An important report in today’s Haaretz by Akiva Eldar further confirms the Israeli government’s intention to illegally annex strategic parts of the West Bank. Combined with the push by a top House Republican to codify into law President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, these latest news reports mean that current efforts for the creation of a Palestinian state are futile.
The IDF Civil Administration is taking steps to increase state-ownership of West Bank lands, an internal military document reveals. The policy enables increased construction not only around settlement blocs like Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, but also in strategic areas like the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea…
The inclusion of the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and area surrounding Ariel in the “settlement blocs” whose takeover the administration is advancing, would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. In addition, the scope of land in question thwarts the possibility of exchanging areas in a peace settlement, according to the formula presented by U.S. President Barack Obama on May 19.
This is because on the western side of the Green Line there is not enough open land to compensate the Palestinians for such an extensive annexation, according to examinations carried out during previous talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel are widely acknowledged as core obstacles to a viable Palestinian state. If Ma’ale Adumim completes its long-planned E1 extension, and was then incorporated into Israel proper, the West Bank would be cut off from East Jerusalem, the presumed future capital of a Palestinian state. Even now, though, Ma’ale Adumim constitutes an obstacle to a viable state.
And if Israel annexed the settlement of Ariel, one of the largest in the West Bank, it would permanently cut off Palestinian villages from each other, making a contiguous and viable state impossible. Ariel severely impedes Palestinian movement, and it sits on top of one of the largest water aquifiers in the West Bank. A 2005 “settlements in focus” issue published by Americans for Peace Now noted that Ariel “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.”
The IDF’s plans for the Jordan Valley, an area that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to hold onto forever, would also kill off any chance for an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. The area is Palestine’s only link to the outside world that does not run through Israel, and contains some of the West Bank’s most fertile agricultural lands. Israeli policy toward the Jordan Valley was highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s landmark “Separate and Unequal” report last December, which documented the “two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates” in areas under its control.
Reports that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing to enshrine Bush’s 2004 letter is just one more indication that no matter what happens in September at the United Nations, there will be push back from right-wing American politicians. Ros-Lehtinen’s intention is to effectively make any viable Palestinian state an impossibility. Bush’s letter to Sharon reads:
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949
The reference to “major Israeli population centers” is a nod to Israel’s insistence that it annex settlements such as Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim. Documents leaked as part of Al Jazeera‘s publication of the “Palestine Papers” further confirms that the Bush administration pushed Israeli demands regarding these settlements onto Palestinian negotiators.
While the Obama administration has not backed Ros-Lehtinen’s demand that Bush’s letter become official U.S. policy, it has little appetite to fight for a viable state of Palestine. The Israel lobby, along with Ros-Lehtinen and most of the U.S. Congress, have curtailed any chance that Obama would pressure Israel on issues such as Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and the Jordan Valley.
The only question remaining is why anyone still believes that a Palestinian state is possible.