It’s as if the world’s leaders were earnestly warning us that global warming will cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. They’ve actually been dead for a long time already. So has the Middle East “peace process.”
As soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Israel will build 3,000 homes on “East One” (E-1), the last piece of land connecting East Jerusalem with the West Bank that is not already covered with Jewish settlements, the ritual condemnations started to flow. Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” and others went a lot further.
In almost all the media coverage, the Israeli announcement is explained as an angry response for the United Nations General Assembly’s vote last month granting the Palestinian Authority permanent observer status at the UN. As if Netanyahu were an impulsive man who had just lost his temper, not a wily strategist who thinks long-term.
Building in the “E-1” area, which covers most of the space between the Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem and the huge Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the Palestinian West Bank, is definitely a game-changer. It effectively separates the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the city that the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. It also almost cuts the West Bank in two. But it’s not a new idea.
The Israeli government declared its intention to build on this land 14 years ago, when Netanyahu was prime minister for the first time. The plan was frozen in response to outraged protests from practically all of Israel’s allies, but it was never abandoned.
Now a pretext has arisen, and Netanyahu has seized it. And you can’t kill the “two-state solution.” To Netanyahu’s considerable satisfaction, it is already dead.
Creating two independent states, Israeli and Palestinian, separated by the “green line” that was Israel’s border until it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, was the goal of the 1993 Oslo Accords. That’s what the “peace process” was all about, but it was really doomed when Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in 1995.
Netanyahu was elected prime minister after Rabin’s death, and spent the next three years stalling on the transfers of land and political authority to the Palestinian Authority that were required by the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, he supported a vastly expanded program of Jewish settlement in the West Bank that would ultimately make a Palestinian state impossible.
The number of Jews living in the West Bank has doubled in the past 12 years, and they now account for one-fifth of the population there. Jewish settlements, roads reserved for Jewish settlers, and Israeli military bases now cover 40 per cent of the West Bank’s territory. But to retain US support, Netanyahu still has to pretend that he is really interested in a two-state solution.
That’s why he had to wait for the right excuse before building on “E-1” and sealing East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. But he always intended to kill off the “peace process,” and in practice he succeeded long ago.
Why do his Western allies in the United States and elsewhere put up with this charade? Because they cannot think of anything else to do.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.