CMEP Bulletin: First Person: The Limits of Power
The political mood during my trip to Israel and Palestine with CMEP Board member Nate Hosler last November was somber; conditions have not improved since then. There remains widespread despair among both Israelis and Palestinians about the possibility of progress in reducing violence or moving toward a resolution of the conflict anytime soon. If there is a tradeoff between ideas of justice and power the focus seemed to be entirely on the side of power; Prime Minister Netanyahu said he believes Israel will need to rule by the sword indefinitely.
Violence that started last summer on fears of Israeli designs against the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, have morphed into almost daily violent attacks by individual Palestinians against Israelis and responses from Israelis. During our visit several persons died at a shootout within earshot of where we were meeting a peace group near the settlement of Efrat south of Bethlehem on the road to Hebron. Familiar locations such as Sheikh Jarrah and Hebron were too dangerous to visit. In the past three months at least 24 Israelis have been killed, often by stabbings or vehicular attacks, while more than 140 Palestinians have been killed during demonstrations or carrying out attacks.
Both Israelis and Palestinians we met told us the violence is fed by despair and lack of hope for ending the painful military occupation with its daily humiliations, restrictions, and lack of opportunities for Palestinians and the undermining of Israeli civil life. A decade of close cooperation by the Palestinian Authority with the US and Israel on security matters in the West Bank has failed to yield the expected progress towards a Palestinian state. Attempts at negotiations led by the US have repeatedly failed.
There are increasing numbers of Palestinian voices saying that since a viable, contiguous Palestinian state now has been precluded by ongoing Israeli settlement expansion, they believe that efforts should no longer focus on the issue of land but rather on civil and political rights in a single state, even if that were to require another long period of struggle.
Back in the US, at a December White House meeting CMEP asked Obama Administration officials to say publicly that violence is unacceptable and must stop. It is not realistic to expect that animosity between Israelis and Palestinians will end as long as Israel’s territorial expansion and military occupation continue.
In particular we asked that the US say clearly again that Israel should suspend all plans to expand settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, especially its plan to build the new settlement of Givat Eitam south of Bethlehem. This proposed settlement would leave Bethlehem largely cut off from the rest of the West Bank, damaging the immediate quality of life for the people of Bethlehem and prospects further for a two state solution.
We also expressed concern about Israeli plans to build an extension of its separation barrier across the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, cutting off more than 50 Palestinian families from their agricultural land. It would also destroy olive trees and militarize an area that includes a Catholic school, convent and monastery. Plans to construct the barrier are unnecessary because there have been no security issues in this area for over a decade and misleading because it is claimed the barrier is about security while all know the issue is about Israel taking valuable Palestinian land located between two Israeli settlements. The US should state its clear opposition to this gratuitous and provocative action.
Israeli politicians often demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, giving the impression that the Palestinian Authority has not recognized Israel. In fact Palestinians recognized Israel and Israel‘s right to exist in an exchange of letters on the White House lawn in 1993. We asked that the US declare there should be no requirement for a new Palestinian recognition that could be used for grounds for discrimination against the civil or human rights of any group.
Some bills passed or pending in Congress would require that the US recognize products made in Israeli West Bank settlements as products made in Israel, implicitly blurring the distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements the US has said are illegitimate. We asked that the US policy and practice continue to oppose the recognition of settlements as part of Israel in the absence of a final status agreement on a border between Israel and Palestine. We also have asked the White House not to oppose a decision by the European Union that, while opposing any boycott of Israel, requires member states not to treat products from settlements the same as if they were made in Israel.
After decades of conflict and experience it should be clear to all, US election year or not, that this conflict can only be ignored at our peril. At present the Europeans are talking about ideas for keeping the idea of a two state solution alive, including a possible international conference or a UN Security Council resolution outlining a framework for an agreement.
Meanwhile US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said this week the US is “concerned and perplexed” by Israel’s strategy of continuing to expand the footprint of its settlements in the West Bank, legalizing outposts, continuing routine demolition of Palestinian structures, and restricting Palestinian development in area C that makes up 60 percent of the West Bank. “What is Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis its conflict with the Palestinians? What is Israel’s plan for remaining a Jewish and democratic state?” he asked. No answers were forthcoming.
Executive Director of CMEP