Creative ideas threatened by continued settlement building

The Israeli settlement project in occupied Palestinian territory, which started from the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, has always been one of the most contentious aspects of the conflict.

From the beginning, these illegal settlements, including in East Jerusalem, were responsible for provoking fierce confrontations. And when the peace process started, this same Israeli policy proved the major obstacle to reaching a solution.

Many ideas have been presented in the course of trying to find a solution as to how the peace process should deal with these illegal facts on the ground. One of the more creative ones is the idea of a land-swap, which was presented first during the Camp David negotiations in 2000, where the Palestinian side accepted the principle, with the condition that swaps be equal in quality and quantity.

Another creative idea for dealing with this problem is the possibility of allowing Israeli citizens to stay inside a future Palestinian state. More than one Palestinian leader has already included such a possibility in their future scenarios and possible solutions.

However, this should also be qualified, particularly in terms of the legal status of those settlers who might choose to stay in an independent Palestinian state, as well as with regards to the land they have been living on.

Everybody who lives in the future Palestinian state obviously must abide by Palestinian laws and regulations, simply because all the territory of that state and the people living there come under the jurisdiction of that state. The land that Israeli settlers now live on, meanwhile, is land that is stolen from Palestinians, either individually or collectively.

This means that any settlers who choose to stay in a Palestinian state must understand that the land that they are illegally using now does not belong to them but to Palestinians who are likely still alive and hold the deeds.

There are different motivations for Israeli settlers living illegally in occupied Palestinian territory. Most of those motivations will disappear when these settlements are no longer under the extra-territorial jurisdiction of Israel, but some settlers might have certain attachments that could in reasonable numbers be tolerated under a fair solution that sees the creation of a Palestinian state.

Yet the continuing expansion and increase of illegal settlements, including in East Jerusalem, will only make it gradually more difficult if not impossible to find creative ideas and solutions to the settlement problem in the course of negotiations.

Indeed, the creative ideas described here are being intentionally misused by some Israeli officials to justify continuing the extremely dangerous expansion of settlements. Ideas that seem to accommodate certain aspects of settlement policy, such as land swaps or accepting settlers in a future Palestinian state, are used, or misused, to further propel settlement building under the justification that the peace process will find a way to accommodate it.

For these reasons there has recently been a growing debate among Palestinians, including moderate supporters of the peace process, that such creative proposals should be withdrawn from the negotiating table as long as no seriousness is evinced from the Israeli side that it is interested in progress in the peace process, rather than simply in abusing the peace process to facilitate the illegal expansion of settlements.