Jerusalem is now

The US and Israel think they can impose on Palestinian negotiators a distorted peace that effaces all Palestinian rights. They cannot, writes Mustafa Al-Barghouti*

One doesn’t need to be an expert in the so-called “peace process” to know that Israel’s aim for the past 40 years has been to deny the Palestinians their rights. Having failed to break the backbone of the Palestinians and end their resolve to resist, Israel resorted to delay tactics. When not postponing urgent issues, it tried to empty from them all meaning. Thus the idea of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state was diluted into that of creating a self-rule entity, shorn of any real authority, over fragmented patches of land.

This is what the Oslo process managed to produce over the past 15 years or so. The number of settlers in the occupied territories has doubled. A wall of racial segregation has been erected. The West Bank has been cut off from Gaza. And Jerusalem is now surrounded on all sides and stranded, with little or no connection to other Palestinian areas. When negotiations resumed, Israel tried to impart legitimacy on its major settlements, refusing to discuss the matter of the refugees and insisting on postponing any decision on Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Israelis tirelessly tried to change the face of Jerusalem, building settlements inside and around it, altering and Judaising it by the day.

Israel is now suggesting a Palestinian state with “interim borders”. In return, it wants the Palestinians to give up, effective immediately, the right of return of the refugees. Israel also wants the Palestinians to cede claims to large swathes of their land — land that has been gulped up by settlements, land surrounding the Dead Sea, land in the Latrun villages (Imwas, Yalu, and Beit Nuba), etc. Israel is not in a mood to discuss Jerusalem right now. But it is in a good mind to build more settlements inside and around it.

Israel may be changing its rhetoric, but not its tactics. Instead of opposing a Palestinian state, it is willing to accept a state that has no sovereignty to mention. Instead of keeping every single settlement it has created on Palestinian land, it is willing to pull out 3,000 settlers, leaving 450,000 in place.

Everything Olmert and Barak have said so far suggests that they want to transform Jerusalem beyond recognition. The Jerusalem we all know is not the one they have in mind. The Jerusalem of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, Salwan, Al-Issawia, and other parts of the old town, is about to look very much like the neighbourhoods that have sprouted all around it: Izariya, Abu Dies and perhaps Beit Hanina.

Every time Palestinian negotiators give an inch, Israel takes a mile; the Oslo Accords are but a case in point. It is fine to negotiate, but not when negotiations undermine the very basis of international resolutions and norms. UN resolutions — backed by rulings from the International Court of Justice — state that all the land Israel grabbed since the morning of 5 June 1967 are occupied territories. This goes for the old city of Jerusalem and its surroundings, the West Bank, Gaza, the Latrun villages, the Golan, and even the Shebaa Farms.

Egypt insisted on taking back every inch of Sinai, just as Syria is holding out for every inch of the Golan. The Palestinians cannot accept less. We must insist on Israel’s withdrawal from all the occupied land, instead of being talked into a risky land exchange. It is bad enough that Israel took in 1948 half of the land the 1947 UN partition plan gave to the Palestinians. We don’t need to make things worse.

And what exactly is going on in negotiations? It’s all kept under a tight lid, except for the randomly leaked piece of info suggesting that the issue of Jerusalem would be postponed, yet again. The Palestinian people are left in the dark about what’s really going on. Given the bitter experience of Oslo, when a done deal was hatched behind the back of official negotiators, this doesn’t augur well.

Everyone knows that giving up Arab Jerusalem, or any part of it, is not an option acceptable to the Palestinian people. Also, any interim solutions, especially those postponing discussion of Jerusalem, are highly risky if not an outright sign of capitulation.

The last thing we need is another deal that undermines our rights and weakens our people. Those negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians bear a huge responsibility in this moment. Anything they do can have long-term consequences for us all.

Ref: Al-Ahram
* The writer is secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.

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