PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi blamed Israel for “deliberately dealing one blow after the other to the international community and the US administration,” as they attempt to revive the peace process.
Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti claimed Israel was “in a race against time to impose facts on the ground and destroy the idea of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
And Palestinian Authority negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Fatah official, said Israel was “not serious” about the negotiations.
All were reacting to Israel’s decision Sunday to issue tenders for the building of about 1,200 housing units beyond the Green Line in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev and in Ariel, Efrat, Ma’aleh Adumim and Betar Illit.
It may not have been particularly smart of the government to make the announcement right now, as Israelis and Palestinians prepare to sit down on Wednesday in Jerusalem for the second round of peace talks. Israel could and should have waited at least until after the negotiations were well under way, until some sort of trust between the sides could be built and an indication could be made of the extent to which the Palestinians are serious about a peace deal.
At the very least, postponing the announcement would have prevented a situation in which Israel is blamed by the US and by the international community for hurting chances the talks will succeed.
It also would have kept the ball squarely in the Palestinian court. According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s peace index for July, under one fifth (18 percent) of Jewish Israelis rate the chances of the talks producing a peace agreement as high or very high, while the majority (80%) see the chances as moderately low or very low. Palestinian intransigence, not Israeli actions, should be responsible for this pessimism.
Still, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has a rightwing government coalition to maintain. The announcement on building beyond the Green Line purposely coincides with the release of 26 Palestinian terrorists arrested before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The gut-wrenching process undertook by the government’s ministerial committee members to choose the first batch of a total of 104 terrorists to be released over the nine months allotted for the talks would not have happened had Netanyahu not made a backroom deal with Bayit Yehudi and members of his own Likud party that guaranteed building beyond the Green Line continued during the talks. And without the release of the terrorists, including Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia, who murdered Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg in a Petah Tikva construction site in 1994 and other coldblooded murderers who will be received as heroes on the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians would not have come to the negotiating table at all.
If the Palestinians are truly serious about national self-determination and want, therefore, to stop Israeli building not as a tactic for impeding the growth of the Jewish state but, rather, out of a genuine desire to create a Palestinian one, the only way to achieve that goal is to sit down at the negotiating table and hammer out borders.
Besides, the new middle-class city of Rawabi north of Ramallah, the first – Jewish or Palestinian – to be built on the West Bank in more than two decades, is proof there is nothing stopping Palestinians from taking the initiative and building in areas that will clearly be a part of a future Palestinian state. Clearly, building of this kind is not an obstacle to peace, just as Jewish building within existing settlement blocs to accommodate natural growth is not an obstacle.
Palestinians cannot expect Israel to turn back the clock over 40 years to a time when Jordan, not Israel, controlled the West Bank and there was little, if any, talk about establishing a Palestinian state there.
The settlements that were built on the West Bank are just as much a product of years of rejectionism during which Arab nations and Palestinians opposed the very existence of, not to mention negotiations with, the State of Israel – not just after 1967 but from its very inception.
It might be convenient for Ashrawi, Barghouti and Shtayyeh to accuse Israel of “sabotaging” talks by building in established settlements and neighborhoods.
But the reality on the ground is not so simple.
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