by Jad Isaac
A tour of the West Bank or a look at its geopolitical map reveals the extent of Israel’s colonization strategy and how the settlements regime is undermining the two-state solution. The ongoing fragmentation of Palestinian land and communities into disconnected cantons, combined with the frequent collective punishment of closures, house demolitions and the confiscation of private property, are making the two-state solution far-fetched, if not impossible.
When the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) engaged the peace process with Israel with the signing of the first Oslo Accord on Sept. 13, 1993, the Palestinian people assumed that a Palestinian state would emerge within five years’ time on the land occupied by Israel on June 5, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Oslo agreement states:
During the further redeployment phases to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council, powers and responsibilities relating to territory will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations.
And that …
* The two Parties view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.
* Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.
From that point on, the peace agenda was never in full motion, and Israel made sure to put spokes in the wheel of the peace process until it jumped around from one setback to another, turning every dilemma into a crisis. The pretense that the Palestinians are not committed to the peace process has bought Israel the time it needs to drive the peace process to a different level where it can manipulate and change the signed agreements and stipulated terms of reference, particularly the ones concerning territorial withdrawal. Furthermore, Israel’s insistence on proceeding with the settlement project in the area that remained under its occupation (Area C, which represents 61% of the West Bank) jeopardized the repeated efforts to resume fruitful negotiations.
Israeli geographical manipulation on the ground was not only confined to settlement expansion, but went beyond through a phenomenon that came to be known as the “outposts”. The spread of the outposts in the West Bank started to be more visible when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed the Tzomet party on November 15, 1998 saying: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours ...everything we don't grab will go to them.”
To date, the Israeli settlers have managed to establish 232 outposts throughout the West Bank, where they are strategically located to enable the clustering of settlements in blocks and create corridors that link the Eastern and Western segregation zones.
In addition, Israel managed to establish an organized network of bypass roads that aim to link the settlements with one another and to the Israeli road network beyond the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice Line). Today the Israeli bypass road network stretches 939 km in length throughout the West Bank, connecting the Israeli settlements and carving up the West Bank into separate geographical lands and segregated communities.
Still, it was not until June 2002 that the Israeli long-term plan came to being and started to manifest before the Palestinians and the world. This time Israel revealed its intention by showing the first rough draft of the plan to build a separation wall (proclaimed by Israel as a “security barrier”) along the western terrains of the West Bank. According to the final plan that shows the Separation Wall route, it extends a length of 771 km and stands to isolate 12.9% (773 km2) of the West Bank total area. Less than 20% of the wall coincides with the armistice line. The wall, which Israel proclaimed to be temporary and the reason for its construction as “security,” became the future eastern border between Israel and the West Bank, as is evident by the positions of the Israeli negotiators since the proximity talks in Annapolis.
“State Land” Is 41% of the West Bank
According to the Israeli occupation, the “state land” in the occupied Palestinian territory accounts for some 41% if the West Bank area, as the number came to existence over three main periods. The first includes the pre-occupation time, when the Jordanian administration identified 634,920 dunums (11.2%) of the West Bank as state sand, and Israel considered its control “occupation” of the West Bank an entitlement to such land.
Following the 1967 war, Israel ordered a halt to land registration and declared an additional 843,922 dunums (14.9%) the high point of which was following 1979. After 1990 Israel completed procedures on surveyed land (666,327 dunums, or 11.7%), to which additional declarations were made for purposes relating to construction of the separation wall, bypass roads, establishing security buffer zones areas (security pretext) and military purposes, among others.
Ultimately, the settlements regime and its offspring — the bypass road network, the outposts and the wall — mutated the natural geography of the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and disfigured the Palestinian state as envisaged by the Palestinians at the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Currently, as ever before, Israel refuses to accept the Palestinian argument and the conclusion of international representatives; the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process; dozens of UN resolutions, most recently UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of Dec. 23, 2016, which declared the settlements in violation of the international law; the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949; and one of the foremost obstacles to peace between Palestinians and Israel.
During the past 20 years, Israel managed to triple the number of Israeli settlers from 240,000 in 1995 to more than 763,000 in 2016, and to expand the area of the settlements in the West Bank territory (including occupied East Jerusalem) from 69 km2 in 1990 to 197 km2 in 2016. In spite of repeated Palestinian protests and international condemnation, Israel persisted with its colonization policy in the occupied territory, knowing fully that it violated international law, the signed peace agreement, ultimately undermining the prospects of the basis of the peace process altogether, with the two-state solution as the end target of the peace process.
The “Greater” Jerusalem Plan
The expansion in the settlements was not random. Rather, it was systematic and distinctive as to where it took place. Evidently, Israel went after the expansion in the major settlements blocs (Arial, Modiin Illit, Giva’t Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion), by way of construction, roads and infrastructure. Israel was particularly focused on its plan to fortify the settlements blocs around Jerusalem (Giva’t Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion) to make the so-called “Greater” Jerusalem plan a reality upon which it may challenge Palestinian claims over the city — by consolidating its control over the bulk area of what would become the city borders according to the separation wall route. In one aspect, the settlements expansion and the consequent demographic “makeover” is devised to turn the Palestinian Jerusalemites’ existence in the city into a minority, reduced from the current (according to the Israeli Center Bureau of Statistics) 37% of the city’s total population to about 15%.
The demographic plan falls within the second (geographic) aspect of the Israeli plan to take over the city, which is to redefine the city’s border with the route of the Separation Wall through which the new border will encompass three settlements blocs (Giva’t Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion) with an area of 175 km2 and a population of Israeli settlers exceeding 140,000. Furthermore, the construction plans in and around the settlements of East Jerusalem and the “Greater” Jerusalem plan include some 52,000 housing units, which translates to nearly 200,000 additional Israeli settlers to the population of occupied Jerusalem. Simultaneously, Israel made sure when it routed the plan of the Separation Wall around the “Greater” Jerusalem area to surgically remove indigenous Palestinian communities out of the what — according to the Israeli occupation — would define Jerusalem; such as Kfar Aqab (population 60,000) and Shufat refugee camp (population 25,000), which currently exist within occupied East Jerusalem but will no longer “geographically” exist within Jerusalem’s jurisdictional territory, according to the definition of the Israeli occupation, once the route of the wall is completed.
The “Greater” Jerusalem plan will serve the Israeli scheme by cutting the West Bank’s geographical contiguity at the central part of the West Bank, while capturing the Palestinian capital, hence undermining the sustainability of an independent Palestinian state.
To consolidate its grip and force its scheme to undermine the Palestinian state, the Knesset endorsed on Feb. 6, 2017 the so-called “Regulation Bill,” which allows the Israeli appointed custodian of absentee properties and land to claim administrative rights over the “state land” including possession of private Palestinian land (which makes up some 50% of the settlements land).
Recognition of Palestine – A Key to Salvaging the Two-State Solution
A viable, contiguous Palestinian state remains a challenging concept, as Israel has spared no effort to undermine the “two-state solution” and the peace process altogether with its persistence in continuing with its land seizure policy, house demolition strategy, matrix of control on movement and sustaining the dependency of the Palestinian economy, which ultimately eradicated the essence of the entire peace process and only restructured and repositioned the presence of the Israeli occupation army in the OPT.
To salvage the two-state solution, countries that have opposed or abstained from recognizing Palestinian statehood should take the moral step and declare their recognition of Palestine as a state based on the borders of June 4, 1967. The fate of settlements will be left for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to settle within a clearly defined timeframe. The Israeli occupation authorities are pursuing a policy of ethnic displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has characterized the legitimate Palestinian call for ceasing Jewish settlement in Palestine as “ethnic cleansing.” Palestinians have no objection for accommodating Jewish settlements in the State of Palestine, provided they accept Palestinian sovereignty and submit evidence that the land acquired has been legally bought from its rightful owners. Otherwise, Israel has to abide by the international community’s decisions which see the settlements as illegal, and thus Israel should start reversing its illegal settlement project. Regrettably, the Israeli public in general has been indoctrinated: The territory is not occupied but rather disputed; historic attachments to “Judea and Samaria” and “unified Jerusalem” is the eternal capital of Israel; and there is no Palestinian partner with whom Israel may consummate peace. A change in the mindset of Israelis is essential to salvaging the two-state solution.