Three weeks ago, when Peace Now reported that Construction and Housing Minister
Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) was moving ahead with preliminary planning procedures
for 24,000 homes beyond the Green Line, the Palestinian negotiating team
threatened to quit the current peace talks. According to at least one report
chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat actually tendered his resignation to
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu quickly took steps to defuse the situation. Netanyahu
demanded that Ariel immediately freeze plans for building some 1,200 units in
the area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem known as E1. He also called on
Ariel to “reconsider” plans for building elsewhere, mostly in large settlement
In response, the Palestinians agreed to continue
But controversy over building was sparked over the weekend
again after Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea reported on Friday that the planning
process for the 24,000 units was going ahead and that tenders for the projects
were going to close this week. The Palestinians reportedly told US Secretary of
State John Kerry that they would terminate the negotiations.
the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to defuse the situation, notifying The
Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon that Israel was not in fact going ahead with the
planning for 24,000 homes, including the 1,200 units in E1. It seems likely that
for a number of reasons – not least of which that Israel still has two batches
of 26 Palestinian prisoners to release – the Palestinians will not pull out of
the talks just yet.
But it also seems that the Palestinian negotiators
are using the building plans as an excuse, if not to back out of talks then to
prepare the ground for blaming Israel if, or when, the nine-month period
allotted for the negotiations comes to an end and no agreement is
It is clear that the proposed building plans are nothing but an
excuse for several reasons. First, these are nothing but preliminary plans. Tens
of thousands are issued throughout the year and throughout the country. The vast
majority – for various reasons ranging from environmental concerns to the
objections of planning bodies – do not come to fruition. For instance, a
Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman noted that of 650,000 units
throughout the country in various preliminary stages of planning, only some
25,000 would likely be built, and even that amount over a period of four to 20
Also, the vast majority of the planned housing units were slated
for inside the large settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim or
in east Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Givat Ze’ev, which would most likely
remain a part of a Jewish state in any two-state solution as envisioned by the
Geneva Initiative, the Clinton parameters and outlines set down during
negotiations in 2008 between Abbas and then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Palestinians would be compensated for these Jewish settlements and neighborhoods
with land inside the Green Line.
If the Palestinians truly were
interested in stopping construction in areas which they see as a part of a
future Palestinian state, the best way to achieve their goal would be to reach
an agreement with Israel on borders as quickly as possible, not to walk away
Of course, it could be -- given the radicalized Palestinian
political scene -- that the negotiators have little choice but to protest wildly
every time Israel announces it is building beyond the Green Line even if doing
so does little to advance Palestinian interests.
Yet there is some hope
that against all odds the present talks will actually lead to a substantial
Labor MKs such as opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Omer
Barlev who met Sunday with Abbas in Ramallah got the impression he was serious
and pragmatic and truly interested in reaching an agreement. It could be they
were purposely painting an overly positive picture in order to make Netanyahu
look like the intransigent one.
But the fact remains that a majority of
both Palestinians and Israelis realize that a negotiated two-state solution is
the only option. For Israelis it would ensure that Israel remains both Jewish
and democratic. For Palestinians it would end the occupation and provide them
with national self-determination. Palestinians should hunker down and hammer out
an agreement instead of transforming every future building plan into a crisis.
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