Wonder why the US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are proceeding at a snail’s pace – assuming there’s any progress at all? Just take a drive along Route 60, from the north Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev into the cross-cultural, boundary- blurred universe that is so many things to so many people – the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, the occupied territories, however your outlook dictates the definition.
There in the Binyamin region, you’ll find settlements like Psagot, Rimonim and Kochav Ya’acov abutting the immense city of Ramallah and Palestinian villages along the path like an intertwined jigsaw puzzle. If you ever needed more evidence that there are two nations trying to live on this one patch of majestic, harsh biblical-looking land, this will provide it.
It’s even more evident if you’re on a background briefing with the IDF, because then you get to cross over into “no Israelis allowed” areas like the Kalandiya refugee camp that skirts Jerusalem or the Jelazoun refugee camp, only a couple of hundred meters away from the 7,000-strong settlement of Beit El.
The security barrier doesn’t just separate Palestinians from Israelis. When a soldier opens the gate, it’s as jarring as stepping out of Dorothy’s tornado-stricken Kansas home into Oz, in reverse. From the well-kept lawns and red-roofed homes of Beit El into the drab black-and-white sprawl of Jelazoun takes only a few seconds’ journey, but it might as well be another planet.
Of course, Jelazoun is a refugee camp in name only. In reality, it’s almost city size, with more than 17,000 residents in very non-temporary houses and apartment buildings. That sense of permanence provides concrete proof that the population there, like Beit El, is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon.
How a Palestinian state could ever be established that includes Jelazoun while Beit El remains part of Israel is a conundrum that confounds, and will continue to confound, anyone attempting to enter into the labyrinth of negotiations.
The much talked about notion of Israelis remaining in their settlements inside a Palestinian state is a non-starter.
One look at the proximity of Jelazoun and Beit El to each other reveals that it would only take a day – or an hour – after the IDF leaves the area for a bloody battle to begin. And that’s just one flashpoint among dozens that make negotiating separation between Israel and a future Palestine such a daunting task.
Annex swaths of Judea and Samaria? Dismantle long-established communities like Beit El, which would make the Gush Katif evacuation seem like child’s play? Both appear to be unworkable scenarios that would lead to calamity. It’s no wonder then, that more attention is being paid to a solution for the Jordan Valley, where separation is a more achievable goal and the issue is who will secure the area.
It’s going to take wise minds, cool heads and a lot of goodwill (which doesn’t seem forthcoming) to untangle the pretzel that encompasses the Binyamin region. Until then, the two worlds – meters apart – will continue to live like the other doesn’t exist.