May 31 2015

No promises in Netanyahu’s offer to negotiate settlement annexation

Published by at 11:51 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed that he is a masterful politician in his most recent offer to the EU’s top foreign official. During her visit to Israel and Palestine May 24, the Israeli leader told EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini that he was ready to discuss the borders of settlement blocs that would one day be swapped with the Palestinians. Haaretz reported that Netanyahu wants “to reach understandings on the borders of settlement blocs that Israel would annex under any peace agreement.”

The offer, which was quickly rejected by Palestine’s top negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, can be seen in both negative and positive lights.

Erekat correctly noted that by prioritizing the borders of the Israeli settlement blocs that will become part of Israel, Netanyahu is giving legitimacy to settlements without making commitments on the issue of a Palestinian state. It is as if the Israeli prime minister is taking for granted that the illegal settlements will become part of Israel while retaining the right to negotiate later on a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, what appears to be an Israeli concession of sorts does reflect the serious dilemma facing Israel in its settlements enterprise. Netanyahu made his statement knowing very well that the EU is about to sharply increase the pressure on Israel over settlement products and settlers who carry European passports. The EU is insisting that Israel can no longer label any products made in West Bank settlements as “Made in Israel.”

At the same time, FIFA, the world’s leading soccer association, is expected to vote May 29 on revoking Israel’s membership for allowing five clubs from the settlements to play in the Israeli league.

The criticism that Israel is practicing apartheid in the West Bank by enforcing different laws and regulations for Jewish settlers has become the leading international charge against Israel. As a result of South African struggles, apartheid has become an international crime that is punishable by sanctions. By joining the International Criminal Court and charging Israel with war crimes, including apartheid, Palestinians have a strong chance to win a conviction at The Hague.

Netanyahu’s concern about the way settlements are poisoning Israel’s image around the world was clear May 20 when he intervened to reverse his own defense minister’s decision to restrict Israeli buses to the exclusive use of Jewish settlers by banning Palestinians from using them. The defense minister had agreed to settler demands to deny Palestinians who work in Israel the right to use the public transportation that takes Israelis to settlements in the West Bank because settlers feel intimidated by the Palestinians crowding the buses.

Ever since the 2000 Camp David Summit, the former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, had accepted the need for land swaps. The Palestinian position, articulated repeatedly since then, has been that a two-state solution requiring an exchange of land is acceptable so long as it is done with lands equivalent in size and quality.

The land swaps have always been conditional on the 1967 borders as the reference point for the future Palestinian state. The international community has recognized Palestine as a nonmember state of the UN on the basis of the 1967 borders. The most recent recognition of Palestine by Sweden and the Vatican also clearly delineates the borders as where they were on the eve of the June 1967 war with small land swaps. US President Barack Obama is also on record as supporting the view that the 1967 borders are the reference point for a two-state solution.

In his offer, Netanyahu did not include East Jerusalem as part of the settlement blocs. Leading Zionist parties in Israel have consistently refused to accept any division of Jerusalem. It is also unclear where the Jordan Valley fits in Netanyahu’s latest position. Israel has repeatedly stated that it wants to retain the largely unpopulated valley as a kind of security corridor, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stated that Palestinians accept that a third-party international presence including the United States can be stationed in this area to provide Israel with the necessary feeling of security and protection from any attacks coming from the east.

It is unclear whether this recent offer is yet another attempt at obfuscation and delay, or if it provides a genuine glimmer of hope for an eventual breakthrough on the two-state solution. If past experiences are any measure, Palestinians and the international community have plenty of evidence that these maneuvers are nothing more than political games aimed at avoiding the serious concessions that peace requires.

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