Claude Salhani - Israeli leaders have long accused the Palestinians of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and for the most part, rightly so. Since the onset of the Arab-Israel conflict in 1948, a great many opportunities for peace and a lasting resolution of the said dispute were lost, often as a result of shortsightedness on the part of the Arabs.
At other times intra-Arab squabbles, such as the fratricidal fighting that has opposed Hamas in Gaza to Fatah and other mainline groups of the Palestine Liberation Organization, have gotten in the way of allowing the Palestinians to progress towards peace and economic prosperity.
Yet the fault is not always that of the Arabs.
Today one can ask if the same could not be said of the Israelis; is the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not about to blow the chance of finally settling the six-decade old conflict with the Palestinians, and by extension with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, if current controversial policies adopted by Netanyahu’s government persist?
At the center of the latest disagreement in the never-ending Middle East dispute is the thorny issue of Israel’s policy regarding continued building of settlements — be they legal or not — in the West Bank. And many, if not all are not.
Palestinians complain that the settlements are being built on Palestinian land, land that should in principle one day become part of the future state of Palestine, if and when that day ever comes. The expansion of existing settlements, which Israel calls “natural growth,” and/or the establishment of new ones, is creating a grim reality on the ground; that drawing up clearly defined borders of that future state will become impossible as many of these Jewish settlements would find themselves on the Palestinian side of the frontier.
And as no Israeli government is about to place its citizens under the control of Palestinians, the settlements only serve to accentuate the crisis. It has been tacitly understood from the very outset that one of the basic tenets of an eventual Arab-Israeli accord would be based on four cardinal points.
- Final borders
- The status of Jerusalem
- Security for Israel
- The right of return of Palestinian refugees
Regarding the first point – the final borders – it has been assumed that, starting with U.N. Resolution 242 right up until the most recent declarations by the Bush and Obama administrations, those borders would be based on where they were prior to the June 1967 war.
However, the settlements would make it quasi-impossible to redraw that map. In essence, what the Palestinians fear now is that their state is becoming smaller every day.
The continued building of settlements in the West Bank has angered the Palestinians, the U.S. administration, the European Union, the two Gulf states who have commercial relations with Israel, and even a growing number of Israelis who regard this policy as counterproductive and regressing the chances of peace with the Arab world.
In the West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out last week any resumption of talks with Israel on moving the peace process forward unless it puts a halt to building more settlements. Abbas said that if Israel continued with its current program the Palestinians have a right to “legitimate resistance.”
The Palestinian president said that all settlement activity – without exception, and including expansion and new settlements in Jerusalem — needed to cease immediately.
Abbas said negotiations with Israel would only resume “on the basis of commitments made by both sides … particularly a halt to all forms of settlement activity without exception in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.”
Qatar and Oman asked the U.S. government to relay a message to the Israeli government that they would not renew their relations with Israel if the Jewish state did not comply with the moratorium requested by nearly every country in the world. And, of course, President Barack Obama criticized the Israeli settlement activities.
Yet all is not entirely bleak this week. I leave you on an upbeat note with the news that Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ prime minister, who said last Thursday that his organization was waiting to see the outcome of President Obama’s peace efforts.
Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org