|Israel still violates US’s vision for peace in the Middle East
Published in Aramica, 9/22/2005
Aref AssafAs pro-Israel apologists glowingly speak of Israel’s sacrifices for peace in the Middle East by its disengagement from Gaza, Israel continues to build more settlements in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. A just-published report by the Israeli government declares that the number of West Bank settlers has increased by 10000 this year alone.
True, Israel’s colonization of Gaza may have ended but its occupation as defined by international law persists. As such, the conflict is now faced with two volatile imperatives. First, Israel’s unilateralism has replaced bilateral negotiations; second, limited conflict management has replaced permanent conflict resolution.
The Israeli cabinet recently approved a decision to complete Israel’s Apartheid wall in East Jerusalem by the end of August. Alarmingly, the Israeli government recently gave a preliminary approval to expropriate more Arab lands in and around the congested Old City of Jerusalem to build a Jewish settlement. This clearly violates President George W. Bush’s May warning not to prejudice the status of Jerusalem and other outstanding and final-status issues between Israel and the Palestinians.
Doubtless, the planned expansion of Israel’s barrier in the occupied West Bank could have serious consequences for the future of peace in the Middle East. The Israeli government has announced plans to seize large tracts of land from Palestinians to wall off Ma’aleh Adumim, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel plans is to build 3,500 Israeli housing units to the east of Jerusalem – in an area, which would complete the encirclement of occupied East Jerusalem by Israeli settlements. This would effectively cut the West Bank into two divided northern and southern sections and increase the isolation and encirclement of Arab East Jerusalem. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on August 24, 2005 “The planned route would put the easternmost point of the fence around Ma’aleh Adumim some 25 kilometers from the Green Line or about half the width of the West Bank”
The wall, which Israel is using to redefine Jerusalem’s borders, is also being routed through the occupied territory in such a way as to maximize the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites behind the wall while maximizing the amount of Palestinian land on the “Israeli” side. About 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be effectively cut off from their city, forced to access their schools, hospitals and even families through Israeli military gates which, as Palestinians know from experience, can be closed at a soldier’s whim. These Palestinian Christians and Muslims will be denied free access to the holy sites in their own city. Already, Palestinian Christians and Muslims in the West Bank can no longer freely pray at the Old City’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif).
Consequently, Palestinian Jerusalemites are now forced to go deeper into the West Bank for educational, medical and religious services. This has given Israel a pretext – “insufficient links” to the city – for revoking their Jerusalem residency rights. Thus far, more than 6,500 Palestinians have lost their residency rights in the Jewish state’s unstated but deliberate efforts to rid the Holy City of its Arab citizens.
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in and around occupied East Jerusalem are increasingly common, with more than 50 homes destroyed so far this year. Sixty-four homes in a Palestinian neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Old City have demolition orders pending against them, even though the homes were built on privately owned Palestinian land. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, there are more than 10,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem. Such orders are usually enforced without warning and in the middle of the night.
Israel unilaterally insists on retaining full control over the whole of Jerusalem, rejecting Palestinian compromises to share the city on equal terms. Indeed, Israel, as a Jewish state, rejects the very idea of a pluralistic Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem is sacred to all three of the world’s monotheistic religions – it cannot be the monopoly of just one.
As for the planned Israeli settlement inside of the walled Old City, Israel will build about thirty homes and a synagogue in a vacant area at the northeastern tip of the Old City, adjacent to the city wall, near Herod’s Gate. On my recent trip to Jerusalem, I walked through the area and believe it to be one of the few remaining open spaces in the City. The site is deep inside the Muslim Quarter, accessible only via pedestrian walkways through residential areas of the Muslim Quarter. It is not connected to or directly accessible from the Jewish Quarter, which is located in the southern part of the Old City.
The establishment of a Jewish neighborhood in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter is another Israeli unilateral act that would predetermine the results of final status negotiations and render impede the political resolution of the thorny issue of Jerusalem. The plan conflicts with the fundamental rationale for negotiations (i.e., that competing claims should be resolved through agreements), undermines the credibility of pro-peace Palestinian leaders who support negotiations and strengthens extremists who argue that the Road Map and disengagement are a pretext for Israel to strengthen its hold on Jerusalem and the West Bank. The new Israel settlement on the hand is a deliberate attempt to increase the Jewish presence in the City by forcefully altering its demographic makeup. This is being done with US government’s approval and funding.
Over $ 4 billion from the American taxpayer annually fund Israeli violations of U.S. policy and international law. Yet Israel thanks American goodwill and financial support by adopting measures to which the United States is opposed and which risk destroying the very two-state solution to which President Bush is so publicly committed. As such, America has so far not been willing to hold Israel accountable. Such inaction reduces U.S. credibility and alienates potential friends, undermining efforts to defeat terrorism and to build Middle East democracy.
Aref Assaf is President of The American Arab Forum, USA. AAF is a non-partisan and non-sectarian organization, is a registered tax-exempt, and not-for-profit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code. We endeavor to provide reliable and credible information and resources to and about the Arab American community in New Jersey and the United States.