Negotiations and settlement construction cannot coexist
Settlement expansion impacts on the Palestinian domestic balance of power, since it strengthens the opponents to the peace process.
By GHASSAN KHATIB
One subject on which there is complete Palestinian consensus across the political spectrum is that negotiations and settlement expansion in occupied territory, including east Jerusalem, are mutually exclusive.
Indeed, according to numerous studies and surveys, one of the main reasons for the steady decline in public support for the PLO leadership, whether under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the Annapolis process or the late president Yasser Arafat before him, is that they continued negotiating in spite of the settlement expansion.
There is a very simple, logical reason for this. The peace process, from a Palestinian perspective, is about ending the occupation that started in 1967. This is necessary to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel and thus necessary for the two-state solution that the world has declared is the only proper resolution of the conflict. However settlement construction - including expansion of existing settlements, the establishment of new settlements or construction of settlement infrastructure such as road networks and the wall - is about consolidating the occupation.
Hence if negotiations are about ending the occupation there must first, as a logical necessity, be an end to settlement construction. Settlement construction renders negotiations meaningless.
But the negative consequences of settlement construction are not just felt regarding chances for a negotiated peace agreement. Continued settlement expansion also impacts on the domestic balance of power on the Palestinian side, because such construction directly strengthens the opponents to the peace process who argue that a negotiations process will not secure legitimate aspirations for statehood and freedom from occupation.
THE LAST few months have witnessed renewed hope for a meaningful negotiating process. Expectations have been raised because a US administration has, for the first time, demanded that for it to renew its political efforts vis-a-vis the conflict Israel must fulfill its obligations under the road map, which became a resolution of the United Nations' Security Council, and stop all kinds of settlement activity and expansion, including for so-called natural growth.
The resulting tension between Israel and Washington over this issue has put the credibility of both the peace process and the new American administration on the line. Should the US government and the rest of the international community fail to make Israel abide by its international commitments, especially regarding ending the expansion of settlements, it will sabotage efforts to renew the political process. And even if negotiations did resume, the resulting process would founder yet again on the rocks of the settlement project.
On the other hand, should Washington be successful in its "friendly" efforts to persuade Israel to stop its settlement expansion, there will be more than one positive effect. Ending settlement expansion will not only secure the resumption of a meaningful process, it will, to a large extent, empower the peace camp and undermine the opposition, not only in the Palestinian context but also in Israel and the region.
Crucially, it will also allow again for the practical possibility of a Palestinian state. Without a freeze to settlement expansion, the very concept of the two-state solution will be undermined. And a two-state solution is the inescapable precondition for peace between Israel and the Arab world.
The writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet publications. He is vice president for community outreach at Bir Zeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.This article originally appeared on bitterlemons.org and is republished with permission.
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