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August 25, 2013

Palestine/Israel: The mirage of a peace settlement

Reuel S. Amdur

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What can we make of the 2000 new housing units that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has authorized for the West Bank and East Jerusalem? There are several factors.

To begin, Netanyahu is acting this way because he can. 

The United States makes disappointed noises but is totally unwilling to do anything to stop Israel. 

Then there is the position of the Palestinian Authority.  It is hesitant to take substantive measures in response for a variety of reasons.  It is to some degree captive of the United States because of financial aid.  It is captive to Israel because of the occupation and control over its ability to get access to its money which is in Israeli government hands.  The Palestinian Authority is engaged in a balancing act, at once subservient to the US and Israel while at the same time acting as defender of the Palestinian people against continual Israeli provocation, intimidation, and aggression. 

Bottom line: Israel can get away with it.

Complicating the matter further is Palestinian hostility toward Fatah because of the corruption that is rife in the Palestinian Authority.  While much has been made of the authoritarian character of Hamas, the Palestinian Authority is hardly a paragon of democratic virtue. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of course protested to US Secretary of State John Kerry against the expansion of Israeli colonization.  Netanyahu responded weakly, accusing the Palestinians of engaging in “hate education.”  When your case is weak, change the subject. 

Netanyahu’s evidence included what a radio broadcaster said about the extent of Palestinian lands and what a Palestinian singer sang in similar context.  Of course this complaint is complete foolishness.  Does Israel have no political figures, even in Netanyahu’s cabinet, who do not favor massive expansion?  And consider the power of the settlers in the current Israeli political picture.

Netanyahu complained that Palestinian children are being taught to hate Israelis.  Professor Dan Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University found that Israeli textbooks depict Palestinians as inferior, dirty, and aggressive. 

As well, Netanyahu decried Abbas’ statement to Egyptian journalists that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli—civilian or soldier—on our lands.”  That comment needs to be seen in context. 

In his speech to the US Congress, the preconditions Netanyahu laid down for peace with Palestine included the continued presence of the settlements and the lack of Palestinian control of their own borders.  Abbas’ remarks need to be taken in the context of Israel’s stated position.

Netanyahu’s reasons for the renewed and accelerated expansionism at this time are twofold. 

First, he is attempting to disarm Israelis who oppose the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal to start peace talks. As well, the release of the prisoners may be seen as part of a package for the Palestinians.  “Yes, we continue to build, but we are returning some prisoners.” 

The fundamental reason for the expansion at this time is that it is possible.  Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy explained the strategy this way.  It is at times of quiet and times of negotiation that expansion proceeds most rapidly. 

So while peace talks go on it is the ideal time to steal more land.

It is highly unlikely that the peace talks will result in a final arrangement, and if some kind of settlement is reached, it will not be conclusive.  Israel will find a way to continue stealing and Palestinians will resist the impositions in one way or another, either with or against Fatah. 

The phony peace talks are going ahead. 

Could the Palestinian Authority do anything to counter Israeli expansionism?  It could get serious about not allowing Palestinians to work on the Israeli projects.  It could attempt to proceed with accelerated parallel unity talks with Hamas, either directly or through third parties.  It could strengthen the demonstrations against the intrusions of the separation wall onto land that is clearly Palestinian.  In short, it could deprive Israel of the quiet that it has in the past provided the go-ahead for aggressive land theft.

Israelis opposed to peace with the Palestinians have nothing to fear from Netanyahu.  As always, any agreement will at best look like a Swiss cheese, in the unlikelihood that there is an agreement.

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