Peace in our Time?

August 14, 2007

NOT ONLY TERRITORY, BUT VIABILITY

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 7:49 am

Jeff Halper

August, 2007

On paper, the headlines sounded promising, even stirring. Prime Minister Olmert, they said, told PA Chairman Abbas in Jericho he would push for establishment of a Palestinian state as “fast as possible” on “the equivalent to 100% of the territories conquered in 1967.” The Palestinians, it was said, would cede just 5% of the West Bank in return for territorial swaps, so Israel would withdraw from 95.6 % of the combined West Bank and Gaza -a figure not including East Jerusalem, which Israel does not consider occupied.  It looked like another “generous offer,” one the Palestinians could not refuse. The problem was, it was too generous for Israel to accept. Some hours after Haaretz’ report, the PM’s Office denied the proposal’s existence. “We do not know of any plan as described in [Ha’aretz’] article,” said the PMO. “We would like to clarify that such a plan has not been considered, nor is it being raised for discussion in any forum.”

So much for that. Yet the proposal is useful to examine as a “best case” scenario. It appears to relinquish almost all the occupied territory to the Palestinians: the maximum that Israel could apparently offer. If it was nothing more than a sophisticated attempt to expand Israeli control to the Jordan River, with no chance of ending the conflict, it provides the best illustration of the futility of basing any peace process on mere transfer of territory rather than viability. The devil, as we know, is in the details.

At issue isn’t a Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100% of the Territories (which, of course, is only 22% of historic Palestine). The issue, as the Road Map specifies, is whether a Palestinian state is truly sovereign and viable; but even the 5% that Israel would retain under the purported plan prevents such a state’s establishment. What makes the difference between a just and lasting peace or apartheid?

Sovereignty: The basis for negotiations, says Olmert, “continues to be the Road Map, which is acceptable to both sides.” True in general, but with major caveats. Phase II of the Road Map is a Palestinian nightmare, and they have constantly pressed for its removal. It calls for establishment of a “transitional” state with “provisional borders.” If all is quiet, they fear, and Israel proclaims a Palestinian state and the end of Occupation, who could guarantee the process would continue to Phase III, where thorny final status details must be negotiated and a real Palestinian state emerge? Their fears are justified – and here’s the “catch.” Israel considers its “14 reservations” integral parts of the Road Map. Reservation #5 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.”

Try to square that reservation with the notion of Palestinian sovereignty. Tzipi Livni worked for months on “The Israeli Initiative for a Two-State Solution” based precisely on replacing Phase I (which calls for a freeze on settlement building) with this problematic Phase II. Rice says the Bush Administration will work towards a provisional Palestine, leaving “the details” to the next Administration.

A state has no sovereignty without borders. Added to problems of provisionality, does Olmert intend to grant Palestine unsupervised borders with Jordan? If Israel insists on border control, or the Jordan River is part of the 5% the Palestinians must cede, there is no Palestinian state even if they receive all the territory.   

Viability: Israel could relinquish 95% of the West Bank, yet totally control a Palestinian Bantustan, with no viable economy. If it insists on border control, denying free movement of goods and people, Palestine could not be viable. If that 5% includes a corridor across the West Bank, or Israel keeps Ma’aleh Adumim settlement with its “E-1” corridor to Jerusalem, (destroying territorial contiguity of Palestine), it is non-viable. If it includes Israeli control of all the water resources, it is non-viable. If Jerusalem isn’t fully integrated into Palestine politically, geographically and economically – and I would bet the core of East Jerusalem falls outside the 95% – then Palestine is non-viable. The World Bank suggests Jerusalem accounts for 40% of the Palestinian economy because of tourism, its largest industry.

Meanwhile, Israel’s repeated advancement of territorial-based plans all have the same aim: to perpetuate the settlements, Israeli “greater” Jerusalem and control of the entire land. Until that matrix of control is broken and a real Palestinian state can emerge – if that’s still possible given Israeli “facts on the ground” – we will have to monitor carefully each proposal, to ascertain if it can end the conflict or merely substitute a sophisticated regime of apartheid. Israel’s ongoing settlement construction and commitment to retaining strategic parts of the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem unfortunately justify a healthy suspicion of Israel’s intentions.

(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at jeff@icahd.org)

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