Talks continue in Jordan as Israeli building binge rolls on in the occupied territories

Israel/Palestine
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Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

The headlines on Israel/Palestine today predictably focus on the Jordanian-brokered talks to nowhere between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Meanwhile, Peace Now has declared that the year 2011 saw Israel break “all its settlement-building records.”

The talks in Amman don’t mean a thing. That much is made clear in Barak Ravid’s Haaretz story on Benjamin Netanyahu “mulling gestures” towards the PA. Ravid’s article contains this telling line from an Israeli source “familiar with the talks”:

“The aim is to lock the Palestinians in the talks and give them a few sweets in return,” one of the Israeli sources said. “Netanyahu and his advisers are willing to take these steps, but only if it is clear that the Palestinians will stick with the talks and won’t go to the UN.”

Even if the PA, under intense US and Israeli pressure, eats those “sweets,” the main course is disgusting and bitter. Peace Now’s report contains all the details, but they sum it up in the title: “Torpedoing the Two State Solution.”

Separately, Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem, explains what the settlement construction binge in East Jerusalem means here:

The Israeli government is on an East Jerusalem settlement binge. The pace of approvals of new settlement plans has been so fast and so furious in recent weeks, that even the most experienced settlement watchers are having trouble tracking them.

Context

As we reportedly previously, from March until the end of October 2010 (in the wake of the visit of Vice President Biden to Jerusalem and the Ramat Shlomo debacle), Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed a quiet but comprehensive settlement freeze on East Jerusalem. No new plans were approved, nor new tenders issued, during this period. On November 1, following the expiration of the official settlement “moratorium,” the East Jerusalem the floodgates were opened, ushering in a period during which the pace of plan approvals exceeded the previously high levels of 2008 and 2009 by 50%-200%. If initially this surge could be attributed to a backlog created during the de facto freeze of the previous 8 months, since the summer of 2011 the approval of new plans has been so intense – unprecedented in scope since the 1970’s – that it is clear that the surge represents a concerted effort/policy on the part of Israel to ramp up East Jerusalem settlement activity. [For empirical data documenting settlement developments during the period before, during, and after 2010’s “quiet” freeze, see our presentation “East Jerusalem Developments and Trends” (2006 – January 15th, 2011)].

During much of this post-November 2010 period, the Israeli government has asserted that new plans were “merely” being approved, but that few tenders actually published – and thus criticism of its actions was unjustified. However, we have cautioned that this argument was disingenuous, given that “merely” approving plans as significant political impact and sets the stage for future (even imminent) tenders and construction. Events of the past two months bear this warning out. Now, new tenders are being published at a rate significantly higher than the already high levels of those in recent years, and we have every reason to expect that this trend will continue, with dire implications for Jerusalem and the two-state solution…

Comment

This surge is not over. In the coming days and weeks we anticipate the publication of tenders for Har Homa C(983 units), Har Homa B (82 units & public buildings), Ramot (713 units) and Pisgat Ze’ev (625 units), as well as approval of the highly problematic Givat Hamatos plans.

It is abundantly clear that settlement activity of this pace and scope will (a) derail the Sisyphean efforts underway to resume a political process; (b) change the potential borders between Israel and Palestine; (c) make the creation of a border in Jerusalem inordinately more difficult; and (d) within 2-3 years undermine the very possibility of the two-state solution.

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