Under intense American pressure, the Palestinian leadership agreed to resume bilateral negotiations with Israel last August, an act that was agreed to without the fulfillment of two demands set by the Palestinian leadership as essential conditions for negotiations to occur: the cessation of settlement construction in territories occupied since 1967 and the recognition of the borders existing in June 4, 1967. Israel refused to fulfill these two demands, but acceded to a third: the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners incarcerated prior to the ratification of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The prisoners would be released in four phases, with the fourth phase to begin eight months from the start of negotiations in exchange for a commitment from the Palestinian leadership to halt its steps toward obtaining UN General Assembly recognition throughout these negotiations. The Israeli authorities, in the meantime, reaffirmed that their government fully intended to increase settlements at every phase of the Palestinian prisoner release.
This paper considers the deadlock reached after 16 rounds of negotiations, in view of expanding settlement activity, increasing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, and the lack of progress in the negotiations.
Intensified Israeli Settlement Activity
The Israeli government’s wide-ranging plans for increasing settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank were announced in a move timed with the commencement of negotiations and the release of the first group of Palestinian prisoners. Toward the end of October 2013, on the eve of the release of a second set of 26 prisoners, they announced a new wave of settlement in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, entailing the construction of 5,000 residential settlement units. According to the Israeli government, company bids for the construction of more than 800 new residential settlement units in the area known as “Settlement Bloc” and in isolated settlements will commence immediately. A plan to build 1,500 settlement units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in occupied East Jerusalem is also to be implemented. Israel announced that further plans are being drawn up for more than 2,500 units in these settlement blocs, in isolated settlements scattered throughout the occupied West Bank, and in settlements established in occupied East Jerusalem, indicating that these plans will be rapidly processed by relevant construction and planning committees.
On November 10, Haaretz revealed that the Ministry of Construction and Housing launched construction tenders for the development of plans to build 8,700 new settlement residential units in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. It also noted that the ministry has decided to merge proposals and bidding for settlement construction with those for construction in cities and towns within the Green Line to accelerate the work of planning companies and offices implementing plans for construction in the settlements. Construction proposals put forward by the ministry comprise three clusters, each including one or more settlements along with cities and towns inside the Green Line. Planning companies and offices were also instructed to take on entire clusters, not only parts of them. The first cluster includes the construction of 1,000 settlement residential units in the Gifot settlement located between Bethlehem and Hebron in the occupied West Bank. The second cluster contains 3,700 residential units in the Maale Adumim settlement, also in the West Bank, and the third entails the construction of 4,000 residential units in the area of Atarot settlement near Qalandia in the northern part of occupied East Jerusalem, and in the settlement of Tzur Hadassah to the south.
In addition, Benyamin Netanyahu announced his government’s determination to construct a separation wall in the al-Ghor area of the West Bank, along the Palestinian-Jordanian border. Many ministries have already started the preliminary stages of drawing up plans for the construction of this wall. Netanyahu affirmed that the importance of this step was its demonstration that Israel was determined to permanently remain in the al-Ghor area and that it considered the Jordan River to be its eastern frontier. He announced that this wall was within the framework of an old plan to prevent a Palestinian-Jordanian border and any Arab-Arab channels of communication that could extend to the West Bank in the future. The plan also includes the confiscation of a strip of land along the Jordan River, and its annexation to Israel. This is Israel’s declared policy, though it appears many have previously not taken Israel’s plan for this wall seriously in the past.
Redoubling Hostile Practices against Palestinians
In addition to intensified settlement activity throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), and since the resumption of negotiations, Israel has increased its hostile practices and policies vis-à-vis Palestinians in the OPTs. This includes the continued confiscation of Palestinian lands in diverse parts of the West Bank for the settlers’ benefit, the continued construction of settler roads, the escalation of settler hostilities against Palestinians, and their possession of various parts of the West Bank. The number of Palestinians killed in the OPTs by the Israeli Army has increased noticeably over the past two months, alongside increased raids, arrests, and demolitions of Palestinian homes. These acts have not come under public scrutiny, as they have in the past, because of the extreme bloodshed and fatalities occurring in other Arab countries as an outcome of counter revolutionary activities and repression of uprisings.
Israel also has recently amplified its demolition of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem to an unprecedented degree, destroying multiple houses and issuing new demolition notices to hundreds of residential apartments in the Ras Khamis and Ras Shehada districts of the Shufat camp in occupied East Jerusalem.
Although Israel did not agree to place a freeze on settlement construction, the Palestinian leadership did not anticipate the extent to which settlements would be increased after the release of the second group of Palestinian prisoners. In practice, this means that Palestinians were exchanging the release of prisoners for the very issue for which these people were imprisoned. The surge in settlement building embarrassed the Palestinian Authority (PA), all the more so in view of Israel’s flaunting it in the Israeli media and its reiteration that it will pursue extensive settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, promising further waves of settlement to be timed with the two remaining phases of Palestinian prisoner releases. Israel’s boasting was such that the Director of Israeli Internal Security (SHABAK) warned of the possible outbreak of a third intifada. In this atmosphere, the Palestinian delegation for negotiations—Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh—submitted their resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in protest of the continued settlements, the judaization of Jerusalem, and Israel’s “renunciation of the Peace Process”.
The PA’s reaction failed to match the intensity of Israeli settlement construction or the hostile policies waged against Palestinians since the resumption of negotiations. Although the Israeli settlement drive was in direct contradiction to understandings reached between the US Secretary of State and Israel, the Authority’s leadership announced that it would continue negotiations, and showed itself a hostage in the clutches of the American administration and Israel rather than the leadership of a people struggling to liberate their homeland from occupation and settlement. Given its fragile structure and loss of will to resist, trading the values of a national liberation movement for the restricted power of a hostage “authority,” it willingly submitted to American pressure, and abandoned its two major demands, demands it had continuously reaffirmed and stipulated as a line not to be crossed, a minimum condition for the resumption of bilateral negotiations with Israel. Foremost among these demands were the cessation of settlement activity and the reinstatement of the June 4, 1967 borders.
The Palestinian Authority repeatedly described negotiations with Israel as a cover for settlement activity, shielding Israel from any punitive international sanctions. It was painfully obvious that the PA had entered into negotiations with tied hands and a broken will, and that it had relinquished any remaining power it had by resuming negotiations according to Israeli conditions, agreeing to continue them for nine months without approaching the United Nations or any other international institution. By submitting to American pressure and resuming negotiations according to such conditions, the Palestinian leadership forced itself into an untenable corner. It should have been evident that Israel would exploit any concession on these conditions to accelerate the pace of settlement to an unprecedented degree and impose a de facto settlement reality that would trace Israel’s future borders. Once again, it has been demonstrated that setting conditions, only to concede them later, creates a situation that is worse than previous conditions.
Settlement is the Israeli Government’s Sole Project
Netanyahu’s governmental strategy uses force as its point of departure. It sees the fight against the Palestinians as being centered upon the fate of the West Bank’s lands, persistently attempting to Judaize the greatest possible area of land as a prelude to Israeli annexation (as was the case with all previous Israeli governments, though now implemented at a faster pace with greater gusto).
What distinguishes the current Israeli government from previous ones is that colonization of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is the government’s sole project, through which it attempts to create a new settlement fait accompli and impose a solution upon the Palestinians that will be in line with the new demographic map that settlements give rise to. For this reason, and from an ideological-political base fortified by the Knesset, Israeli society, and political parties of the center, right, and extreme right, as well as local and regional balance of powers, the Netanyahu government has no desire to arrive at a permanent solution with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future, nor does it propose any vision of a solution—even in the shape of a political maneuver or trial balloon—contrary to the practice of some previous Israeli governments.
As is clear from the recent waves of settlements, the Netanyahu government is working to increase settlement of the already occupied West Bank to the east and west of the separation wall; in occupied East Jerusalem; in the expanding settlement blocs established in various parts of the occupied West Bank; in the isolated settlements; and in the outpost settlements in the West Bank that the government has regulated, much of which has happened in the past two years. All of this is occurring in an attempt to annex nearly 60 percent of the West Bank territories to Israel, within the next few decades.
From a Zionist perspective, the Netanyahu government’s use of bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians as a means of managing the struggle against the Palestinians is extremely successful. It stands in line with Zionist objectives, first and foremost of which is the strengthening and continuation of the settlement movement. This is not a matter of ideologies, but of realistic policies on the ground, in the immediate moment, the realpolitik. The bilateral negotiations provide the ideal cover for Israel to pursue construction of settlements, and constitute an effective shield to deflect and avoid international sanctions. They enable it to isolate, bully, and prevent the Palestinians from activating power in their favor, especially given the mentality that prevails in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. The negotiations allow Israel to create the false illusion of an imminent solution, all the while strengthening and expanding settlements. As a result, the negotiations have been a tool for not only managing the conflict, providing a cover for its settlement activity, and shielding it from any punitive international sanctions, but they have also been a means of ensuring that no agreement over a solution is ever reached with the Palestinians. For this reason, it is a certainty that the Zionist entity will strive to extend the negotiations beyond the expiration of the set timeframe.
Arab states must re-examine the routine protocol by which the US Secretary of State is received and the pressure exerted on the PA to supply an Arab cover for the resumption of negotiations without their actually having any influence on them. This is now a familiar “procedure” that Arab foreign ministers conduct on behalf of the US Secretary of State. In reality, this demonstrates the loss of national will and sovereignty in dealings with the United States.
Furthermore, since Sharon’s time in office, a situation has developed in which a certain division of labor has been agreed between Israel and the US, such that Israel will not disrupt the US’s regional policies, even if it disagrees with them, and the US will refrain from interfering with Israeli policies regarding Palestine and the Palestinians, even if it disagrees with them tactically or in detail.
Putting a stop to the Israeli occupation of and removing Israeli settlements from the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 requires a review and stock-taking of the experience of negotiation with Israel over the past two decades. There is an imminent need to cease direct bilateral negotiations because they only serve the continuation of settlement and occupation. Defying occupation and settlement requires a Palestinian strategy that is based on confronting the Israeli occupation and mobilizing the resources of the Palestinian people, the Arab states, and regional and international organizations to impose punitive political and economic sanctions upon it for persisting with these policies.
*This Assessment was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version published on December 4th, 2013 can be found here.
 For more on this wave of settlement activity, see the “Negotiations in the Service of Settlement and Israeli Expansion,” Assessment Report, ACRPS, August 15, 2013, http://www.dohainstitute.org/release/6a9e98a7-98fd-4dc1-9d15-45d012381d56.
 al-Quds, November, 11, 2013. (paper edition)