Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photo: Nir Kafri/Haaretz)
Unilateral actions are all the rage again in Israel/Palestine, with Mahmoud Abbas set to appeal to the United Nations General Assembly this week to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. And on the Israeli side there was Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s call for unilateral moves, namely annexation of some major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
Barak’s vision of the area where Palestinians would live after this partial withdrawal is an area that would be non-contiguous, surrounded by illegal West Bank settlements, with Israel taking water resources from Palestinians. No wonder Palestinians are increasingly looking to a one-state solution.
The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren reports on Barak’s proposal:
In an interview with the right-wing daily Israel Today, parts of which were published on Monday, Mr. Barak called for the annexation of three large settlement blocs — Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel — where a vast majority of the 350,000 Jews in the West Bank live, and the removal of up to dozens of smaller settlements scattered across the area. He proposed that those in the farther-flung areas be offered money to move — as individual families or whole communities — either to the annexed blocs or to what is now Israel, and that those unwilling to leave remain under the rule of thePalestinian Authority for a five-year trial period.
“This will not only help us with the Palestinians, but also with other countries in the region, with the American administration, and of course ourselves,” said Mr. Barak, whomentioned his interest in unilateral action at a conference in May but did not provide details.
“This isn’t an easy decision,” he added. “The time has come to make decisions that are not only based on ideology and gut feelings, but also a cold, realistic reading of reality.”
But as Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Nour Odeh told the Times, “What he’s talking about, if we’re going to think in terms of geography, is disastrous. It represents an agenda that has nothing to do with a two-state solution.”
Indeed. So what would Barak’s plan for annexation mean?
As it is, these settlements impede Palestinian movement in the West Bank, so the Barak-pushed plan would make these impediments permanent. That’s the point.
If Israel annexed Ma’ale Adumim, it would make permanent an illegal settlement that “infringes [on] the collective right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem puts it. “The settlement severs the West Bank at a strategic point, dividing it into two cantons, thus making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state with reasonable territorial contiguity.”
If Israel annexed Gush Etzion, it would make permanent a settlement that does similar things to Palestinian freedom of movement and the viability of a potential state. According to B’Tselem, “the settlements in this bloc…create an obstacle separating the villages and towns of the Bethlehem area from the city of Hebron and its environs.”
And then there’s Ariel, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the “capital of Samaria” and an “an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement.” Ariel sits on top of one of the largest water aquifiers in the West Bank. At the same time, “the prolonged neglect of treatment of Ariel’s wastewater, due to the malfunctioning of the treatment facility inside the settlement, has led several times to pollution of Salfit’s central water-pumping facility,” according to B’Tselem. Salfit is a Palestinian town in the middle of the West Bank that is adjacent to Ariel.
Americans for Peace Now notes what the settlement of Ariel does to Palestinian contiguity. The settlement “blocks Palestinian contiguity between the large Palestinian town of Salfit to the south and a group of Palestinian villages to the north, including Marda, Zaita, Jammai’n, and Hares – a strategy of ‘divide and rule’ which has played a part in the location of settlements across the West Bank.”
So Barak’s vision of a partial Israeli withdrawal is a non-starter, a move that will get nowhere near addressing the root causes of the conflict. This partial withdrawal would still leave the West Bank divided by illegal settlements, with severe impediments to freedom of movement and no chance at all for a viable, contiguous state.