By SAMUEL LOVE
The elections in the only democratic nation in the Middle East are officially over and Benjamin Netanyahu has been elected yet again, just in time to face many world leaders who remain unhappy with his lack of negotiations in the peace process. The main outcry seems to be over his proposed construction of settlements in the E1 area. Many fear that this proposed construction will ultimately kill the peace process.
The E1 area currently houses an Israeli police station and a few Bedouin communities and covers an area of 12 square kilometers between East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim. The distance from Maaleh Adumim to the Old City of Jerusalem is 12.4 kilometers. This is roughly the distance on Portage Avenue between Main Street and Sturgeon Road. The total area of the West Bank is 5,860 square kilometers. This would cover an approximate area between Stonewall, Steinbach, Carman and Portage La Prairie, including the entire City of Winnipeg. What does the E1 area of 12 square kilometers look like? It is slightly smaller than an area bordered by Corydon Avenue, Kenaston Boulevard, Ellice Avenue and Osborne Street. It encompasses land areas equivalent in size to those of Wolseley, Fort Rouge, West Broadway, River Heights and other neighborhoods. In other words, River Heights is killing the peace process! Or is it?
On a simple level, the conflict is between the Government of Israel, who wants safety and security for all of its citizens, and the Palestinian Authority, who wants a homeland for the Palestinian people with East Jerusalem as its capitol. The solution to this conflict should be simple: Israel should give the vast majority of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority as a Palestinian homeland, and the Palestinian Authority should guarantee safety and security for all Israelis. If Netanyahu and Abbas would agree to this, there would be peace. The E1 area is land that Abbas, along with many world leaders, feel should belong to a Palestinian state. Proposing to construct dwellings in this area equivalent to a few Winnipeg neighborhoods should not be what is preventing Netanyahu and Abbas from negotiating.
In 2008, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an offer to the Palestinian Authority: Israel would provide 93% of the land in the West bank to the Palestinian Authority plus land adjacent to Gaza that would equal the land area of the West Bank settlements that Israel would retain. The Palestinians would get 100% of the pre 1967 land area in the West bank, Gaza, and an area adjacent to Gaza, while Israel would retain the majority of Israeli settlements close to the pre 1967 border. Olmert further proposed a secure passageway between Gaza and the West Bank where Palestinians could travel freely without any security checks or borders to cross. This would have effectively cut Israel in half, and provided the Palestinians with ultimately more land than they would have received by holding out for a return of the pre 1967 borders. According to Haaretz on August 12th, 2008, the Palestinian Authority’s thoughts on this proposal were abundantly clear:
“The Israeli proposal is not acceptable,” Abbas’s spokesman said. “The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.”
What is wrong with Jews remaining in the settlements and living in a Palestinian country? What is wrong with Jewish Palestinians? What is wrong with Arab Israelis? There are approximately 2 million Arab Israelis who live in Israel proper, but Jews are not allowed to live in an Arab Palestine. Many Arab Israelis have lived in Israel prior to 1948! Many Jews have also lived in Israel prior to prior to 1948. Jews lived in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza until they were forced out by Arabs. One of the largest Israeli West Bank settlements, the Gush Etzion bloc, with a current population of roughly 70,000 Jews, originally began as four Jewish communities in the 1920s until their inhabitants were murdered or forced from their homes in 1948. The West Bank’s Hebron suburb of Kiryat Arbah has approximately 7,000 Jews and the Jewish presence in Hebron has existed since Biblical times. The few Jewish survivors of the 1929 Hebron Massacre were relocated by the British out of fear for their safety. Kfar Darom and Gaza City in Gaza also had Jewish populations that were decimated or forced to move prior to 1948. Jerusalem has also had a thriving Jewish population for centuries, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where the Western Wall still stands. The Palestinian Authority does not want Israel to only remove the settlements that began after 1967, but they also want Israel to remove Jewish settlements in the West Bank that were rebuilt after 1967 and that had existed prior to 1948. The Palestinian Authority also wants to make East Jerusalem as its capital – land that was not to be governed by Arabs under any agreement at any point in history.
River Heights is not killing the peace process. The peace process is already dead, and it will remain dead until the Palestinian Authority agrees to seriously negotiate with the Israeli Government. The fact of the matter is that Israel is not going to evacuate the settlements, although Olmert was willing to offer alternative land equal in size of the settlements for a Palestinian State, plus a corridor from the West Bank to Gaza. The Palestinians clearly do not want a State. If they did want a state, they would have accepted Olmert’s offer. If they wanted a state, they would be willing to negotiate for it right now with Israel – and not continue to avoid negotiating as has been the case since 2010. Why have they refused to negotiate prior to Israel’s E1 announcement? Perhaps negotiating with Israel would be a good way for the Palestinians to voice their displeasure over settlement expansions instead of resorting to violence? Perhaps Israel would cease expanding the settlements and be more open to negotiation if the Palestinians ceased being violent? What the Palestinians want is land that Jews occupy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – not because it is Palestinian land, but because Jews live on that land. And until they can force all of the Jews out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they will not willing to negotiate for a Palestinian state and a lasting peace with Israel. Until this happens, Israeli settlements will keep growing on the approximately 7% of West Bank land that they currently occupy, international condemnation will continue to pour in, and the Palestinians will not get a state because their leader refuses to negotiate for it. Settlements have not killed the peace process; Abbas has – and he is the only one who has the power to revive it. Now that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been elected for another term, it is time for Abbas to return to negotiations to achieve a Palestinian state and provide and everlasting peace in the Middle East.