By Sherri Muzher
Regardless of the US presidential election results in November, Palestinians will be told to resume direct negotiations with Israel if they wish to see a state of their own.
Apparently, the old expression that ‘actions speak louder than words’ doesn’t apply. The continuation of Israeli settlements speaks volumes. Physical separation and lack of contiguity has nullified the hopes of two states living side by side.
Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, summarized direct talks in three points. 1) There is no sign that the Palestinians are willing to accept less than a viable, territorially contiguous state in the West Bank (and eventually, Gaza), including a capital in East Jerusalem. 2) There is no sign that Israel’s government is willing to accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian "state" consisting of a set of disconnected Bantustans, with Israel in full control of the borders, air space, and water supplies. 3) There is no sign that the U.S. government is willing to put meaningful pressure on Israel.
In fact, the last U.S. president to put serious pressure on Israel was George H.W. Bush who withheld loan guarantees to Israel for its settlement policies back in 1991.
A decade earlier, President Reagan said in September 1982, "Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlements freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks."
But leaders from Labor, Likud, and Kadima have never taken a reprieve from settlement-building.
Numerous reasons have been cited by Israelis for the need to build Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, including the need for more housing to accommodate Jewish immigrants.
Jewish settlers will tell you that their presence in the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria to religious Jews, is necessary because God said the land must belong to the Jews even if it means ridding the land of its inhabitants.
Some say that the settlements in the Occupied Territories are necessary to protect Israel’s security. However, Binyamin Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a prominent voice in the rightwing Likud party stated that "In strategic terms, the settlements are of no importance." Adding, they constitute an obstacle, an insurmountable obstacle to the establishment of an independent Arab State west of the river Jordan."
But nobody expressed the objective of settlements better than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who once urged that, "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours."
That mentality has driven Israeli governments and hurt hopes for real peace. Short of removing 500,000 settlers from the Occupied Territories, there are still two chances for peace: 1) Jewish settlers can agree to become citizens of a future Palestine and abide under its laws or 2) agree to a bi-national state. Bi-nationalism is the idea of two national groups living in one nation as equals. The latter has picked up steam.
It is doubtful that bi-nationalism was in the cards either. Bi-nationalism is perhaps the greatest fear of those who wish to maintain the Jewish character of Israel since Palestinians would become the majority. But as Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice on the Supreme Court once said, "The logic of words should yield to the logic of realities."
And this much is known: Palestinians aren’t leaving and Israelis aren’t leaving. They share the same land and the same natural resources. Their economies are linked. Israeli settlements have made physical separation impossible. The only solution is a democratic bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis live as equals and are forced to make it work.
- Sherri Muzher is the author of Escape to a World of Palestinian Surprises. Visit: www.palestiniansurprises.com. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.