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Home arrow Blog arrow October 2007 arrow October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007
WAWA Blog  October 14, 2007
Email from one of my favorite cofounders of ISM and the other from one of my favorite Anglican priests...

Formalizing Apartheid Masked as a Peace Initiative

by Neta Golan 
and Mohammed Khatib    
 October 13, 2007

Next month the US plans to host a regional meeting to discuss peace in the Middle East, or at least peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The maneuvering, deal making and negotiating about what will be on the table has been going on for some time. But the details of the agreement being discussed have been a well guarded secret but for the steady flow of leaks and trial balloons. Deciphering this information combined with facts on the ground, one can put together a clear outline of Israel's "next generous offer."

Political maneuvers can be spun to sound good if the details are kept vague, but when held to scrutiny it becomes obvious that the upcoming Israeli offer is not so generous. Like the Oslo Accords and the "disengagement" from Gaza, the peace process being cooked now is a move to consolidate Israeli control of all of historical Palestine while taking a large portion of the Palestinian population off Israel's hands. The devil is in the details that follow.  The agreement on the table offers Palestinians what Israel's president Peres calls "the equivalent of 100% of the territory occupied in 1967."  According to Peres, Israel will retain its major West Bank population centers, also known as settlement blocs, which Peres claims make up only 5% of the West Bank. In exchange Israel will offer to give the Palestinians the same amount of territory elsewhere. According to Peres, Israel will exchange land in Israel populated by Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. This will allow Israel to remove some of its Arab population, which most Jewish Israelis perceive as "demographic threat" to the nature of the Jewish state.

When Israeli politicians like Peres talk about retaining 5% of the West Bank, they do not include occupied East Jerusalem.  Israel illegally and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967-68. Hence, Israeli sources claim there are 250,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, completely discounting the estimated additional 250,000 settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

 Israel's settlement blocs are being created and built as you read these words. For years Israel has been creating population centers on strategic land that will carve the West Bank into disconnected islands, maintain Israeli access to the West Bank water resources and surround and strangle Arab Jerusalem. The de facto annexation of this strategic 9.5% of the West Bank's land behind Israel's apartheid wall has already taken place. The "peace" process will simply make it official.

In March 2006 the newly formed Kadima party was elected to implement Ariel Sharon's "convergence plan." According to this plan, the non-strategic settlements outside of the settlement blocs would be dismantled. The evacuated settlers would be resettled in the "blocs" behind the wall that would in turn be annexed by Israel. 

On April 14, 2004, President Bush wrote to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing population centers it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949..." This letter was subsequently ratified in both US Houses of Congress.

Israel took this as a green light from the US to keep whatever areas they can fill with settlers. Therefore, despite the Road Map requirement that Israel freeze settlement expansion, Israel accelerated the creation of so called "existing" population centers in strategically important areas, otherwise known as the settlement blocs. 

In the same letter to Sharon, Bush also stated, "It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."  Consequently, in the offer to be made by Israel, Palestinian refugees will be allowed the right to return, not to their homes, but to small, non-contiguous parts of their original homeland, divided into disconnected territorial units, with no chance of maintaining a sustainable economy and with no control over water, power, or other necessary resources. They will be allowed to return to a cage, with Israel manning every door.   Israeli plans, backed by these US guarantees, create an unlivable apartheid situation for Palestinians. But Palestinians are not even likely to receive such a "generous" apartheid offer in November.   Now, with less than sixteen months left in the Bush administration, Ehud Olmert lacks the political clout to carry out Israel's end of the deal. Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak recently stated his opposition to what he called "withdrawal from Israeli principles that have stood for 40 years, merely to gain favor in the eyes of an American president who is leaving office in a year." Therefore, at the Olmert's administration's insistence, the goals of the regional meeting have been watered down to a joint statement that will outline the basis of the future agreement. Olmert is demanding that the joint declaration include a reference to  Bush's April  2004 letter to Sharon and to the Road Map.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni's stated objective is to declare a "transitional" Palestinian state with "provisional" borders, an option that appears in the second phase of the road map.  When Israel accepted the road map in March 2003 it attached "14 reservations." Israel considers these reservations as integral parts of the road map. Israel's fifth reservation states: "The provisional state will have provisional borders and certain aspects of sovereignty, be fully demilitarized…, be without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation, and Israeli control over the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as of its air space and electromagnetic spectrum." Such a state would be squeezed between the separation wall, Israel's demographic border", and the Jordan Valley, Israel's "security border" with Jordan. With the Jordan Valley making up approximately 30% of the West Bank, under this scenario Israel would likely retain more than 40% of the West Bank. This transitional Palestinian state would consist of a series of isolated Bantustans, or as Sharon, who fathered the plan, preferred to refer to them, "cantons."

 In the past the Palestinians have pressed to have this option of the temporary state removed from the road map, since the history of Israel's occupation shows that "temporary measures" are almost always permanent.  However, Palestinian negotiators now accept the possibility of a temporary state on the condition that they receive international assurances that the third and final phase of the road map, that includes a permanent settlement, will be implemented within six months. Israel has no intention of accepting this condition.

It is questionable whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be able to accept this offer without a timeframe for a permanent settlement. But perhaps he is not even meant to accept. For if Abbas refuses another Israeli-American "generous offer" his rejection could be presented to the world as more proof that there are no Palestinian "partners for peace." Israel would then be "justified" in implementing its convergence plan unilaterally.  Unilateral "convergence" will make it possible to create a situation in the West Bank similar to what unilateral "disengagement" has created in the Gaza. Gaza's residents, 70% of whom are refugees from what is now Israel, are currently isolated, starving and under total Israeli blockade from land, air and sea.

Olmert, Bush, Blair and their accomplices in the "Quartet" have vast, sophisticated and boundlessly resourced PR machinery that, through unlimited access to an uncritical media, can put a compelling "peace spin" on an apartheid process. During the November meeting they will assure the world of their commitment to a Palestinian state (with the appropriate Abbas/Olmert/Bush photo ops). They will promise to commit millions of dollars, funding Palestinian "institution building" and humanitarian aid and arming troops in order to "keep the peace" inside the Bantustans. Arab states will normalize relations with Israel, strengthening the "moderates" of the entire region, thus softening the Arab street as a prerequisite for an American led strike on Iran.

Even the participants in the summit realize that the Israeli occupation is no longer sustainable in its current form.  If we, the peace and justice community, manage to expose this latest maneuver for what it really is, Israel could be forced into fair negotiations for the first time.

For this to happen we must mobilize immediately. It is our job to educate the rest of the world about what these talks really mean and the truth about what is happening. The writing is literally on the wall and on the ground. It took many months if not years to expose the ugly truth behind the first "generous offer." Let's not make that mistake again.

Neta Golan is an Israeli peace with justice activist living in Ramallah and a co-founder of the international solidarity movement.

Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the Wall and the secretary of Bil'in's Village Council.

For more information: 

Published first

Rev. Stephen Sizer writes from the UK:

I would give Tony Blair a ‘D’ for his knowledge of the realities of the West Bank. Perhaps a little more than George W, but still lamentable…-Stephen

 Blair admits he is shocked by discrimination on the West Bank

 By Donald Macintyre in Hebron

Published: 13 October 2007

While his aides munched tuna bagels thoughtfully provided by the Israeli military, a shirt-sleeved Tony Blair peered intently at a map showing the two main cargo crossing-points that will function between the West Bank and Israel once the 450-mile separation barrier between them is complete.


Why, Mr Blair wanted to know from his host, an Israeli general in civvies, couldn't goods also be moved directly across the border from the nearby Palestinian industrial park that he is pressing Israel to approve?


"Why can't they go straight through?" Ah, that would be difficult, the general explained, requiring a whole new expensive security apparatus to check goods going into the park.


We are a long from way from No 10. At Tarqumia to be precise, just inside the West Bank and one of those crossing points – a forbidding grey antenna and camera-studded complex of checkpoints still under construction. Mr Blair is on the road, grappling with the mind-numbing complexities of how the physical security infrastructure of the occupation has squeezed the Palestinian economy.


It is a theme reinforced for him in Hebron, the Palestinian city whose core was once the thriving commercial hub of the southern West Bank. Its mayor, Khaled Osaily, briefs him extensively about how much of its old city is boarded up, stripped of Palestinian life because of the presence of some 800 Jewish settlers, and their military protectors.


As Mr Blair's convoy threads out of the city through the afternoon Ramadan traffic afterwards, Mr Osaily compliments Mr Blair on his thirst for facts. No, they had not talked much about the prospects for the forthcoming US-convened Annapolis conference on which hopes of any revival of a peace process have no been vested by the international community and in the preparations for which Mr Blair is intimately involved. "He is a practical man," said Mr Osaily. "He asked many questions about daily life here. We talked about the economy, about movement, about security. He wanted to know details."


Mr Blair gave the Israeli daily Yedhiot Ahronot his stock answer yesterday to questions about what he has learnt since taking the job. "I have learnt the depth of Israel's concern for security, and I have learnt the depth of the Palestinians' distress caused by the occupation."


Certainly he accepts Israel's view that Palestinians should not have a state until it can reasonably guarantee its neighbour's security. Hence the importance he attaches to the efforts that US General Keith Dayton is making to beef up Palestinian security forces. Indeed he has been telling diplomats and others that the emergency Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayad, does not enter Nablus because he will not make the deal with the militias needed to guarantee his security.


He was shocked by what he was told about conditions in Hebron and diplomats say he was genuinely taken aback by his trip to the West Bank sector of the Jordan Valley – where Palestinians are allowed to dig wells only a third as deep as Israelis – at the exploitation of resources by the rich Jewish agricultural settlements at the expense of closed in Palestinian farmers. And he has been privately dismissive – rather more so perhaps than he was as Prime Minister – of the argument by some Israelis that security comes first, with economics and a political deal well behind it. "All three have to happen together" he has told diplomats – which is what he sees Annapolis as being about. This week he has been concentrating on the economics and is pressing Israel to permit job growth in the West Bank's Area C, where it has direct as well as total control – including a Japanese government plan for an "agro-industrial" park in the Jordan Valley.


A key purpose of all this, of course, is to try to give the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, something tangible to show for the outline political accord that he and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, are under pressure to reach before Annapolis and which Mr Blair sees as a " stepping stone" to full negotiations for a final resolution.


Some of the possible contours are beginning to clarify: a land swap to preserve the big West Bank Jewish settlements and, possibly, Israeli agreement in principle to East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital.


But the obstacles could hardly be more potentially terminal. Mr Abbas, at least as much as Mr Olmert, will have to make concessions without yet having a final deal in return. And this at a time when a totally excluded Hamas will have every opportunity to sabotage any process.


Yet none of this seems to dent Mr Blair's almost heroic optimism that it is " do-able." He accepts in private that settlement expansion will soon make a Palestinian state unrealisable, increasing the urgency of a solution. But he is said to believe that Mr Olmert sees a two-state solution as necessary in Israel's interests and accepts time is short.


He thinks the similarities with Northern Ireland are as great as the differences but since it irritates Israelis for him to say so, he doesn't. But that doesn't stop him recalling how Ian Paisley told him early in his premiership there would never be an agreement in Northern Ireland.


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