On August 2, 2009, after cordoning off part of the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Israeli police evicted two Palestinian families–more than 50 people–from their homes. Jewish settlers immediately moved into the emptied houses. Although Israeli police cited a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court to justify the evictions, the Arab families had been living there for more than 50 years. The event attracted the attention of the global media, but it is part of a larger and mostly ignored process.
Five months earlier, on March 1, 2009, it was reported that the Israeli government has plans to build more than 70,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. If implemented, the plans could increase the number of settlers in the Palestinian territories by about 300,000–a move that would not only severely undermine the chances of a viable Palestinian state, but also interfere with the everyday lives of Palestinians.
A government spokesman dismissed the report, arguing that the preliminary plans were of limited relevance: The actual construction of new homes in the settlements required the approval of the defense minister and prime minister. However, 15,000 of the planned units have already been fully approved. In addition, almost 20,000 of the planned units lie in settlements that are far from the “green line” that separates Israel from the West Bank–in other words they are located in areas that Israel cannot expect to retain in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
The conclusion is obvious: While paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating a situation on the ground that renders a two-state solution de facto impossible. The dream that underlies this politics is best rendered by the wall that separates a settler’s town from the Palestinian town on a nearby hill somewhere in the West Bank. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall–but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, with grass and trees. Is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as it should be –empty, virginal, waiting to be settled?
When purportedly peace-loving Israeli liberals present their conflict with Palestinians in neutral “symmetrical” terms, admitting that there are extremists on both sides who reject peace, etc., one should ask a simple question: What goes on in the Middle East when nothing goes on there at the direct politico-military level (i.e., when there are no tensions, attacks, negotiations)?
[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on September 14th, 2009. (full text).]