Contextual Content

"Natural growth" of Israeli settlements

After US President Obama�s Cairo address to the Muslim World, Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the possibility of
establishing a Palestinian state under what�s called the two-state
solution
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But access to water and land, amongst
other issues raise serious questions about the feasibility of a Palestinian
state, considering that more than half of the West Bank is already
annexed by Israeli outposts and settlements. Lia Tarachansky
investigates the origin of the term "Natural Growth" and what it means in
the Occupation.

twostatesolution0620

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Story Transcript

LIA TARACHANSKY (VOICEOVER), TRNN: As US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell concluded his latest visit to the region last week, Obama’s stated goal of creating a Palestinian state reiterates the United States’ position pursued by all agreements since the beginning of the US-mediated peace process. A Palestinian state situated even partially in the occupied West Bank would depend heavily on the reality of Israeli outposts and settlements in the territory, a controversial issue US President Obama touched on in his Cairo speech earlier this month.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

TARACHANSKY: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has historically opposed a two-state solution. After Obama’s Cairo speech and in spite of strong pressures from inside his right-wing coalition, he agreed to the possibility, with a few strong preconditions. Although rejecting a total freeze on settlement construction, he indicated he has no plans for building new ones.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.

TARACHANSKY: He however reiterated that natural growth within settlements will continue. Daniel Kurtzer of The Washington Post writes that "Inserting the provision of ‘natural growth’ in official documents started with the 2001 Mitchell Report and the 2003 ‘road map’, reflecting recognition that the concept was being abused as a justification for expanding settlements. The Obama administration is pursuing policies that every administration since 1967 has articulated�that settlements jeopardize the possibility of achieving peace and thus settlement activity should stop." Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that unofficial communication between former US presidents and Israeli prime ministers which left room for natural growth will not stand ground with the current president. And Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah commented in the Huffington Post that "The West Bank settler population has increased … [to] almost 500,000 including East Jerusalem. The vast majority of that was under the rubric of natural growth, and there are vast expanses of land annexed to settler municipalities awaiting construction." Indeed, only in March, while still in coalition negotiations, Netanyahu agreed to the construction of a new settlement in East Jerusalem in the West Bank. The issue of settlements was supposed to be resolved by the peace process, but settlements continue to expand regardless of either the policies of Israel or the US. After Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords in Washington in 1993, a rift in Israeli society led to unprecedented settler violence against the Palestinians and escalated to the Israeli prime minister’s assassination. The Accords created the Palestinian Authority and divided the West Bank into three areas. Area A was to be under complete Palestinian control, Area B under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control, and Area C, making up most of the West Bank, under complete Israeli control. Before, during, and after the Oslo accord signing, however, no US administration was able to force any Israeli government to cease settler expansion, which currently annexes more than half of the West Bank. Even if Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition agrees to a total construction freeze, more than half of the occupied West Bank would already be annexed. This reflects an overall Israeli policy, says former Jordanian ambassador to the UN Hasan Abu Nimah and cofounder of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah. "Netanyahu’s ‘vision’ offered absolutely no advance on the 1976 Allon Plan for annexation of most of the occupied West Bank, or [former prime minister] Menachem Begin’s Camp David ‘autonomy’ proposals. The goal remains the same: to control maximum land with minimum Palestinians." The Israeli prime minister’s preconditions made clear that his willingness to discuss a Palestinian state would also be contingent on that state being completely demilitarized. The Obama administration responded to Netanyahu’s speech in a short statement on June 14, only reiterating its stated commitment to a two-state solution. His other precondition would be for the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Francis Boyle, who served as legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations after the first intifada, remarked that this precondition would be as if the United States demanded that Iran recognize it as a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant state as part of any peace settlement. Of course, this demand is racist. It would likely lead to the denationalization of the 1.5 million Palestinians who are already second-class citizens of Israel, and set the stage for their mass deportation to the Palestinian bantustan envisioned by Netanyahu in his speech. The forced transfer of Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin was recently brought back to light by the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Daniel Levy added in Haaretz that "If Netanyahu really believes that in order to make peace, the Arabs and Palestinians will need to become Zionists, then there will be no peace. If retaining this recalcitrant narrative is his way of delivering a rightist-led yet viable two-state reality, however, then things get interesting." Though never stipulating the state is for its Jewish citizens only, Yasir Arafat already recognized Israel’s right to exist in September 1993. Since 2005, the Hamas leadership has done so as well. During Jimmy Carter’s visit to Gaza last week, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, reiterated this official position by saying:

ISMAIL HANIYEH, HAMAS LEADER, PALESTINIAN PM (DISPUTED) (SUTITLED TRANSLATION): If there is a real project aiming to solve the Palestinian issue on the principle of establishing a Palestinian state according to the borders of 4 June 1967, with a complete sovereignty and rights, then we welcome this.

TARACHANSKY: But establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank along 1967 lines would be a difficult reality to actualize, says Stephen Zunes. "These settlements and the swathes of territories connecting them to each other and to Israel divide the Palestinian-controlled territory into 43 noncontiguous cantons separated by Israeli checkpoints, thereby making the creation of a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible." The result is Palestinian islands separated by Israeli outposts and settlements, Israeli-only roads, and the separation wall and fence. Also, a World Bank report published in April showed Israeli settlers, roughly one-fifth of the population, annex and use up more than four times as much water in the West Bank as the Palestinian residents in the region’s fifth consecutive year of drought. Strategies of resolving this situation have been tackled by many. The Israeli minister of defense, for example, proposed building tunnels to connect Palestinian areas, including a 30-mile tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank. But many are arguing the discourse over settlement expansion in Palestinian bantustans destracts from the fundamental question of the settlements’ legitimacy, an issue Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post addresses. In his article last week, Kessler notes [that] a 1979 legal opinion, commissioned by then-US president Jimmy Carter, reiterates the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice. The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power "shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Israel has insisted that the Geneva Convention does not apply to settlers and broadly contests assertions of the settlers’ illegality. Despite the passage of time, the legal opinion has never been revoked or revised.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.