Summary: the establishment of diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain, coupled with further Israeli encroachments in the West Bank signal that the ‘deal of the century’ will prevail.
In a recent phone interview with reporters Jared Kushner made the claim that his Peace to Prosperity deal represents salvation for the two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. He couched the claim in the transactional language that is the mark of the Manhattan real estate wheeler and dealer that he ultimately is: “What we did with our plan was we were trying to save the two-state solution, because… if we kept going with the status quo… ultimately, Israel would have eaten up all the land in the West Bank.”
Meanwhile as the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas steadfastly refuse to come to the table the Israelis continue to nibble and bite their way through East Jerusalem and Area C, the 61% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
From East Jerusalem comes a report that a mosque in the neighbourhood of Silwan, built in 2012, faces demolition with residents there being given 21 days to challenge the order. The demolition order is part of a larger effort that has seen the acceleration of the destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a report published by the UN office for humanitarian affairs (UNOCHA) on 10 September noted: “The period from March to August 2020 saw the demolition or confiscation of 389 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, on average, 65 per month, the highest average destruction rate in four years.”
The report goes on to outline the destruction of “water, hygiene or sanitation assets, and structures used for agriculture, among others, undermining the access of many to livelihoods and services,” thus making life ever more difficult for the Palestinians living in Area C.
In 2015 UN-Habitat released a report funded by the UK’s DfiD, the Department for International Development. (In June, 2020 the Johnson government merged the department with the Foreign Office). Reading the report five years on is a salutary reminder of how far the UK government has travelled in its attitude towards Israel and the Palestinians.
The report states that “Area C is fundamental to the contiguity of the West Bank and the viability of Palestine and its economy,” that is, essential to the realization of a proper Palestinian state. It notes:
“Since the occupation began, planning has severely restricted Palestinian development opportunities, while permitting the extensive growth of Israeli settlements and the infrastructure to support them. This has denied the Palestinian Authority vital economic resources and contributed to a situation where villages in Area C are dependent on donors for basic services, and are at risk of having property demolished.”
Area C is largely rural and home to dozens of Palestinian villages, with a population cited by the UN-Habitat report as being between 150,000 – 300,000. There are some 130 illegal settlements and outposts that now house close to 400,000 Israeli settlers.
The 2015 UN report noted Israel’s “formal obligation under international law to take care of the needs of the Palestinian communities in Area C.” The authority supposed to do so is Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. How telling, then, that its head, Brigadier General Ghassan Alian, was able to tell the Knesset recently of the numerous “successes” of his administration in demolishing Palestinian homes while restricting the number of EU projects designed to assist Palestinians in Area C from 75 in 2015 to just 12 in 2019.
The authorities say that the Palestinians are building homes without securing the necessary permits and use that as the reason to pull them down. But 98% of applications by Palestinians are rejected by the Civil Administration. The vast majority of settler applications (on illegally occupied land) are uniformly waved through.
One Likud MK spoke of “the main battle, the main campaign over the Land of Israel in Area C …. Our demand, which is also derived from the [Oslo] agreements, is a demand for all of Area C.”
And Benny Gantz, Benjamin Netanyahu’s fellow in Israel’s marriage of convenience government, sensing the current prime minister’s vulnerability – settler groups are enraged that Netanyahu has postponed annexation in the West Bank as the price for recognition by the United Arab Emirates – has reportedly called for the building of 5000 new homes in Area C. In so doing, he is wooing the right wing and settler elements in anticipation of yet another election that could come either in December or in March, 2021.
In Kushner’s plan Israel would get 30% of Area C only if it agrees not to expand existing settlements or create new ones. The Palestinians would receive 30% as part of a commitment, the plan argues, toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. Without a deal the Israelis continue to gobble up land and destroy houses, something that will be dramatically accelerated should the Gantz initiative proceed.
So when the president’s son-in-law talks of “a situation where there is land that could become a Palestinian state. It is possible to connect it, but the land that Israeli settlers are in right now is land that Israel controls, and the odds of them ever giving it up is unlikely,” he is not making an empty threat. Palestinian land and homes are being taken away day in day out and Gantz, for political purposes, wants to escalate the process.
Ordinary Palestinians, acquaintances and colleagues of this writer are utterly fed up with the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas and would agree that, as Kushner says, the elite around Abbas are fattening their bank accounts while doing nothing for the people. Privately, they might well nod their heads when he says: “The reason why they (the PA) never accomplished anything was because both parties were getting what they wanted. Every time a negotiation failed, Israel took more land and the Palestinians got more money from the international community.”
As Netanyahu and Trump bask in Washington in the afterglow of the historic 15 September signing of the normalization deal with the UAE and Bahrain, it is worth noting that had the Emiratis been serious, as they say they still are, about the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative they would have played a different hand. If they had wanted a contiguous Palestinian state with the 1967 border and East Jerusalem as its capital, they would, at the very least, have demanded an end to further settler encroachments and the destruction of mosques and homes. That they didn’t says the writing is on the wall for all to see: the Palestinians must take the Kushner deal or face losing what little they have left.