Soon after the signing of the Wye River Agreement in 1998 Israel’s minister of infrastructure in the first Netanyahu government, the late, unlamented Ariel Sharon, urged settlers to “seize the hilltops”. What followed was an explosion of Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank. Sixteen years on, as US Secretary of State John Kerry makes another push for an agreement on his peace plan, Israel has again ratcheted up its land-grabbing campaign. The political and humanitarian consequences are countless and far-reaching.
Politically, Secretary Kerry’s ambition to have a final agreement within nine months was, from the very beginning, unrealistic. Now in the wake of Israel’s continued pillage of Palestinian land he is said to be considering a deferral until the end of 2014. Fixing ad hoc dates that are divorced from reality can, however, be dangerously deceptive and misleading.
It is one thing to “mediate” from the comfort zone of a hotel in Jerusalem or an office in Ramallah; it is quite a different matter to experience first-hand what it means to be a Palestinian in a village wrecked by Israeli demolitions. Thus, it seems quite reasonable that Mr Kerry should, on his next visit to the occupied territories, trek to the outskirts of Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem and witness for himself the damage done to Palestinian agricultural land by the settlers in their hideous race against the agreement clock.
Such a direct encounter with the “facts on the ground” would, within minutes, confirm that peace cannot be imposed from above, especially in this poisoned climate. Indeed, in the same way that the secretary state had the vision to send his assistant, Victoria Nuland, to Kiev’s Independence Square to show solidarity with protesters, he could also ask her to visit the occupied territories and accompany the US-made bulldozers as they wreak havoc and destruction in Palestinian villages.
The obvious difference between the two scenarios is that whereas the protesters who brave the cold in Kiev chose to do so, the Palestinians who sleep out in parts of Jerusalem do not do so voluntarily. They were evicted forcibly from their homes.
For the hundreds of victims who spent years working and saving to provide homes for their loved ones, the impact of their demolition in unimaginable. Spare a thought for their wellbeing and the future of their children. In many cases they have suffered multiple evictions and displacements. Inevitably, the convenient official explanation is always that the Palestinians had no licence to build or that the demolition was done to protect Israel’s security and the security of its citizens.
Of course, this systematic destruction of homes could not take place without the approval of the Israeli government and by association the indifference of the US. In 2013 there was a 127 per cent increase in the number of demolitions in the Jordan Valley compared to 2012 (from 172 demolished structures to 390); the Bedouin and herding communities in the Negev and Jordan Valley were the worst affected. Already, the pattern has continued into 2014 with demolitions taking place at an alarming rate in Al-Jiftlik Al-Mustafa (Jericho), Ein El-Hilweh in the northern Jordan Valley and Jabal Al-Mukaber in Jerusalem.
Like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, none of the parties involved in the current “negotiations” are willing to admit that Israel does not recognise the Palestinian people or their rights. In fact, most members of the present Israeli government believe that all of the land, from the river to the sea, is the Land of Israel. Furthermore, they view the West Bank as a crucial source of water. That is why, throughout all negotiations, including Camp David with the Egyptians, they have always insisted that no agreement should enable the Palestinians to dig wells in the western, northern and eastern slopes of the West Bank because it will impact negatively on the Israeli wells along the Green Line inside Israel. At present, Israel accesses 90 per cent of the water from the West Bank.
Since the French Socialist Jean Glavany MP published his report on the theft of Palestinian water two years ago nothing has changed. If anything, they have got worse. Back then Glaveny pointed out that water had become “a weapon serving the new apartheid”. To illustrate his view he noted that, “Some 450,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians that live there.” While in Israel the consumption is 266 litres per person per day, in the occupied territories the average is no more than 15 litres per person per day.
Despite the reports in the Israeli media that Mr Kerry has accepted most of Netanyahu’s demands, the latter is still stuck in the past, pursuing the same policy that he endorsed through Sharon in 1998. The proliferation of settlements and attendant destruction of Palestinian homes is simply his way for sabotaging Kerry’s efforts. The latter must surely be asking himself: what do the Israelis really want? The truth is that many of them don’t know themselves. What is well known, though, is that they don’t want to withdraw from the land they acquired by force in 1967 and have occupied and colonised ever since. The settlements give the game away; Israel wants all of the West Bank. If Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t smelt the coffee by now, he never will.