This is not a blog about conflict resolution, and I am certainly no expert on the Middle East conflict. Lack of expertise does not stop many other folks from commenting, so why should it stop me? The following is simply based on my close attention to the media from Israel (in English, both print and broadcast) and international sources, as well as my own observations of many of the much-discussed locales when I was in Jerusalem (in what is technically a “settlement”) for over two months in 2010.
There has been much–too much–attention to the Israeli cabinet’s declaration (not really a “decision” as best I can tell) to move ahead with some 3,000 new homes beyond the Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines), including in an area known as “E-1″.
Report after report says that building homes in E-1 is the death knell of a future Palestinian state. It is alleged to make contiguity of such a state impossible, by cutting off access between the Ramallah area (northwest of Jerusalem) and Bethlehem (to the south of the Jerusalem center).
There is no kinder way of putting it than to say this is BS.
The proposed E-1 homes are northeast of Maale Adumim, which is itself some distance east of Jerusalem.
Ramallah and Bethlehem can’t exactly be easily connected even now, due to the incredibly rugged terrain. Homes northeast of Maale Adumim, a city of about 40,000 east of Jerusalem along Highway 1 towards the Jericho and Dead Sea areas, doesn’t change these geographic realities.
As for the other areas in which new homes would be built, these are not new proposals. They are not even new settlements. They are in places like Ramat Shlomo, which I have commented on before. That is, they are homes within the boundaries of existing built-up areas–at least as I understand what is covered by the cabinet’s declaration of intent to proceed. They are in areas that will not conceivably be either evacuated or turned into islands within a sovereign Palestinian sea whenever there actually might be a negotiated solution.
As for contiguity, it might be noted that Gaza–from which Israel did pull out its settlers—is not contiguous with the other regions that are proposed as part of a Palestinian state. So this is actually something of a red herring. If a Palestinian state is ever created, it will not be contiguous, regardless of Mevasseret Adumim (the name of the housing area within “E-1″) and Ramat Shlomo and Ariel and Kiryat Arba (etc.). It will have to involve various road and other corridors, overpasses and underpasses near developed Israeli areas, and tight security guarantees. It will also involve transferring some current territory–and presumably some Arab population–on the pre-1967 Israeli side of the Green Line to the new state. All of this is precisely what makes a negotiated solution so difficult, and nothing that the cabinet has said in recent days changes this difficult reality.
It must be emphasized that all of these development plans, as well as the ideas of territorial swaps and security guarantees, have been on the table for close to two decades now–a key fact lost in the excited rhetoric of recent days. In fact, there are many influential voices in Israel, including within the cabinet itself, disappointed with the slow pace of approvals of long-planned housing developments. Israel is just now in the midst of an election campaign, and we can hardly expect the incumbent government, particularly given its political complexion, to have greeted the UN resolution “upgrading” the status of “Palestine” with anything milder than it has done so far. One does not have to be a supporter of the Likud and its allies and their strategic visions–I certainly am not–to recognize that the bluster from European governments about withdrawing ambassadors and such is not constructive, and probably only plays into the hands of the harder-line elements of the Israeli electoral majority.
In context, the diplomatic and media excitement of this past week is just so much noise.