Opinion

Israel's settlement push kills two-state solution, leaving Palestinians few options

Israel's settlement construction in the E1 corridor and East Jerusalem sends a clear message. Unless President Obama stands up to Israel, he and Benjamin Netanyahu should not be surprised if Palestinians charge them with the death of the two-state solution and seek other paths.

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    An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man pushes a shopping cart past a construction site in Gilo, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Dec. 20. Op-ed contributor Mustafa Barghouthi says that 'Israel’s planned settlement construction makes a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible', noting that 'Israel largely rejects...diplomacy,...suppresses nonviolent resistance, but makes minor concessions to violence...'
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The two-state solution is dying. The Palestinian effort late last month at the United Nations to attain non-member observer state status was overwhelmingly approved – 138 to 9 – by the international community. Israel, however, warned that the vote would be purely symbolic and change nothing on the ground. This was a calculated and misleading statement.

In fact, Israel immediately took revenge for the Palestinians’ temerity in seeking to improve our lot by announcing “zoning and planning preparations” for illegal settlements in the sensitive E1 corridor in the occupied West Bank. This week Israel put out tenders for thousands of new settlement units – the most aggressive activity in the area in years.

Israel’s planned settlement construction makes a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible. Bethlehem and Ramallah will be cut off from East Jerusalem if the E1 project goes forward, though Israel argues that we can make do with connecting tunnels and elevated roadways, as if that is tolerable. The Israeli plan also closes the settlement semi-circle around East Jerusalem and builds settlements in it – our would-be capital. The north and south of the West Bank would be effectively bisected and Israel would control the key.

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“This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank,” Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, asserted after Israel’s initial announcement of settlement plans in late November. “This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.”

But the Obama administration appears to be unwilling to do so. With Israel’s newest settlement plans announced Wednesday, all members of the United Nations Security Council issued statements condemning the construction – all except the United States. Though a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday after Israel’s newest announcement that the US is “deeply disappointed” in Israel’s “pattern of provocation,” the Obama administration, after a positive start, has proven every bit as craven in standing up to Israel as its predecessors.

The same day Israel made its Nov. 30 announcement regarding E1 and plans for 3,000 new settlement units around the West Bank and East Jerusalem, I saw photos of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoying an evening with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and long-time stalwarts of the Israel lobby in Washington. She made a moderate expression of concern regarding new Israeli settlement activity, but there was certainly no laying down of the law.

A morally compromised United States will provide no succor. Europe, however, is showing signs of understanding just how serious Israel’s actions are. Several European nations voted in favor of upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN. US allies Germany, France, and Britain all spoke out against Israel’s latest settlement plans. But Europe must go beyond issuing statements, dressing down Israeli ambassadors, or threatening to recall European ambassadors to Israel. Resolute action from the Europeans is long overdue. Now is the time for Europe to review and discard economic relations that disregard Israel’s export of products from illegal settlements.

We Palestinians, with our new-found international standing, are also not as helpless as we once were. We can now go to the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. Those Israeli leaders pursuing illegal colonizing activity in E1 and elsewhere would be on notice that we will actively pursue legal action against them. Those European nations that prior to the vote did not want us to pursue legal action may well be convinced that we are right to push back in a limited fashion against Israel’s land-grabbing response.

Palestinians of my generation are at wits’ end. I have lived my entire adult life under Israeli occupation. Though I was born in East Jerusalem and worked there as a young doctor for 15 years, I am no longer permitted access. When I ran in 2005 to be president of the Palestinian Authority, I was detained and arrested four times by the Israelis. Three times I was injured while participating in peaceful marches against the closure of Jerusalem to most of the Palestinian population.

My response, and that of thousands of Palestinians, has been active nonviolent resistance to highlight for the world the injustices we face. The UN bid was nothing but the mildest possible form of peaceful diplomatic resistance. During the last few weeks in both Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli government, with what amounts to the implicit support of the United States, has sent one message: It understands and respects only the language of force and violence.

What is the lesson being drawn by Palestinians? Israel has largely rejected or ignored diplomacy, has violently suppressed nonviolent resistance, but has made minor concessions to violence (as seen in the cease-fire agreement with Hamas over the recent conflict in Gaza). Many Palestinians drew the same conclusions in 2000 when Israel withdrew from Lebanon.

Of course, a peaceful solution will be one that guarantees security for both Israel and the Palestinians. And the best Palestinian option for long-term peace and a two-state solution remains nonviolence. This approach should include an international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and Israeli companies, intended to prove to Israelis that subjugation of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has real consequences.

I have repeatedly warned of the window closing on the two-state solution. With its latest settlement actions Israel has effectively announced that its government has no interest in the two-state solution. Palestinians of my generation – and many younger Palestinians – will be reevaluating our options. We simply will not accept being permanently relegated to isolated territories and subjected to a system that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other moral and legal authorities acknowledge to be apartheid.

Our struggle is rapidly changing. Calls for a “one-state solution” – one democratic state with equal rights for all Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of religion or ethnicity – will only increase in the months ahead. One person, one vote will be the new rallying cry for many Palestinians.

Effective punitive actions are needed if Israel is to reverse its present course. If the US does not take this action soon, the West should not be surprised to find an increasing number of Palestinians concluding that the two-state solution has died on President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's watch.

Mustafa Barghouthi, a doctor and member of the Palestinian Parliament, is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.

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