Elephant in the Holy Land

By Sherri Muzher
While the two-state solution is constantly raised, Israeli settlements are forcing a lot of people to confront the elephant in the room. That elephant is bi-nationalism — the idea of two national groups living in one state.
It’s not a matter of being idealistic or singing Kumbaya. It’s about being a realist. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a nation exist on disconnected hills?
The settlements, which are strategically spread throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have made physical separation impossible.
Israeli settlements have long been recognized as a thorn in the side of Middle East peace. They’ve been referred to as war crimes by the International Committee of the Red Cross since the Geneva Convention forbids resettling individuals on occupied lands. Even then-President Ronald Reagan proposed a peace plan in 1982 that required freezing such settlements. “The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed,” Reagan said.
Decades later, settlements have continued to be built.  According to the Land Research Center, its March 2011 report stated “It is worth mentioning that since the end of the ten months settlement freeze on September 26, 2010 and until the date of this report, around 18,000 housing units (17,888) had been approved by the Israeli authorities to be built . . . Furthermore, during the year 2010, 32,055 housing units had been approved by the Israeli authorities to be built in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, of which, 15453 units (48%) were issued in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.”

Numerous reasons have been cited by Israelis for the need to build Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, including the need for more housing to accommodate Jewish “immigrants.”
Jewish settlers will tell you that their presence in the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria to religious Jews, is necessary because God said the land must belong to the Jews even if it means ridding the land of its inhabitants.
Some say that the settlements in the Occupied Territories are necessary to protect Israel’s security. However, Binyamin Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a prominent voice in the rightwing Likud party has stated that "In strategic terms, the settlements are of no importance."  Adding that, “they constitute an obstacle, an insurmountable obstacle to the establishment of an independent Arab State west of the river Jordan."
But nobody expressed the objective of settlements better than former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who famously urged that, "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours."
Indeed, Netanyahu, Begin and other supporters of Israeli settlements are correct that a viable Palestinian Arab state cannot be established west of the river Jordan. The settlements and the exclusively Jewish bypass roads leading up to the settlements have left Palestinian areas looking like Swiss cheese.
It is doubtful that bi-nationalism was in the cards either. Bi-nationalism is perhaps the greatest fear of those who wish to maintain the Jewish character of Israel since Palestinians would become the majority.
However, short of transfer or the deportation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. And in 2011, it is difficult to imagine that the world would sit by while truckloads of Palestinians are transported to neighboring countries.
I would also like to raise one interesting thought once raised by a Jewish acquaintance. He said, "As long as there is a state which describes itself as ‘the state of the Jewish people,’ I cannot feel fully secure as a Jew elsewhere, and it is in my immediate interest to challenge this.”
Ultimately, there is no question that Israeli settlements have affected Palestinian daily life and impacted long-term Palestinian developmental needs.
And this much is known: Palestinians aren’t leaving and Israelis aren’t leaving. They share the same land and the same natural resources. Their economies are linked. Israeli settlements have made physical separation impossible.  The only long-term solution is a democratic bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis live as equals. 
Until then, the elephant is going nowhere. 

– Sherri Muzher, JD is author of Escape to a World of Palestinian Surprises. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.palestiniansurprises.com.

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