In an interview earlier this year with The Jerusalem Post, one of the Jewish settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, an area in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem where Palestinians are being evicted from their homes, explained that he had no “personal problems” with “the Arabs” – but insisted that “they have to admit who the landlord is here.”
This sentiment offers more insight into the current realities on the ground in East Jerusalem, and Palestine/Israel in general, than dozens of column inches spent analyzing the progress of “shuttle diplomacy,” “concessions,” and “indirect talks.”
This summer marks 10 years since the failed Camp David talks held under President Clinton’s leadership, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat returned home without a conclusive deal.
In September, it will also be a decade since the Second Intifada began with Palestinians being shot down in Jerusalem, protesting the visit of Ariel Sharon and his enormous security entourage to al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount.
After Camp David, Jerusalem was highlighted as one of the thorniest so-called final status issues blocking an Israeli-Palestinian deal. Now, as the peace process stalls and stutters, “facts on the ground” in illegally-annexed East Jerusalem mean that talk of a Palestinian capital in the eastern part of the city is fantasy.
In the more than 40 years that Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, the Green Line – Israel’s pre-1967 borders – has been erased by the likes of illegal settlements, and road networks. Nowhere is this absorption of the Occupied Territories more apparent than in East Jerusalem, where close to 200,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements built in municipal boundaries that were expanded by Israel to include West Bank land.
Reality in East Jerusalem in 2010 means municipal policies – supported by the Israeli state – that fly in the face of international law: Palestinian homes are demolished, the illegal separation wall carves up Palestinian neighborhoods, and residency rights are revoked.
The gaping disparity between Israeli officials’ rhetoric in the West and their practice on the ground is no starker than in East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat assure journalists and diplomats that the city is “open” and “free” for all its inhabitants, the facts tell a different story – one of exclusion and discriminatory municipal policies.
Amir Cheshin, a former senior adviser on “Arab affairs” to the Jerusalem mayor’s office, described in his co-authored book “Separate and Unequal” what he called the “principles” of Israeli housing policy in East Jerusalem: “expropriation of Arab-owned land, development of large Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, and limitations on development in Arab neighborhoods.”
All of this is openly available information, yet the US and friends of Israel persist in a peace process discourse that does not simply pass silent over Israeli colonization but aids and abets it.
A classic example is Washington’s approach toward Israel’s settlements. For years, Republican and Democratic presidents have warned Israel against further settlement building, but Israel builds anyway. Then, instead of sanctions, the White House typically rewards Israel with affirmations of its “unbreakable bond” with America. The list of settlements that “everyone knows” will remain in Israel’s hands has grown, met by, at best, feeble opposition.
No wonder most observers expect that the settlements will remain in Israeli hands after a negotiated deal with the Palestinians.
In his book “Divided Jerusalem,” historian Bernard Wasserstein cites a 1978 planning scheme for Jerusalem that explicitly outlines “the underlying political motivation” for the city’s development policies – “Every area of the city that is not settled by Jews is in danger of being detached from Israel and transferred to Arab control”.
As radical settler groups expand their presence in areas under occupation, and as the Jerusalem municipality plans further colonization under the guise of “tourism” and “development,” the most that the likes of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton can manage is to describe the destruction of homes as “unhelpful” – the expansion of settlements a “deeply negative signal”.
The constant expansion or consolidation of Israel’s grip on East Jerusalem, like the rest of the West Bank, reveals the ridiculous – or at worst, malign – nature of the official “peace process” that President Obama has faithfully continued.
Rather than demand, and enforce, the implementation of Palestinians’ basic rights and a respect for fundamental tenets of international law, the approach of the United States and European Union is to continue its diplomatic, financial, and military backing for the occupying power – while urging a colonized, stateless people to “negotiate” over the shrinking space of their enclaves.
Ten years after Camp David, a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians is still possible, but only if Western leaders finally act to end Israel’s long-standing policies of separation and inequality.
Ben White, a freelance journalist, is the author of “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.”