The construction of 1,200 housing units in the occupied West Bank does not threaten the peace process, although Israel finds it difficult to accept the “unfair accusations” that activities of the sort are “expansive” and “aggressive”. The “Arab idol” winner Mohammad Assaf sang about a “flying bird” and threatens the peace process because the lyrics urges the destruction of the State of Israel. The singer calls on soaring birds to send regards to the Palestinians in Nazareth, Acre and Tiberias, which rattles those who insist that Israel is a “Jewish state”. Such recognition is a precondition to the negotiations. Israel has US support for such a designation and now wants to extract it from the Palestinian Authority, 22 Arab countries and 57 other Islamic states.
In order to justify and sell the release of a few pre-Oslo prisoners to the Israeli electorate, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have approved 1,200 new settlement housing units. It is as if Israel is negotiating with itself and arriving at “adjustments” and “deals” that please its ruling class, and no more. By the time that all of the 140 detainees are released according to the “Kerry understandings” Israel will have built more than five thousand new housing units. It is also possible, if previous experience is anything to go by, that the Israelis will simply re-arrest the men at the first sign that they are not getting their own way in the talks. Israel has used such a “revolving door” policy before and will do so again.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority has called the new settlement construction “a nail in the coffin of the peace process” but how many nails have already been hammered into this coffin? How many more nails will the peace process coffin withstand before it turns into “sawdust”? Smarter spokesmen have said that decisions of like this confirm that Israel is only interested in expansion and occupation and not in the two-state solution and the peace process. Sadly, this is like re-inventing the wheel, but how many times do we have to do it? The resumption of talks in parallel with settlement expansion will lead us to the situation where all of Palestine has been absorbed by settlements and there will be nothing left to negotiate, except perhaps how to re-invent the wheel.
The anti-negotiations and anti-peace process forces in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip regurgitate the same slogans; they also have their own rhetoric for such occasions. Resistance is the only way, they claim, but nobody resists on the ground. The only difference between them and the pro-talks people is the rhetoric.
We knew in advance that the negotiations would resume without the Palestinians’ basic requirement for a freeze on settlement construction. We were told that there were “understandings”, at the very least a Palestinian-American understanding, that Netanyahu will stop extending the occupation quietly and gradually. The reality is that Netanyahu and his government are accelerating and increasing the occupation with maximum publicity while the world looks on with the usual condemnations and declarations but no concrete action to stop Israel doing exactly what it wants.
There has been deliberate hype too about the prisoner release deal. This, though, will only serve to distract everyone from the PA’s inability to stop settlement activity, but nobody will be able to wave the “stop the talks” card or rap the negotiators on the knuckles for going ahead while settlement expansion continues.
The whole frivolous charade means that Israel will continue to expand at the expense of our land and our rights and our holy places, regardless of talks or what the rest of the world may think. The Israelis know how to play the game and they will use all of their determination and cunning to prolong the talks as long as possible in order to give themselves more time to change the facts on the ground. The Palestinian team at the talks will have two options: accept what the Israelis tell them to accept or abandon negotiations, again, and be blamed for their failure, just as Arafat was blamed in the past, and we all know where that led.
These are not talks between equal protagonists, despite what the media, the US and Israel would like us to believe. Israel is an occupying state; it breaks international laws with impunity and it is expanding daily but the Palestinians have to negotiate their way out while the occupier continues to ravage their land and lives. Palestinians are urged to be “calm” and “exercise restraint” while Israel’s brutal military occupation goes on all around them. Nobody calls on the Israelis to end the occupation, which leads us to ask, who are the Israelis negotiating with, and what are they negotiating? The PA hasn’t even extracted the most basic precondition from them: stop settlement activity. We have to pay the price while the Israelis pick the fruits of whichever trees they choose.
So the next time that someone says that this is an “opportunity” and “the last chance” for peace”, we are entitled to ask, “What peace are you talking about?”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.