Another obstacle in the “Middle East peace process”
New York Cesar Chelala
As he laid out his agenda for his new term, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his government was ready to make a “historic compromise” with the Palestinians, if they were willing to return to the negotiating table in good faith.
“Israel has proven time and again that it is ready for concessions in exchange for real peace, and the situation today is no different,” he remarked. Netanyahu’s actions, however, betray his lofty words.
New building in two new apartment blocks in Jerusalem, Maalot David and Beit Orot, which are both privately owned and developed, cut into the very fabric of Arab East Jerusalem, and undermine the concept that the area could be the capital of a Palestinian state. According to Palestinian leaders, constructions in Maalot Daid and Beit Orot create an area around the so-called Holy Basin of religious sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims that in effect undermines the two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Originally, Beit Orot had been planned as a Palestinian school, and the purchase of the land for a yeshiva had been opposed by then Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. When Kollek was voted out of office the purchase could be concluded. Today, the project continues to provoke controversy, as Palestinian and international authorities consider illegal the building of Israeli settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods.
“It is all part of the plan, part of the scheme, to undermine the two-state solution and East Jerusalem being the capital,” stated recently Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, during a tour of the area for foreign diplomats aimed at stressing the issue ahead of President Barak Obama’s visit.
Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate with Netanyahu during his last term in office was provoked by Israel’s continuing to build homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has refused to halt settlement construction, arguing that negotiations should proceed without preconditions. Palestinians argue, however, that to conduct negotiations while settlement construction continues is equivalent to conducting negotiations under attack of Palestinian missiles into Israeli territory. In addition, ceasing those attacks hasn’t led to any significant concession from the Israeli government.
Today, more than 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, one of the leading Israeli newspapers, Aluf Benn stated that Netanyahu’s third government has one clear goal in mind: to expand the settlements towards achieving his long time objective to have one million Jews living in Judea and Samaria.
Almost universal condemnation for his expansionist policies doesn’t deter Netanyahu. He continues to threaten an attack on Iran or Syria as a way to gain the acquiescence of the United States for his policies. His ploy has given him good results. The U.S. is ignoring Israel’s actions in the territories as long as it can get Netanyahu to postpone his attacks on both countries.
An indication of Netanyahu’s real aims can be glimpsed by statements of one of his key partners, Avigdor Lieberman, who recently declared that anyone who thinks that peace with the Palestinians can be achieved is “delusional.” In addition Lieberman, as he waits for a judicial resolution on his case, has repeated his long standing opposition to any freeze in settlement construction.
It is clear that President Barak Obama will find an inauspicious atmosphere for his peace efforts when he visits Israel. As reported in Haaretz, during a meeting with Arab-American leaders, when Obama was asked if he was planning to launch a new peace initiative for the Middle East he responded: “The government of Israel is not ready to make concessions,” he said, “and so there is no point in bringing pressure to bear at this time.” As things stand now, the “Middle East peace process” looks increasingly like a “Middle East peace hindrance.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala, a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).