العنوان هنا
Case Analysis 18 August, 2013

Negotiations that Serve Israeli Settlement and Expansion

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


At the end of March 2013 and following his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, President Obama assigned US Secretary of State John Kerry with the task of restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Dozens of meetings took place with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, with the Palestinian leadership being subjected to intense pressure. Kerry announced on July 19, 2013 that the two sides had reached an agreement forming the basis for the resumption of negotiations that had been halted for three years. Shortly after the formal announcement of this in Washington, and with the imminent start of the first round of talks on August 14 in Jerusalem, Israeli officials announced an increase in Jewish settlement in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. This report assesses the conditions for the resumption of negotiations between the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, the party this resumption serves, and the possible outcomes.


Palestinian National Resolve Broken

Throughout recent years, the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly declared that it will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel meets three clear Palestinian conditions: an official and public settlement freeze, an acceptance of the June 4, 1967 borders, and the release of all Palestinians in prison since before the 1993 Oslo Accords. Despite their repeated declarations and their understanding that Israel would exploit negotiations as a cover for continued settlement activity and a means to alleviate international pressure, the Palestinian leadership has agreed to resume talks without two of these three main preconditions having been met. Israel rejected the settlement freeze and the June 4, 1967 borders as a basis for talks, but accepted the prisoner release. There are 104 prisoners from prior to the Oslo Accords, and accepting this demand has no effect on either Israel's strategic or political considerations in terms of settlement activity or the policy of imposing facts on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and determining the future of these territories. Alongside the failure to have these two preconditions met, the PA committed itself to pursuing negotiations for at least nine months, without pushing the UN to make any resolutions against Israel. The PA also agreed to halt its steps toward obtaining UN General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a non-member state.

As per the understandings with Kerry, Israel committed itself to release the prisoners, including those from inside the Green Line and occupied East Jerusalem, in four stages over the next eight months. Israel also made a commitment to lessen the pace of its settlement construction in the West Bank during the period of negotiations and to limit itself to "only" 1,000 new housing units in what are called "settlement blocs" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, with respect to settlement activity undertaken by individuals-as opposed to the government-and in accordance with the understandings with Kerry, the Israeli government will permit continued construction of housing units by individuals.[1] This is a familiar Israeli ploy.

Kerry gave letters of guarantee to both parties. In the letter to the Palestinian leadership, Kerry made it clear that the US believes that the borders of the future Palestinian state should be fixed by negotiations between the two sides on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders with accompanying land swaps. In his letter to the Israelis, on the other hand, Kerry clarified that the future borders of Palestine would not conform to the 1967 lines. Rather they would be modified according to the demographics on the ground, that is, according to the presence of the large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.[2] The US administration has appointed Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel and former head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (a formidable Zionist lobby in the US), as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.


A Settlement Offensive to Open the First Round of Talks

After the ceremonial opening of negotiations in Washington, and prior to the first round of talks in West Jerusalem on August 14, 2013, a flurry of announcements by Israel followed, declaring plans to increase settlement in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Cabinet member and leader of the Jewish Home party Naphtali Bennett stated on August 5 that he would soon be announcing tenders for large scale settlement development in East Jerusalem. At the same time, Uri Ariel, Israel's housing minister, stated that his ministry had drawn up plans to build 2,500 housing units in East Jerusalem, and that he has given instructions for preparations to be made in order for construction to begin as soon as possible.[3] On August 11, 2013, Housing Minister Ariel and the mayor of West Jerusalem jointly laid the foundation stone for a new Jewish settlement of 63 housing units at Jebel al-Mukabbir in occupied East Jerusalem. On August 7, 2013, the Israeli "Civil" Administration (the IDF's military government in the West Bank) approved the construction of 878 housing units in isolated settlements and outposts spread throughout the heart of the West Bank outside the settlement blocs.[4] On August 11, 2013, the Israeli Ministry of Housing announced tenders for the immediate construction of 1,200 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs. According to this announcement, 793 housing units are to be built in the settlements of Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, and Har Homa, all in occupied East Jerusalem, and 394 in Ariel, Efrat, Maale Adumim, and Betar Elite in the West Bank.[5] On August 13, 2013, Israeli state radio reported that the municipality of Jerusalem intended to build 940 housing units in the Gilo settlement. The Israeli government, on August 4, 2013, approved the new municipalities on Israel's national priority map. This map includes more than 10 isolated settlements and outposts, which were illegal up until a few months ago, when the Netanyahu government recently granted these settlements legal status.[6] On July 24, 2013, the IDF's Civil Administration approved a plan drawn up by the Israeli Ministry of Transport to create a rail network in the West Bank. This plan, which was opposed by the PA, includes laying 473km of railway lines that crisscross the West Bank to serve existing Israeli settlements and those planned to be built in the future.[7] This plan represents one of most serious infrastructural projects to embed a state of apartheid in the West Bank.


Negotiations that Serve Israeli Settlement Expansion

Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis expect negotiations to result in a breakthrough or any form of agreement, and each side responded to Kerry's insistence for its own reasons. The Israeli government has entered negotiations since they provide cover for continued settlement in the occupied territories and manage relations with the second-term Obama administration at no cost. The PA set minimum conditions for its resumption of talks, but was unable to stick to them in the face of US pressure and blackmail, and because of the PA's weakness and fragility; their prevailing mentality; and the fact that they have lost the will to resist and uphold the values of a national liberation movement. It is patently obvious that the PA's priorities are the interests linked to its own existence with scant regard for the Palestinian national project. US Secretary of State Kerry dragged them to the negotiating table after making them drop two of their fundamental demands-the settlement freeze and the June 4, 1967 borders. Having bowed to US pressure and resumed negotiations, and being well aware that the Netanyahu government is highly unlikely to respond to the minimum Palestinian conditions, the PA's main concern is to avoid being blamed by the US administration for the talks' failure.

The Israeli government refuses outright to acknowledge the minimum of Palestinian demands. These demands go no further than respect for international resolutions, the withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the borders of June 4, 1967, in particular. In essence, the government represents the expansionists and extremists in Israel, and they are directing everything to do with settlement activity and the fate of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at the head of the Israeli hardline expansionists who work tirelessly to reinforce the Israeli settlement project in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, increase the number of settlers and settlements, and develop infrastructure especially in the economic, industrial, and agricultural sectors. This approach aims to establish settlements as a reality on the ground that Israel can use to expand its borders and incorporate the largest possible area-up to 60 percent-of the West Bank. Netanyahu's policy is supported by the leadership of the coalition between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, and the two parties' parliamentary members, who take a more extreme stance than their leaders, in addition to the Jewish Home party, the entire settler movement, and a broad section of the Israeli military-security establishment. It is obvious that Israeli decision makers themselves strongly support the Israeli settlement enterprise and its expansion, as well as the expansion of its borders, and are ideologically and politically opposed to the possibility of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians that meets their minimum demands.

Key factors strengthen the political hand of the expansionist Israeli government that supports settlement in the occupied Palestinian areas. Chief among these factors are the weakness of Israeli opposition to the settlement project and the policy of expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the weakness and division of the Palestinian national movement; and Palestinian failure to adopt a program of resistance in line with the values of a liberation movement that defines precise aims and means for the Palestinian national struggle that is able to mobilize the Palestinian people, the Arab states, and the international community in support of Palestinian demands for an end to occupation and settlements. Doing so would mean the successful imposition of tough international sanctions on Israel to force it to end the occupation and settlement. Arab states are also weak and compliant with the US agenda on the issue of Palestine, and have not taken any steps toward making Israel pay a price for continued occupation and settlement. On top of this, the international community allows Israeli occupation and settlement to continue, despite the many international resolutions against them. This is a major encouragement for Israeli policy to continue unchecked.

As a result, the Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remains a massive success in the view of its leaders and supporters, the Israeli government, and of the majority of Israeli society. Israel is not paying any price for continued occupation and settlement, nor are the settlers. Additionally, the Israeli government, the settlers, and the majority of Israeli society see that continued intensive settlement, and the formation of large settlement blocs in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, have seriously undermined the positions of the US, the Palestinians, the Arabs, and many other parties regarding the future of these settlement blocs when it comes to formulating a solution. In principle, these parties now accept that a future solution would entail having these settlement blocs included within Israel in exchange for "envisaged" land swaps with the Palestinians.

Over the past three years, while negotiations were halted, there was a real and prevalent anxiety for the Israelis in light of a potential expansion of the boycott campaign undertaken by NGOs and regional and international states and organizations against the settlements and settlement products, and against Israel in general, because of its occupation and appropriation of other people's land. There is a conviction in Israel that resumption of talks with the Palestinians will provide good cover for continued settlement activity, just as has happened over the last 20 years. Under the pretext of a peace process, Israel can reduce the level of international pressure, European in particular, over continued occupation and settlement, and claim that the concerned parties are negotiating to find a solution to the conflict. Perhaps this will put a damper on the international non-governmental campaign, which has grown in strength and influence over recent years, calling for boycott, divestment, and the imposition of tough international sanctions. In this respect, it is clear that the negotiations will make Israel's life easier.

Given the intentions of the Israeli government, the return to negotiations cannot be expected to lead to any form of agreement. Israel will endeavor to stretch the time frame beyond nine months, without reaching agreement. This is the inevitable logic of talks taking place in the absence of agreed principles and rules, and without an honest-broker and real measures opposed to the policy of settlement and expansion.

*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.

 


[1] Barak Ravid, "‘There Will Be No Settlement Freeze': Israel to limit West Bank tenders to 1,000 housing units during peace talks," Haaretz, July 26, 2013,

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.538067.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jonathan Lis, "A Week after Peace Talks Resume, Bennett Promises: Israel will renew construction in Jerusalem in the coming period," Haaretz, August 5, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.539943.

[4] Chaim Levinson, "Despite Renewal of Peace Talks Israel Approves Plans for Hundreds of Residential Units in West Bank Settlements," Haaretz, August 8, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.540481.

[5] Barak Ravid, "Israel to Start Building Nearly 1,200 New Units in West Bank and East Jerusalem", Haaretz, August 11, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.540858.

[6] Barak Ravid, "Cabinet Approves New Development Plan to Benefit More Israeli Settlements," Haaretz, August 4, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.539667.

[7] Chaim Levinson, "Israel Pushing Ahead with Grandiose West Bank Railway Plan, Ignoring Political Borders," Haaretz, July 24, 2013. http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.537737.