Jewish settlement in the West Bank is not the issue

The Middle East peace process is not, nor was it ever, being stopped by the presence of Jewish settlements

Stop settlements, stop conflict? Blue sky thinking
Adam Mallerman
On 26 October 2012 09:39

Israel recognised that a change had to occur in the West Bank and that Palestinian resolve to never recognise Israel had weakened, as their people put pressure not only on Israel but on the PLO leadership as well. In the early 1990s the Oslo Process began. For the Palestinians they would get autonomy under Yasser Arafat, prior to final status agreement. Israel would get recognition and an end to armed struggle as well as a peace agreement with Jordan, who would give up their claim on the West Bank.

As part of the several attempts to come to a final status agreement, most importantly at Camp David in the summer of 2000, Israel offered to withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip and between 90-96 percent of the West Bank. Unfortunately, Palestinians rejected these offers and instead of building a state for their people, they chose to mount a five year war of terror that killed many hundreds of Israeli civilians and resulted in Israel building fences between Jewish and Palestinian areas, restricting movement of Palestinians. Cue subsequent economic decline.

It was not an outcome Israel had sought when it went into Oslo, but it ended the intifada and to this day the security fences and checkpoints have saved uncountable lives. The Palestinian failure to live up to its Oslo commitments to end terror opened the door for Israel to allow more settlement building and many thousands of Israelis chose to live in the ancient Jewish land of Judea and Samaria. 

In 2005, Israel boldly decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. It evacuated all its soldiers and painfully dismantled 21 settlements in the area it called Gush Katif – approximately 9,000 citizens, many of whom had lived in their homes peacefully for decades, and whose businesses employed Gaza residents. Israel also removed four settlements in the West Bank.

The hope was that “ending the occupation” and evacuating settlements would satisfy the Palestinians’ demands and provide an opportunity for them to begin to build the infrastructure of an independent state in Gaza.

Instead, they saw it as a sign of Israel's lack of determination – a crack in its resolve, a weakness, and they launched a rocket and mortar bombardment that continues to this day against southern Israel that keeps the innocent civilians there in a state of constant anxiety. Once again, instead of land for peace, Israel traded land for terror, death, and war. The Gazans, who had had the opportunity they’d dreamed of for decades in their hands, found themselves human shields to their Hamas "leaders".

As I have written elsewhere, the Palestinians often declare their support for talks, but go to great lengths to avoid them. The vast majority of Palestinians today live under autonomous Palestinian control, but find the quality of their lives has deteriorated since Oslo. Interestingly, they are also starting to show signs that they recognise the Palestinian Authority as the cause of their problems.

Meanwhile, on the international stage, Israel has discovered that any steps it takes to defend itself are condemned, but it is clear that the Palestinian leadership still has the same goal in mind that they had in 1947 – all or nothing – as judging by an open letter President Abbas sent to Gaza residents this week, where he clearly states that he believes all of Israel is occupied territory: 

"The recognition of [the State of Palestine  at the UN] will not free the ground the next day, but it will prove our just cause that our land is occupied and not disputed territory, and this is true in regards to all of  the territories Israel occupied before June 1967."

The Arab world is in turmoil and mired in violence and religious extremism, and the Palestinian community deeply divided to the point of civil war. Meanwhile the hatred and scapegoating of Israel for all the many failures of the Islamic world deepens.

There is probably little or no possibility of the type of decisions being made that are required to resolve the Palestinian question. And the nightmare scenario for Israel is making further difficult concessions, only to end up with a second Gaza on the West Bank. Indeed Israel has made major unilateral concessions and has been badly punished for its efforts, and is unlikely to do that again.

One thing is clear though: this is not now, nor was it ever, a process that is being stopped by the presence of Jewish settlements. 

Adam Mallerman is an English-born, Jerusalem-based broadcaster. He is a regular contributor on the Israel News Talk Network and hosts a weekly program on Israel National Radio. Visit his blog and follow him on Twitter @IsraelradioGuy

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