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13 Aug, 2013 19:05

An estate agent with guns: Israel’s new settlements disable peace process

An estate agent with guns: Israel’s new settlements disable peace process

They say that there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. They could have easily added a third one: that Palestine will continue to shrink.

Only days before bilateral negotiations were scheduled to resume between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli government announced the construction of some 1,200 new apartments for Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And so begins the great peace process.

Washington’s role in this diplomatic theater is already well known and is similar to that of a match referee who has already been passed the brown envelope by the away team. Never in the history of this peace process has Israel ever had to make any actual concessions. Part of the reason for this is because Washington is there to help ensure certain outcomes on behalf of the Israel’s powerful lobby in the US. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat (R) and Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (C) arrive to speak to the press at the State Department in Washington on July 30, 2013. (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

The EU’s role in this process is much less influential than Washington’s, but is slightly more dynamic because unlike in the US, in Europe there is a genuine interest among the populations to see a peaceful and just settlement in the Middle East. The EU’s recent anti-settlement initiative against Israel is evidence of political movement on the issue. Whether it yields any results on the ground is another matter.

If you look at a map of Palestinian land in 1947 compared to now, you’ll see that Israel has annexed over 90% of it. It’s a haunting graphic which clearly demonstrates the scale of the hurdles any peace negotiations must overcome.

‘God promised us this land’

Some critics of Israel call it religious fundamentalism, while others call it Zionism, but for native Palestinians and Arabs in the region, Israel’s continuous building and ethnic cleansing is viewed simply as colonial expansion.

At the heart of the Israeli mindset is their firm religious belief that all the land from the Mediterranean to just beyond the River Jordan, including the Dead Sea, belongs to the Jewish state of Israel. They base this land stake holding roughly along the borders of the ancient Kingdom of Judea. 

Christian Orthodox pilgrim immerses herself into the waters of the Jordan River during a baptism ceremony marking the Orthodox Feast of the Epiphany on January 18, 2013 at the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site in the West Bank by the Jordan River. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)

Other Israeli cartographers might even extend that claim even farther – south including the Sinai Peninsula, parts of South Lebanon and Syria’s Golan Heights.

The basic problem with all these grand claims of ‘ethnic ownership’ is that Israel’s alleged portfolio of title deeds for these lands is not based on any legal claim as such, but rather, their belief that God has gifted this land to the modern state of Israel. In a modern world which struggles with religious dogmas, the idea that the world could be forced to accept one group’s interpretation of Biblical text to define national borders in the 21st century will never be an easy pill to swallow.

Peace Talks: Set-up to Fail

Now the peace talks are set to begin. Enter stage right John Kerry, the US Secretary of State. His role is simply to orchestrate proceedings, and to be photographed in the middle between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives. That’s it. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat (R) and Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (L) at the State Department in Washington on July 30, 2013. (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

Any concessions offered by Israel’s Netanyahu government will have already been rubber-stamped by the US in advance, fully designed to advance Israel’s ultimate objectives, and not those of Palestine’s. As the peace process reaches its next inevitable impasse, or “imminent collapse” moment, that is when you can expect the Israeli delegation to produce a withering carrot. Journalist Jonathan Cook recently described one such rotten offering:

“That may prove a tempting moment for Israel to carry out its much-longed-for annexation of Area C, the bulk of the West Bank and the site of the settlements. With as few as 100,000 Palestinians left in Area C after decades of ethnic cleansing, Israel can offer them citizenship without threatening the state’s hallowed Jewishness.”

One-State, Two-State, Three-State – No-State

The biggest carrot of all in this story can never be eaten, and that’s the promise of an independent Palestinian state. The “two-state solution” – one state for Israel and one for Palestine, has been rigged to fail ever since it was hatched at the Madrid Conference in 1991.  Some critics of the effort blame Israel’s continual sabotage of the process, while others point out that if the two-state solution had any legs it would already have been implemented. The UN’s recognition of Palestine is based on its pre-1967 borders with Israel. On the surface, this may appear to legitimize the Palestinian cause, but in actuality, alongside the “right of return” clause, it’s a central source of tension between the two sides.

Then there’s the “three-state solution,” also referred to as the “Egyptian-Jordanian solution,” which effectively gives control of the West Bank to Jordan, and control of Gaza to Egypt. As the geopolitical scene continues to evolve in the region, this type of settlement cannot be completely ruled out.

Conversely, talk of a “one-state solution” – everyone living together in a democracy – at least has some grounding in reality as there are already 1.2 million Palestinian residents living within Israeli borders. Unfortunately, Israelis would never embrace such a future, even though they are forever touting their credentials as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” If they were to integrate all of Palestine into a single multi-ethnic and multi-faith state, then Christian and Muslim Palestinians would soon outnumber Jewish Israeli voters, so from an Israeli point of view, such a “democracy” would be unacceptable.

There are other reasons besides Israel’s policy of rogue expansion that are hammering additional nails in the coffin of any peace settlement. Israel seems to reserve the right to knock over the negotiation table at any point in time, and will even hold talks without Palestine's legitimate government. This would naturally be blamed on some militant activity kicking off in Gaza at some juncture during the peace process. 

Israeli municiplaity bulldozers destroy a Palestinian house in the Arab east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, on May 29, 2013. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Gharabli)

The world has grown accustomed to watching Israel using its bulldozers to destroy farmland, or to demolish Palestinian homes in order to clear residents from strategic areas. We’ve seen their soldiers firing live rounds, targeting the most vulnerable, as they did with central Gaza's Al-Boreij refugee camp.

Israel will cry foul, but in the end, if by magic, it always manages to maintain its status quo – continued expansion, by way of ethnic cleansing. 

After all, Israel holds all the cards, and holds the guns too.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.