The real obstacle is the settlements

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Nothing is causing a perpetuation of the current Palestinian -Israeli violence more than the existence and growth of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In June 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza strip (as well as the Golan and Sinai) saying at that time that they would relinquish these areas in return for peace. This Israeli claim has now been proven to be a public relations ploy. Palestinians and Arabs (see the latest Arab League Commitment) have continuously offered peace for land but Israel has refused to give up Palestinian territories.

If Israel real was willing to give up land for peace, one might ask, why has it built exclusive Jewish settlements on lands it intends to return?

Every Israeli government since 1967 has planned, built, subsidized and protected Jewish settlements and settlers in occupied lands. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with cases of prolonged occupation states clearly that occupying powers are not allowed to expropriate land or to move its citizens to occupied territories. Since then, numerous UN General Assembly and UN Security Council resolutions have opposed Jewish settlement building, Official US policy has ranged from calling settlements “illegal” to “an obstacle to peace.” Israel’s leading ally the US has repeatedly called on Israel to reverse its settlement policy without any success. US officials have asked Israel to “stop it , suspend it, end subsidizes to settlers, freeze it and take a time out,” yet it has continued uninterrupted.

When the Oslo peace process began, respected independent Palestinians like Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi complained that the process will fail because it lacked an Israeli commitment to suspend settlement building during the five-year interim period. I remember during those days in 1994 that along with other Palestinian journalists I attended a special press briefing with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres. When a journalist complained about the Rabin governments continued settlement activity, Peres tried to deny it. When he was faced with statistics of Palestinian lands expropriated for settlements and bypass roads he shrugged the issue aside. You ought not concentrate on this issue; he preached to us, all this will become irrelevant once there is a permanent solution that will see the West Bank and Gaza as an independent Palestinian entity.

Now eight years late the independent Palestinian entity has not materialized, the handful Palestinian cities that were evacuated by Israeli troops are now more brutally occupied with nearly two million Palestinians under permanent house arrest. The largest Palestinian city of Nablus has been under continuous 24-hour curfew for more than 16 days.

For sure Israel has paid a heavy toll for its policy of occupation, assassinations and collective punishment. Many in Israel want nothing less than their army leaving Palestinian territories. There is a small problem, however. The Jewish settlements dotting the Palestinian lands. From tiny hill top settlements to urban like cities, more than 130 of these exclusive Jewish only settlements have created a security nightmare for the Israeli army. And the Israeli public is paying a high price for their government’s policy of building and protecting these illegal outposts.

These exclusive Jewish settlements are turning Israel not only to a military occupier but also into an apartheid state. Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza get subsidized housing, reduced priced and more plentiful water supply, freedom of travel, no curfews and none of the settler relatives gets their homes blown up even if- as in the case of Hebron’s Baruch Goldstein- massacre 29 praying Muslims or the settler that killed a Palestinian teenage girl last week. Settler’s cars have different license plates than Palestinians, they don’t get stopped at checkpoints, they vote for Israel’s Knesset and get 24-hour army protection on West Bank and Gaza roads built and used only by Jewish settlers. The Palestinian population in the north of the West Bank was forbidden from driving on the roads this week. 44 Palestinian homes were relatives as a punishment for having a member of their family involved in attacks against Israelis.

The Bush Administration is on the record as supporting the creation of the state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza alongside the state of Israel within three years. Some members of this administration seem to think that this goal supported by the majority of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the internationally community can happen without a position on illegal settlements. The Israelis are given a free hand to violate international law and grant their army-protected bulldozers special status to continue stealing Palestinian lands to built Jewish homes in occupied lands.

A peaceful resolution to the conflict is possible. A determined and unified US administration can ensure that in the Middle East there is a secure Israel and a free Palestine. This can’t take place while one side plunders the land of the other. Settlements are clearly an obstacle to such a dream. One has to be stupid not to realize and accept that.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.

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