The Battle for the West Bank and East Jerusalem

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the International Court of Justice decision declaring the construction of the Separation Wall in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories illegal.

On July 9th of 2004, the Court found that Israel was obligated to stop construction and dismantle the Wall.

It ruled that Israel must "return the land, orchards, olive groves and other immovable property seized from any natural or legal person for purposes of construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

It found that Israel’s severe restrictions on movement violated both international human rights and humanitarian law.

When completed, the Wall will be 832 km or twice the length of the Green Line. Even with a new Israeli approved route, over 80 percent of the Wall’s route remains inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

On March 21st of 2005, Israel approved plans to build 3,500 new housing units between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.

As the Gaza withdrawal unfolds in the next few months and much is made of Israel’s decision to move unilaterally, the specter of real peace is nowhere on the horizon. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s successful bullying of the legislative agenda and appeasement of the settlement lobby has been carried through from the beginning as a fait accompli. Sharon has been a master at buying time from the US in order to implement an aggressive settlement policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Though he has beat back the forces of the far right wing that have been his traditional base of support, he has actively created a situation on the ground under his leadership that is untenable, unsustainable and could very well lead to the kind of international ostracization that will do real damage to Israel in the long term.

Since Arafat’s death and the signing of a cease-fire agreement, the Israelis have now vilified Mahmoud Abbas as the man who can’t be trusted. It doesn’t matter who the Palestinians put forward. Added to this is the possibility of Hamas and other Islamic political parties gaining a stronger foothold in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Since Arafat is no longer the Palestinian bogeyman for the West, it will no doubt be someone else.

US President Bush has created a framework under the Roadmap to Peace, which has given Sharon the kind of time he needs to develop a new reality on the ground in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A final status agreement under these circumstances will never be possible.

Under US demands for democracy, transparency and security, they have handcuffed a Palestinian regime under Occupation from having any of the legitimate tools to govern and police their own affairs.

A weakened Palestinian state with a stalled negotiation process and militants acting outside of state authority has in the Initifada years worked to Israel’s strategic advantage. One need not look any further than the situation in East Jerusalem or the West Bank today to understand this.

The Gaza Withdrawal should hardly be seen as an Israeli gesture for peace -” there has been a catastrophe in its wake. Additionally, the application of international law has been impractical, weakly applied and has had little bearing on the outcome in the conflict. It has proven to be an ineffective tool in forcing Israel to comply with its human rights obligations or bringing about an end to the Occupation. Tacit US and European Union support has more often than not bolstered provocative Israeli development policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

When it comes to land confiscation and settlement expansion, Israel has done well under the Second Intifada and the Palestinians are in a diminished position since September 2000. Violence has yet to bring about peace just as a cease-fire has yet to bring about peace.

And so on it goes.

As long as the Israeli mainstream is hopelessly out of touch, smug in its place and extremely gifted at looking the other way, Ariel Sharon will continue to steamroll through his agenda like a schoolyard bully until a political movement can gain strength and shape a new reality. They have much to gain by shifting from their entrenchment.

Until the Israeli mainstream gets behind ending the Occupation, the maneuvers of diplomacy will merely be photo ops and press statements devoid of meaning. The goal posts will always seem to be shifting.

Nobody should be under any illusions – as long as George W. Bush is President of the US and Ariel Sharon is the Israeli Prime Minister, there will be no lasting peace.

The Palestinians alone will never be in a position to force a lasting deal on peace. The Americans and the Israelis will always have to be dragged there kicking and screaming.

There are still dark days ahead in this conflict.