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Mideast settlement: Time running out
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 22 - 10 - 2012

Two recent decisions made by Israel should cause extreme anxiety to those who ardently wish and strive for a Middle East settlement based on a two-state solution. Last Thursday the Netanyahu government granted final approval to a proposal to build 800 homes near Gilo in annexed East Jerusalem. There are also plans to construct bypass roads to connect the settlements in the occupied city with those around it.
Close on the heels came the decision to adopt the bulk of the Levy Report, in particular its recommendation regarding legalizing a large number of illegal outposts in the West Bank. The report had argued that since Israel had controlled the West Bank so long, it was no longer an occupied territory!
The international community, including the US, has accepted that the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank and Gaza, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
In signing the Oslo accord, Palestinian leadership had surrendered their claims 78 of the territory that had become the State of Israel. Settlements are eating up what little Palestinian land is left, and are rendering a viable Palestinian state all but impossible. These settlements stand at the heart of an apartheid system with a network of segregated roads, barbed-wire fences, concrete walls, permits and checkpoints. Half a million settlers now live in 226 authorized and “unauthorized” settlements and in East Jerusalem.
From Ramallah to Jerusalem 20 km away, and all across the West Bank, the sprawling new settler communities, perched on hilltops that dominate the landscape, show how Israel has succeeded in altering the demographic complexion of the occupied territories. Everybody says Israel should not change the status quo on the ground during the negotiations, but nobody does anything when it continues to expand settlements, built bridges and tunnels.
This way Israel is creating irreversible facts on the ground so a future border between Israel and Palestine would leave the settlement blocs, where the majority of settlers live, on the Israeli side of the border. Israel also tries to build settlements and roads that connect them in such a way that there will not be any geographic contiguity between Palestinian villages and cities in a future Palestinian state.
If US President George W. Bush did many things to the detriment of Palestinians because he was Israel's friend, his predecessor Barack Obama did or did not do many things because he does not want Israel to consider him an enemy. Worst of all, Obama refused to support a key Palestinian Authority position: An end to building settlements if negotiations with Israel are to resume. This has severely undermined Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas. There has not been any direct Israeli-Palestine contacts since September 2010.
Now there is a lull in the occupied territories, but this can be deceptive.
Palestinians are restive. The international community should do something without waiting for things to explode in the form of a third intifada or a Palestinian spring. Obama should realize that to allow the hopes raised by his Cairo speech and Nobel Peace Prize to be dashed is in nobody's interest, least of all Israel's.


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