Talks seem to be just a smokescreen for the continuance of apartheid Israeli-style
Opinion: Israel trying to substitute another interim deal for a final settlement
US secretary of state John Kerry with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat after a meeting in Ramallah earlier this month. Photograph: Reuters
The Palestine Liberation Organisation, representing the Palestinians, has engaged deeply and with goodwill in a process that has been going on for 20 years already, since the Oslo Agreement was signed. This was in the hope that after making our historic compromise – accepting the existence of Israel on 78 per cent of traditional Palestine – we would eventually get a Palestinian state on the remaining 22 per cent of the land.
However, the Oslo Agreement was never fully implemented by Israel, and what was supposed to be a five-year interim period became 20 years of endless settlement construction.
After the failures of Oslo I and II, Wye River, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis, we have embarked on John Kerry’s initiative. Now it has become clear that Israel is seeking to postpone final status issues with yet more interim agreements, all the while devouring the land of a future Palestinian state.
Resolving the conflict
The problem has two dimensions. The first is that Israel is trying to avoid a complete solution by substituting another interim stage. The current nine-month round of talks is not aimed at resolving the conflict, but merely establishing a “framework” for negotiations, when in fact the framework has existed in international law and international consensus for decades.
During the proposed new interim phases, the settlements will continue to expand.
Since the current round of talks began in July, the rate of settlement expansion has increased by 132 per cent, according to Israeli human rights groups.
The second dimension of the problem is that Israel continues to bring new positions to the negotiating table, some of which Kerry is adopting, and these positions threaten the very basis of a viable Palestinian state.
One example is the insistence of the Israeli government to keep its military on the borders after the agreement is signed. For several years the Palestinian state will not be in control of its own borders. Another example is the insistence that the Israeli army will control the so-called Highway 90, which cuts down the West Bank and isolates the Jordan Valley completely.
Also, the Israeli government is now insisting it will keep more than 90 per cent of the settlers, which number about 570,000. Yet all the settlements are illegal, according to the Geneva Conventions and the International Court of Justice, which the American and the European governments all agree with.
The Israeli government, which itself is populated with settlers, is insisting that Palestinians accept the legalisation of this illegal infrastructure.
So as Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, continues to upgrade his demands, we now know that he intends to keep Beit El, which is besieging Ramallah, and Kiryat Arba and Hebron settlement, which isolates and divides large parts of Hebron.
He also wants to keep the massive Ariel settlement, extending 22km inside the West Bank, and he wants to keep Gush Etzion, south of Bethlehem, and he wants to keep all the settlements in the Jerusalem area.
Jerusalem also is at the core of another new demand of the Israeli government. It wants to erase the possibility of the Palestinian capital through the manipulative concept of “Greater Jerusalem”.
Israel is trying to deny a Palestinian state by relegating its capital to a nearby, artificial, and inadequate substitute. Jerusalem is like the hub of a wheel, and all the major towns of the West Bank connect to it like spokes.
Last but not least of the new demands, the Netanyahu government is trying to pass a resolution that demands Palestinians recognise Israel explicitly as a Jewish state. Since the PLO recognised the state of Israel more than 21 years ago while Israel never recognised the Palestinian state, the Israelis are now pushing the boundary further, adding a new and unprecedented demand.
This is nothing but the consolidation of a system of apartheid, because one in five Israelis is not Jewish, and every modern democratic state must be a state for all its citizens, not one ethnic group.
So the big question here is this: if the Palestinians will not control their borders, and lose large parts of their promised state to the illegal settlements, and if the bypass roads remain, and if we will not have a capital in East Jerusalem, then what are we talking about? A state? Or a cluster of Bantustans, similar to what existed under the apartheid system of South Africa?
The negotiations are not about compromise and two states. They are about deceiving the Palestinians and the international community into accepting, endorsing, and legitimising the current system of apartheid.
Dr Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian parliament and general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.