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Building settlements a big hurdle
By Dr Musa A Keilani September 06, 2010
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ISRAEL and the Palestinians have resumed direct negotiations under US auspices, with everyone expressing hope for an agreement in one year as called for by the international Quartet.

Of course, the Palestinians have expressed reservations, saying the talks would be torpedoed if Israel does not extend a token moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied territories.

Israel, which never really halted settlement work during the 10-month moratorium that expires on Sept.26, has ruled out renewing it. And that means, the Palestinians say, will be the end of the much-heralded direct negotiations that were launched in Washington last week.

At the same time, the US is said to be working on a plan that would allow Israel to resume settlement construction in certain areas without having any impact on the negotiations.

The proposal would restrict construction only in large settlement blocs that would remain in Israel’s hands in a final-status agreement.

Israel is said to be also demanding the right to build necessary structures that would service the settlements. Under the US proposal, it is possible that a US-led team would be set up to verify the necessity of such structures.

US diplomats and officials have reportedly patrolled settlements in order to take note of the existing structures so that it will be possible to record new additions if they are built during the coming negotiations.

It would appear that Israel’s continued settlement construction is the only hurdle in the way of negotiations and an eventual agreement. Is that necessarily so?

Surely, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab World and the broader international community know well that Israel would never agree to give up the Jewish colonies in the occupied West Bank and any peace accord would have to involve a territorial compromise of sorts when the final shape of the Palestinian entity is determined if the negotiations reach that point.

Now, the issue of Jewish settlements in occupied Arab East Jerusalem is not the same. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have repeatedly and without ambiguity stated that they are determined to keep Arab East Jerusalem as part the Jewish state’s “indivisible and eternal capital.”

If they stick to that position in the negotiations, then it would present an insurmountable hurdle.

The same thing applies to the rights of the Palestinian refugees.

In sum, what matters for a realistic breakthrough is whether Netanyahu is sincere and committed to make peace with the Palestinians based on fairness and justice. He has shown no signs of being ready to climb down his horse and come to terms with the reality that there would never peace in Palestine if Israel were to maintain its stubborn and intransigent positions.

If anything, Netanyahu wants to dictate the physical and political shape of the sought-for Palestinian state.

Indeed, he has made promises of seeking genuine peace with the Palestinians and says that he wants a speedy agreement on a two-state solution. Well, if the Palestinians were to go by past promises, then a Palestinian state would have been created more than a decade ago.

Our scepticism is also rooted in doubts whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu would be able to work out an agreement. Israeli commentators are trying to compare Abbas with the late Anwar Sadat of Egypt and questioning he would be able to follow Sadat, who signed a landmark peace agreement with Israel in 1978.

Well, Sadat could sign that agreement because he wanted it since 1973 and because he was not giving up Egyptian territory or rights. He effectively disengaged with the Palestinian struggle by simply calling for autonomy in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.

That is not the case with Abbas, who will be giving up the rights of his people once and for all if he were to accept the Israeli demands. And he has to deal with the biggest hurdle posed by the Hamas control of the Gaza Strip. By killing four settlers two days before the resumption of direct talks on Thursday, Hamas is telling everyone that it should not be left out of the equation although it refuses to recognise Israel.

The best scenario we could envisage at the final phase of the one-year period timeline for an agreement is that of US President Barak Obama, who has promised his personal involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” realising that his hopes of Netanyahu and Abbas would not be able to reach a deal. His option would then be to come up with his own compromise proposal and then try to convince both sides to accept it.

In the meantime, we could see Netanyahu seeking to lead the underdog Palestinians by the nose and exploit their weaknesses.

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