The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank
It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.
First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.
For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.
Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.
Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.
Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.
Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.
Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.
During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.
Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.
The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.
The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.
In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle“.
It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.
First published in the Guardian’s Comment is Free.