Over this past week, after Secretary of State John Kerry went to visit Israel, their peace talks with the Palestinian Authority have resumed, prompted by Israel releasing 26 prisoners. This sounds optimistic until we look at Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that they’re going to build 2,000 new settlements in the West Bank. So it’s important to understand what kind of peace we’re talking about. Who’s this “peace” for? Evidently, it’s not going to be peace for the Palestinian people.
What the Settlements in West Bank Mean For a Palestinian State
First of all, the settlements are illegal. The UN has passed numerous resolutions calling them illegal, e.g. 446, 452, 465, 471, 476. The International Court of Justice, ICJ, agrees. Unfortunately, our own government in USA does not. As more settlements are built, the chances of building a viable Palestinian state next to an Israeli one steadily decreases, with the Palestinian population becoming more and more fragmented.
As mentioned before, our leaders have a much different view on this. Just a few months ago, Obama urged Palestine to “drop ” the “precondition” of stopping settlement expansion. This week, Kerry reflected that, “We have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places and I think the Palestinians understand that.” Maybe they’re right, and I’m just exaggerating. Let’s first take a brief look at what settlement expansion means for ordinary Palestinians.
(In)Human Effects of Settlement Expansion
There are some human effects to settlements that a map simply can’t capture. This documentary explores some of these, especially in its first 10 minutes. Many Palestinians have had their farmland seized and their homes demolished. Stories of Palestinian villages without adequate housing or water is commonplace. They are under military occupation, which means that roads are arbitrarily blocked, freedom of movement is arbitrarily denied, and young children are arbitrarily detained. Women in labor and their newborns die because they’re blocked by the Israeli military. Often, they put 24-hour curfews on cities for months.
So my answer to John Kerry would be, No sir, the Palestinians don’t understand why settlement expansion has to keep happening. When Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel, it is completely and unequivocally wrong. Obama said in 2008, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing.” Why doesn’t this logic apply to Palestinians, when they see their homes demolished, property seized, and livelihoods destroyed?
What About the Gaza Strip?
There’s more questions that will hamper these “peace talks,” namely, Will the blockade on Gaza end? Will it cease to be what Chomsky calls, “the world’s larges open-air prison?” Living conditions there continue to deteriorate, as shortages of food, water, and medical supplies persist, primarily because of Israel’s blockade. Israel even counted exactly how many calories to allow into Gaza so that they can dole out “collective punishment” but still avoid a humanitarian crisis.
What Kind of Peace Will This Be?
Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, made just one demand – to stop settlement expansion – and even that wasn’t conceded by Israel. And if that issue, largely uncontroversial in the international community, isn’t going to be respected by Israel, there’s little chance that the rest of these pressing issues will be resolved. And if these issues remain lingering, what kind of peace are we looking at? To any sane observer, it’s just a continuation of the oppression of the Palestinian people that’s become normalized for Israeli and American policymakers.