Israeli settlement expansion continues to make a mockery of efforts to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, writes in occupied Jerusalem
While the rest of the world talks about a peace process, and while President Barack Obama raises false hopes of a resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Israel is working frantically to create irreversible facts in occupied East Jerusalem as well as across the West Bank.
These facts, which take the form of tens of thousands of Jewish settler units built all over the occupied city and beyond, are changing the demographic features and overall panorama of East Jerusalem in particular.
Jerusalem is not just another town. It is extremely sacred to more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, being home to some of Islam’s holiest shrines. Hence, progressive Judaicisation of the town by Israel is likely to drastically complicate any future effort to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
One Palestinian intellectual related to the situation in Jerusalem by saying that “it is now open-ended conflict similar to the Muslim quest to rid the city of the Franks in the 11th and 12th centuries.” “This strife might take several decades, even a century or more, but it must end with the dismantling or destruction of something called Israel,” said one resident of Hebron in the southern West Bank.
In a far-reaching interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, cartographer and demographics expert Khalil Tufakji argued convincingly that the situation in East Jerusalem has already reached the point of no return. “If someone tells you that it is still possible to have a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, don’t believe him. This is more of a fantasy than a realistic vision. It is a mantra that is near totally detached from reality.”
Tufakji explained that Israel had already confiscated 87 per cent of East Jerusalem, leaving only the built-up area, which doesn’t exceed 13 per cent of the city seized in Israel in 1967. “Even this small area is the subject of unrelenting daily harassment by Israel for the purpose of forcing us to abandon our property for Jewish settler interests.”
Tufakji pointed out that Israel has adopted two plans aimed finalising the process of making Jerusalem Israel’s eternal and undivided capital. The first plan is called Jerusalem 2020, and envisages the construction of more than 58,000 settler units within the confines of East Jerusalem by the year 2020. The second plan is known as Jerusalem 30/A and envisages a growth in Jewish population by tens of thousands for the purpose of making Palestinians a small and shrinking minority in their own city.
“They plan to make Jerusalem a favoured city, a city that would attract Jews from everywhere. And in order to implement this vision, they are offering a lot of inducements, including hefty tax reductions, easy housing conditions, mortgage allowances as well as enhanced infrastructure and attractive employment opportunities.”
Tufakji said Israel was also planning to expand the borders of the city in all directions to the point where the Arab population wouldn’t exceed 12 per cent, whereas the Jewish population would reach an unprecedented 88 per cent. The realisation of this daring plan will take the form of a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Arab demography in Jerusalem.
“Their tactic is designed to confine as much as possible Arab inhabitants into the smallest amount of land. In addition, they will dramatically step up demolitions of Arab homes and withdraw residency rights from as many East Jerusalemites as possible in order to empty the city of its Arab residents and consequently obliterate its Arab-Muslim identity.”
Israel has already withdrawn residency rights from as many as 70,000 Arab residents, citing a host of concocted pretexts and justifications, such as travelling abroad or involvement in vague security violations. Since 1994, Israel has demolished nearly 1000 large buildings in East Jerusalem.
Tufakji pointed out that unmitigated Israeli pressure, coupled with Israeli policy of narrowing Arab horizons, has caused the size of the Arab population within the walled town to dwindle to 175,000 while the Jewish population skyrocketed to 200,000 plus. The Weekly asked Tufakji if he thought that the Palestinian Authority was playing on borrowed time as far as saving Jerusalem was concerned.
“Unfortunately, it is too late for Jerusalem for the time being. Others might say the same thing with regards to the West Bank as well. In the final analysis, we are talking about objective facts on the ground. To simplify things for your readers, I can say that Israel has killed the possibility of a true Palestinian state. And if anyone tells you that Jerusalem will become the capital of a prospective Palestinian state, don’t believe him.”
Tufakji added that Israel, under the rubric of disingenuous peace talks with a weak and demoralised Palestinian leadership, was changing the face of the occupied Palestinian territories so much that any Palestinian entity that might be established would be “severely deformed” and “looking very, very ugly.” “True, I am not a politician, but one doesn’t have to be a great politician to see the facts and the scandalous situation here.”
This week, Israeli sources reported that US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed that Israel would be able to keep up settlement expansion but without making public announcements to that effect. On 12 July, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee approved construction of 32 new settler units in East Jerusalem. The paper quoted a member of the committee as saying that “we will continue to build everywhere and in every neighbourhood in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu, who has just wrapped up a “successful visit to Washington,” has assured pro-settler coalition partners that he won’t extend the half-hearted moratorium on settlement expansion construction due to expire on 27 September. The Israeli media quoted Netanyahu as saying that “a promise is a promise, a date is a date and a goal is a goal.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah continues to dither on whether to rejoin direct talks with Israel as insisted upon by Netanyahu and demanded by Obama. With peace talks having gone on for years with no result, one must wonder what now can convince the Palestinians to give negotiations one more chance.