Secretary of State John Kerry’s renewed efforts at a peace process has little chance of succeeding. Above, Kerry greets an Israeli official before wreath-laying ceremony marking Israel’s annual day of Holocaust remembrance, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 8, 2013.(Photo: Reuters)
Israeli government officials and Palestinian Authority negotiators are reportedly set to meet in Washington, D.C. for the first time since 2010 next Tuesday. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has already made it crystal clear that the peace process is going nowhere fast.
Two announcements from the Israeli government today expose Netanyahu’s refusal to seriously consider a viable Palestinian state–the stated end goal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid reports that Netanyahu informed Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel would issue new building tenders for 1,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank during the negotiations. Meanwhile, an Israeli official close to Netanyahu said that Jerusalem would not be divided.
The announcement for the tenders will reportedly take place on Sunday at the same time that Netanyahu announces the release of 82 Palestinian prisoners in a gesture to get the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table.
While tenders for 1,000 housing units is nothing compared to the floodgate of new settlement announcements and construction Netanyahu has presided over, the devil is in the details. A few hundred tenders will be issued for the large settlement blocs–including the settlement of Ariel. That specific settlement is a major sticking point for Palestinian negotiators–and rightly so, given its location deep into the West Bank and on top of a major water aquifer.
The plans to issue tenders for Ariel is just the latest indication that Israel has no intention on ever evacuating the illegal settlement. Netanyahu himself said in 2010 that “Ariel, the capital of Samaria (the northern West Bank), will be an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement.” Ariel, which juts deep into the West Bank, is a settlement that blocks the contiguity of the West Bank. It’s also been a major source of dispute in past negotiations, as the Palestine Papers reveal. The PA negotiators can swallow a lot–but letting Israel annex Ariel is a step too far even for them.
The reports that Ariel will continue to be built up were published as Yuval Steinitz, a Likud minister, reportedly said that the “status quo was the only option” on the issue of Jerusalem, according to The Telegraph (UK). +972 Magazine’s Mairav Zonszein explains why this shows Israel’s lack of seriousness on a Palestinian state:
If the status quo is the only option, that means East Jerusalem will continue to be occupied and annexed by Israel, which means it cannot be the capital of a future Palestinian state, which means there will be no Palestinian state because Palestinians will not agree to a state without East Jerusalem as its capital, which means there won’t be a two-state solution. (Don’t let Israel’s promise to release 82 Palestinian prisoners fool you as a goodwill gesture. Israel has released prisoners before, and then re-arrested them soon thereafter.)
So to me, Steinitz exposed in this interview that Israel is not actually ready for a two-state solution, since his definition is unrealistic and unjust. With talks (about talking) set to resume on Tuesday – Steinitz’s words are a good barometer of Netanyahu’s position. And considering that Netanyahu won’t even agree to freeze settlement construction during peace talks, even the most optimistic of analysts should be well aware that there is nothing genuine about Israel’s position as it enters “negotiations.”
In yet another indication of Israel’s intentions on Jerusalem, the government has reportedly begun implementing a policy requiring city residents–including Israelis, according to Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann—to renew their Jerusalem ID cards every ten years, though it’s unlikely Israeli residents have much to fear. Palestinian rights campaigners have condemned the move. Previously, Jerusalem ID cards had no expiration dates. But since July, Palestinians have begun receiving IDs with a 10-year limit, according to the International Campaign to Protect Palestinian Residency in Jerusalem.
Forcing Palestinians to go to the Ministry of Interior to renew ID cards raises fears Jerusalem residency rights could be stripped. The ministry requires Palestinians living in Jerusalem–labeled as “permanent residents”–to prove that the city is their “center of life.” If they can’t prove it under an onerous process, their right to live in the city could be stripped. Since 1967, over 14,000 Palestinians in the city have had their residency rights revoked–part of a strategy to ensure a Jewish majority throughout Jerusalem and push Palestinians into the West Bank.
So on Tuesday, you can expect a lot of handshakes and photo-ops in D.C. What you shouldn’t expect, though, is peace talks that will lead to a Palestinian state, especially a state with Jerusalem as its capital. Netanyahu’s government has shown that is not in the cards.