer layer of “defense” settlements protecting the Israeli Metropolitan (Greater) Jerusalem to the shores of the Dead Sea, which is a natural barrier with Jordan in the east, to drive a wedge of concrete, steel and Jewish demography between the northern and southern West Bank, the fifth colony, Ariel, extends twenty five kilometers deep in the northern West Bank to slice it into two Palestinian “bantustans.”

Negating the Two-State Vision in Jerusalem

Historically, whoever rules Jerusalem would also dominate its Arab and Muslim geopolitical depth. The Zionist movement learned the lesson early enough to spearhead its colonial settlement enterprise in Jerusalem where war and peace are made and where the survival of both Israel and the promised Palestinian state will be determined. The current ongoing Judaization process of the Holy City in the eastern part is the second part of Judaizing its western part.

More recently, since the inauguration of the Obama administration, expansion of Israeli colonial settlement has accelerated particularly in Jerusalem. On February 17, The Washington Post reported that the Israeli occupation authorities confiscated some more 1,700 dunam of Palestinian land to expand the colonial settlement of Efrat by 423 acres to enable the increase in its settlers from 9,000 to 30,000 as part of Gush Etzion settlement bloc, “just east of a cluster of Palestinian towns and villages, with biblical Bethlehem at the center,” to close the only Palestinian outlet remaining on the southwestern outreach to Jerusalem.

On February 25, the Palestinian presidency invited accredited foreign consuls in Jerusalem to a tour to see first hand the Israeli “E1” settlement plans to connect Ma’ale Adumim to more than fifteen colonies in eastern Jerusalem, which in turn connect it to western Jerusalem, which was Judaizied after the 1948 war and where seventy five percent of property is privately owned by Palestinians according to the documents of the Orient House, closed together with other Palestinian institutions eight years ago. Being the only geographical connection remaining between Jerusalem and the West Bank, "the E1 plan would separate the northern and southern West Bank from East Jerusalem, which would prevent the establishment of Palestinian state," presidential chief of staff, Rafiq Husseini, told the diplomats.

Earlier this month, the occupation authorities handed eviction orders to Palestinian owners of eighty houses in the al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan town, the last Palestinian demographic community adjacent to the south eastern walls of Islam’s third holiest site of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, threatening to displace 1,500 Palestinian Jerusalemites, but more importantly to complete the Jewish demographic siege of al-Haram al-Sharif and old Jerusalem.

“It is not only the Muslim and Christian holy sites that are threatened, but also the very human existence of non-Jewish population in Jerusalem,” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a prominent Palestinian Jerusalemite and founder of The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, warned on March 2, speaking to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite TV station. Late February, Israel cut off more than 60,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites from access to the city by closing the only “gate in the wall” between al-Ram and Dahiyat al-Barid neighborhoods. Earlier this month, 55 Palestinian houses received orders to be demolished on March 5 in Ras Khamis in the Shufat refugee camp. Demographic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the city continues unabated.

Accelerated colonial settlement facts on the ground in Jerusalem, where the two-state vision promises a capital for the Palestinian people, leaves nothing to speculation that the Israeli military occupation is about to render the final status issue of Jerusalem “non-negotiable,” the vision itself a non-starter, whatever “peace process” is revived a waste of time for the Palestinians as much as it wins more time for Israel to complete the Jewish metropolitan region around Jerusalem that will completely wall in an area covering 100 square miles by the more than 700 kilometer long wall the Israeli military is building “in” the West Bank, thus torpedoing the very foundations that would make the vision come true.

Detailed data on Jewish colonial settlements in Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 is mostly dealt with as a “state secret.” Most of the information is made available by non-governmental organizations like Peace Now and usually dismissed as not “official” by governmental authorities.

However on January 30, Haaretz broke the news that for the last four years, the Israeli government was compiling the “Spiegel Settlement Database,” named after the Israeli general who led the effort. The Israeli daily quoted Spiegel’s report as saying that in “about 75 percent” of the settlements “construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued.” The database also shows “that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents.”

Nonetheless the whole colonial enterprise could not have developed from ZERO in 1967 to its current status had it not been for the one hundred percent governmental authorization, financing and military protection.

Counterproductive U.S. Policy

The modus operandi of U.S. foreign policy persists. The so-called peace process is sustained by Washington as crisis management diplomacy for one merit only, i.e., to reign in violent Palestinian reaction to the sixty-year old dispossession and displacement and the forty-one year old Israeli occupation. The two-state solution vision is pursued by the White House more to help Israel survive a demographic threat and live on as a purely Jewish ghetto in an ocean of ethnic, national, cultural and religious pluralistic societies coexisting in a globalized world than to solve a one hundred year old conflict on the basis of ending military occupation, colonial settlement and territorial expansion.

Nowhere have international law and United Nations legitimacy been violated more and challenged for so long, and nowhere has this type of violation and challenge been protected more by the U.S., than in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, where Washington continues to rule out any role for the world community and where it insists on disarming the Palestinian victims even of stone throwing while at the same time it uses American tax payers money lavishly to arm the Israeli occupying power to teeth to be unequivocally the regional military and nuclear super power.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is accordingly sustained as long as it fits in and doesn’t disrupt this strategic context; when it was perceived as doing exactly that it was twice unmercifully militarily attacked, once in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and the second time in Operation Cast Lead six years later. The first was a war on the PA in the West Bank, which culminated in a three-year siege imposed on Israel’s peace partner, late Yasser Arafat that ended only with his death and the ongoing change of his regime. The second war failed to change the regime of Hamas in Gaza Strip and therefore it is still an open-ended Israeli mission. Former U.S. President George W. Bush set on record the change of Arafat regime as a precondition to deliver on his two-state vision. On record also the successor administration of Obama set the change of the current regime in Gaza as its prerequisite to deliver.

Neither Clinton nor Mitchell, or as a matter of fact their president or their predecessors , was so far lucky enough to find in the rich English dictionary the key words of “occupation” and “settlement,” which could make or break peace-making, to add to their flow of rhetorical terminology, thus leaving no space for any doubt that they might collectively come up in the foreseeable future with new ideas to indicate a breakthrough in the sixty-year-old U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict that would refute Arab accusations of U.S.-Israeli collusion and partnership.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright stated in March 1994: "We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 War as occupied Palestinian territory." Successive administrations have committed to her interpretation ever since. This trend was culminated in President Bush’s letter of guarantees to the comatose former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004, whereby Bush pledged no return to June 4, 1967 borders, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, deemed dismantling of colonial settlements “unrealistic” and supported their annexation to Israel. The occupied territories have become ever since “disputed” land. The Obama administration has yet to prove otherwise.

Ironically, the shift in the U.S. policy from dealing with the Palestinian territory as “occupied” land to dealing with it as “disputed” whose fate should be determined by only bilateral negotiations between an armed-to-the-teeth occupying power and the unarmed civilian victims of the occupation coincided with the launch of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process one year after signing the Declaration of Principles in Washington in 1993.

The key to the current impasse, the failure of the signed Oslo accords and the deadlocked peace process, as well as a breakthrough in the conflict, should all be sought in this shift, the outcome of which has been totally counterproductive.

The Israeli military occupation has developed into full-fledged colonization process. Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s declared willingness to “evacuate” 60,000 settlers from the West Bank is only a redeployment maneuver that changes nothing in the evolving process. Buying the idea that the autonomous Palestinian Authority rules 90 percent of its people is merely playing into the hands of a misleading Israeli propaganda ploy.

Without the umbrella of the so-called “peace process,” the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise could not have prospered to its present state. Since Mitchell led his U.S. fact-finding mission in 2001 more than 95,000 Jewish settlers joined the process. Of the more than 120 settlement outposts in the West Bank, 58 were established after March 2001; only three have been dismantled, but rebuilt, since the Annapolis process began on November 27, 2007. Since the “settlement freeze” agreed upon in Annapolis tenders for settlement building in 2008 increased by 550 percent from the previous year and actual construction increased by 30 percent, 38 percent of which was in Jerusalem. The settler population has grown consistently between 4-6 percent per year over the last two decades “of peace,” a much higher rate of growth than Israeli society as a whole 1.5 percent.

More instructive on the counterproductive results of the peace process for the Palestinians is the fact that the history of the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise began full-fledged with the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979 as the first Arab-Israeli peace breakthrough.

While world attention has been focused for the last twenty years, with much fanfare, on the viability of the so-called two-state solution and the sustainability of the so-called peace process, as well as on the inter-Palestinian and inter-Israeli political wrangling over ruling coalitions which could or would contribute thereto, another solution was being pursued on the ground by the Israeli occupation power and another process was being nurtured by the self-proclaimed and self-imposed U.S. sponsor of peace in the Middle East, away from the spotlights, to preempt any successful conclusion of the twenty-year old endeavor since the PLO adopted the two-state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict in Algiers in 1988, and consequently for all practical reasons paved the way for the current impasse in the one hundred-year old conflict.

Instead of creating a viable Palestinian state on the land conquered and still occupied by Israel since 1967, an expanding autonomous mini state was established for the colonial Jewish settlers on more than 40 percent of the area of the West Bank. Allegra Pacheco of the United Nations’ Humanitarian Office in the Palestinian Territories told BBC on March 3 that the "Israeli settlers occupy 60 percent of the land.

Consequently an apartheid system was created there, financed by successive Israeli governments, protected by the occupying army and demarcated by a more than 700km-long wall being constructed by the Israeli military instead of creating a status quo conducive to the peaceful coexistence sought by the advocates of the two-state solution, thus creating the ideal incubator for terrorist Jewish undergrounds and by reaction to violent Palestinian resistance movements as well, thus providing all the necessary ingredients for an inevitable prolonged conflict and unavoidable violent confrontation, which would unsettle whatever is left for a political settlement.

Obama’s Test

Obama’s “swift” appointment of a “fully empowered” presidential envoy, who reportedly plans a permanent office in Jerusalem, and making his first Oval Office phone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, without a change of substance in the terms of reference of U.S. policy vis-à-vis the conflict, creates only an illusion of the “change” he promised during his election campaign and promises only more of the same. Such “positive” indicators were swiftly offset by Clinton’s statements during her first regional tour.

One day ahead of her visit, Washington announced that it was boycotting a United Nations-sponsored conference (Durban II) against racism because the draft of its final document criticizes Israeli occupation and practices. Israel has every right to defend itself, Clinton said, adding: it “cannot stand idly by while its territory and people are subjected to rocket attacks." The U.S. “emphasizes” its “unrelenting commitment to Israel’s security." Palestinians have to commit to the three Israeli preconditions adopted by the international quartet of diplomatic mediators. Washington will continue its divisive Palestinian policy by pledging to bolster Abbas and shun Hamas. Palestinians have to "break the cycle of rejection and resistance.” The U.S. top diplomat sounded only as if vindicating Arab accusations of U.S.-Israeli collusion and partnership and indicates only that her administration is about to fail its test of change in the Middle East.

It might sound ungrateful not to mention the billions of U.S. and European dollars invested in the PA. U.S.-led donors pledged more than 7.7 billion dollars in Paris in December 2007. Five billion more were pledged in the international donors’ conference on Gaza Strip in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on March 2. Most of this investment was either bulldozed by Israeli tanks in 2002, bombed to rubble by Israelis in Gaza early this year, or siphoned into corruption over the years. It has been and will continue to be a pre-doomed investment as long as it is intended to sustain a U.S.-tailored Palestinian autonomy under prolonged Israeli occupation as the end game.

If there is no “political settlement” to the decades-old conflict all similar investment would be “inadequate,” Abbas told donors in Sharm al-Sheikh. He was right. It is a waste of tax payers’ money that yielded only an “activity totally inconsistent with the prospect of an emergence of an independent, viable Palestinian state of which the West Bank including East Jerusalem would form an integral component, that prospect diminished even more. That situation is clearly not sustainable from our point of view,” Abbas’ caretaker premier Salam Fayyad told the Media Line on February 23.

It is an investment that is only relieving the Israeli occupying power from its obligations under international law, “moderate” Palestinians say; others who are more critical say that U.S. donations are merely part of the compensation Washington should pay for its failed policies that preempted peace and an earlier end to the Israeli occupation for too long.

For the last eight years, there has been neither “peace” nor “process.” The former U.S. administration’s last-minute effort at peacemaking, known as the "Annapolis process," has already collapsed; building on its failure promises more failure only.

Real peace-making seems yet to penetrate the moral consciousness of the U.S. leadership. Obama’s administration, if it doesn’t intend to change course, would do peace and history a great favor by disengagement from the conflict to pave the way for a more balanced international involvement that would base a political settlement thereof on the resolutions of the United Nations legitimacy, if not on justice.

The moment of truth has come not only for the United States, but also for whatever Palestinian leadership might yet discern a glimpse of hope coming from the White House even after it was occupied by a black chief. In historical perspective, this is the strategic context of the current status quo, which is neither sustainable nor conducive to political settlement, let alone the viability of a two-state vision.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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