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Israeli Settlement Policy: Its Impact on the Scope oj Peace in the Region
The end of the peace process to the Palestinian mind is, among other things, the termination of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Palestinians consider Jewish settlements in the territories as the essence of occupation. Such a paradox makes it difficult to view peace and settlements as compatible.
The Palestinians' concept that Israel's settlement policy is the biggest threat facing the Palestinian people has its roots in history: settlement was the primary means through which the Zionist movement established the State of Israel in 1948 on that part of Palestine it had appropriated by various ways.
Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the beginning of Jewish settlement there, this historical background gave rise to the collective feeling, among Palestinians, that Israel's present settlement policy aims to turn a temporary military occupation, which came as a result of a war, into an irreversible historical fact. To the Palestinians, this is the meaning of the settlement policy and this is what it also meant to them at the start of bilateral negotiations in Washington (the early 1990s) between their negotiating team and Israel. These negotiations failed to achieve any result because the Palestinian side insisted on the inclusion, in any agreement, of Israel's commitment to end all forms of settlement expansion. It was only by sidestepping this condition that it was possible, then, for the two sides to reach and sign an agreement in the secret Oslo negotiations.

Facts on the Ground

In the course of all the years of occupation, there were two reasons for Israeli settlement activity. The first is basically strategic, comprising security, religious, ideological and historical considerations. The other reason is tactical and changes according to the political situation and with the change of government or ruling party. This is carried out for economic and political ends.
It is clear that both major parties in Israel have implemented the policy of settlement on strategic basis, but each one had different tactical reasons. The expansion of settlements which took place during Yitzhak Shamir's government when then-American Secretary of State James Baker attempted to start the peace process rolling is a clear illustration: the settlement expansion was meant to hinder such a process.
Since the onset of the peace process, however, a new and important reason for settlement expansion arose. This was to determine the features of the interim and permanent solutions - which are inseparable - through the establishment of facts by expanding settlements or their infrastructure, especially the building of roads and bypass roads.
Such a development in settlement policy has been accomplished in a very obvious manner in the Jerusalem area, in order to predetermine the issue of Jerusalem in negotiations in accordance with Israel's political and ideological requirements. Similarly, the settlements near or on the Green Line (1967 border) are there to force rectification in that area in a final settlement. The same policy was also used in parts of the West Bank with a view of separating the major Palestinian population concentrations in order to hinder their geographic and demographic contiguity and, hence, economic integration. The intention is to influence the nature and essence of the Palestinian entity in a final settlement. Such illegal practices reflect the exploitation by Israel of a lack of balance of power in the area, and the absence of a just and even-handed mediator who would provide circumstances conducive to a just peace in the future.

Losing the Chance

All this is not new. What is new, in my opinion, is the stage which settlement activity has reached, or will reach by the end of Netanyahu's mandate. The size and location of settlements will lead to a situation in the West Bank whereby the possibility of establishing the State of Palestine will have vanished. Consequently, this closes the door on the option which the Palestinians consider as the minimum requirement in a solution and the only way which would bring them to accept the principle of coexistence between the two peoples. This naturally means an end to the opportunity for a peaceful settlement and a historic reconciliation between the two peoples.
Instead of achieving the kind of final settlement which Israel desires, the settlement issue might actually end all chances for a solution, leading to a protraction of the conflict, as illustrated by Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). In other words, through its settlement policy, Israel might now be wasting a historic opportunity through either the short-sightedness and arrogance or the ideology of some of its decision-makers.
To avoid any misconception, the onus of such a responsibility does not lie on the shoulders of the Likud party alone. The Labor party, and even most of the Israeli nation, will carry the blame if they do not appreciate the strategic dangers inherent in the policy of settlement to Israel's future and that of the region.
Israel seeks through settlement expansion to determine the future of the occupied territories, but it overlooks the fact that the future of this land is inextricably linked to that of two and a half million Palestinians living there, as well as to that of Palestinians living in the diaspora who regard it as their future homeland. How, then, will the problem of these millions of Palestinians be solved?

Alternatives

If Israel succeeds in blocking a solution based on the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, the Palestinians will find themselves forced to consider other alternatives. They might opt for a solution which calls for one state from the river to the sea - a binational state. It will not be the solution of choice, but will be a natural development or a de facto option.
The Palestinians had abandoned the notion of a binational state in the middle of the seventies because they believed in the possibility of a solution based on two coexisting entities. If by the century's end they find this an unlikely development due to Israel's settlement policy, they will have no other choice but to revert to their past position. The conflict will then resume over the right or rights over the whole land and not just over rights in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.
Since peace and settlements are incompatible, at the end of the day, Israel will have to choose between them. It might, however, be too late to ask Israel to make the choice, for it would seem that Israel has already done that and has shut the door in the face of peace. So what is left now? Naturally, there are those who consider a third option which falls between that of a single nation and that of two states: the transformation of the temporary interim self-rule into a permanent situation or solution. Some of Netanyahu's advisors even assert they would not mind if the Palestinians went ahead and called it a state.

No Apartheid

The reality of life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in its interim state and with the present existence of settlements is reminiscent of apartheid. The experience of self-rule, so far, points to the impossibility of making it permanent, not only because, structurally, it has been designed on an interim basis, but also because it is precisely its temporary nature which makes it acceptable to the Palestinians. It does not provide the minimum requirements for internal Palestinian stability in the national, economic and security spheres. Furthermore, the so-called self-rule or autonomy fails to tackle or solve the basic elements of the conflict, such as the issues of refugees, the land and Jerusalem. These problems will remain as pressing as ever, and the Palestinian people will remain under foreign control, albeit sometimes indirectly. Such a situation will precipitate an explosion of the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, both on the political and security levels.
In summary, accelerated Israeli settlement policy fails to respect the minimum demands of the Palestinians and creates a reality making impossible the achievement of peace between the two sides. This might put an end to the present historic opportunity for peace. What is more, it will move the conflict to a costlier and more difficult stage, for both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. There are undoubtedly people of vision in Israel who realize the peril inherent in such a development and fight against the policy of settlement. Unfortunately, at present, the majority seems to ignore the dangers such a policy constitutes for the future of Israel.

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