By Stu Harrison
Israel’s ongoing takeover of East Jerusalem shows it is trying to kill any hope of a negotiated settlement to Palestine’s struggle for self-determination.
Israel approved plans to build 844 housing units outside the East Jerusalem Jewish-only Israeli settlement of Gilo on November 17. South of Jerusalem’s centre, Gilo is home to 40,000 residents.
It is part of a ring of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem that inhibits the possibility of it becoming the capital of an independent Palestinian state, based on the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This has been the demand of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Since 1967, East Jerusalem has been part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, along with the West Bank and Gaza.
The new settlement will expand Gilo in the direction of the Palestinian West Bank town of al-Walaja, where residents are struggling against Israeli plans to demolish their homes.
The plan would also connect the settlement to Givat Yael, a planned settlement that will straddle the Jerusalem border and cut off access from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the West Bank, Americans for Peace Now said on November 17.
This effort is being further supported by the construction of an ever-growing “separation barrier/wall” that will force 55,000 mainly Palestinian residents outside the city limits. The wall’s planned route will help connect the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank to Jerusalem.
The ideology of Zionism, which supports an exclusively Jewish state in historic Palestine, claims Jerusalem is the “eternal” and “indivisible” home of the Jewish people and the capital of the Jewish state of Israel. This view sees settlements as noble parts of a struggle for Jewish “self-determination”.
What is covered up is that implementing this plan involves the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population who have lived on these lands for generations.
Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem said Israel has tried to physically isolate East Jerusalem from the Palestinian towns in the West Bank by building the apartheid wall, stealing Palestinian land, demolishing Palestinian homes and using discriminatory planning and building policies.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem within the state of Israel also risk having their properties, residency rights and social benefits snatched by Israeli authorities if they cannot prove their vaguely defined “centre of life” is in parts of the city within the Israeli state.
The online Israel Policy Forum said on March 25 that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told a crowd: “When I talk about building in Jerusalem, I don’t just mean inside the city itself, but also in Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Beitar illit … and Givat Ze’ev [West Bank settlements on Jerusalem’s periphery].”
In other words, a greater Jerusalem based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian areas.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, Ahmed Qureia, told the November 21 Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s another nail in the coffin of the peace process.
“How can there be two states, for two peoples, if the Israelis refuse to stop building on Palestinian land and continue to ignore international law?”
Jerusalem’s Israeli-Palestinian co-existence organisation Ir Amim has said private settlement organisations have used archaeological digging rights to promote biased research to undermine Palestinian claims to the land.
The research published by these settler-created front groups has been challenged by archaeologists from around the world.
Far-right settlement organisations, with the full backing of the Israeli government, have been trying to reduce the “demographic threat”. They believe the higher birthrate of Palestinians is disrupting what they believe is the “Jewish nature” of the “holy land”.
Jerusalem is central to the three biggest monotheistic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The centre of this struggle is in Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, in the Old City of East Jerusalem, as well as the Muslim Quarter, Silwan, A-Tur and Sheikh Jarrah.
The settlements are not simply the work of small numbers of far-right Jewish fundamentalists. They have the support of the Israeli government.
As director-general of the Yesha Council of settlements Pinchas Wallerstein told Ha’aretz on February 1: “Nothing was done in hiding. I’m not familiar with any [building] plans that were not the initiative of the Israeli government.”
The United States continues to demand that the Palestinians join negotiations, despite the failure of the US’s calls to Israel to stop settlement construction.
In October 31, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for negotiations was “unprecedented”. But for Palestinians, they have seen it all before.
Any settlement freeze to which Israel may agree is likely to affect only new plans. The backlog of approved construction would continue.
East Jerusalem is populated by 250,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jewish residents. Most Palestinians live in the city with a Jerusalem residency identification permit, legally stuck between the Israeli state and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Since Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, it has tried to gain greater control over the city to create a “Jewish character”. This has been done through the establishment of fenced and guarded Jewish-only settlements.
In the 1990s, this program increased. The peace talks that have dominated the past 20 years have only strengthened the desire of Israeli authorities to fast-track their stranglehold over the city.
Ir Amim spokesperson Orloy Noy said in the October 21 Huffington Post: “In reality, every new and expanding Jewish settlement in the midst of Palestinian neighborhoods, every archeological tunnel dug under the homes of Palestinian residents in Silwan, every Palestinian home that is destroyed, every Palestinian family that is removed from its home in East Jerusalem — every such action undermines the possibility of a future political settlement in Jerusalem, and thus, the possibility of a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.
“Let’s make no mistake … The real catastrophe is being perpetrated every day in Jerusalem. We need no special name for it, it’s all around us. We must stop it now.”
– Stu Harrison is a writer on Palestine related issues for Green Left Weekly. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in Green Left Weekly – www.greenleft.org.au. Contact him at: themediavigilante[at]gmail.com.