Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Palestinian resistance and Israeli intransigence over the West Bank

The West Bank has a land area of 5,640 square kilometers (including East Jerusalem). It borders Israel on the east and Jordan, just across the Jordan River, on the west. The territory was part of Jordan until it was seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and has been occupied by the Israeli military as part of the occupied territories since then.

Israelis see the area as a defense buffer to their west while Palestinians see the territory as part of their homeland in any proposed two-state solution. The West Bank has been the site of a great deal of conflict and violence between Israelis and Palestinians exacerbated by the establishment of Israeli settlements throughout the territory. The reaction of the Palestinian population to the occupation and settlements has been to resort to violence but that may be changing according to a story in the New York Times:
Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested. Goods produced in Israeli settlements have been burned in public demonstrations. The Palestinian prime minister has entered West Bank areas officially off limits to his authority, to plant trees and declare the land part of a future state.

Something is stirring in the West Bank. With both diplomacy and armed struggle out of favor for having failed to end the Israeli occupation, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, joined by the business community, is trying to forge a third way: to rouse popular passions while avoiding violence. The idea, as Fatah struggles to revitalize its leadership, is to build a virtual state and body politic through acts of popular resistance.

“It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister, referring to a campaign to end the purchase of settlers’ goods and the employment of Palestinians by settlers and their industries. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

The new approach still remains small scale while American-led efforts to revive peace talks are stalled. But street interviews showed that people were aware and supportive of its potential to bring pressure on Israel but dubious about its ultimate effectiveness.

Billboards have sprung up as part of a campaign against buying settlers’ goods, featuring a pointed finger and the slogan “Your conscience, your choice.” The Palestinian Ministry of Communications has just banned the sale of Israeli cellphone cards because Israeli signals are relayed from towers inside settlements. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is spending more time out of his business suits and in neglected villages opening projects related to sewage, electricity and education and calling for “sumud,” or steadfastness.

“Steadfastness must be translated from a slogan to acts and facts on the ground,” he told a crowd late last month in a village called Izbet al-Tabib near the city of Qalqilya, an area where Israel’s separation barrier makes access to land extremely difficult for farmers. Before planting trees, Mr. Fayyad told about 1,000 people gathered to hear him, “This is our real project, to establish our presence on our land and keep our people on it.”

Nonviolence has never caught on here, and Israel’s military says the new approach is hardly nonviolent. But the current set of campaigns is trying to incorporate peaceful pressure in limited ways. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, just visited Bilin, a Palestinian village with a weekly protest march. Next week, Martin Luther King III is scheduled to speak here at a conference on nonviolence.
In the meantime, Israel’s right-wing foreign minister is threatening to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements if Palestinians declare independence. This from the Huffington Post:
Israel's hard-line foreign minister warned Palestinians against plans to unilaterally declare independence next year, saying in an interview Tuesday that such a move could prompt Israel to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements.

Avigdor Lieberman also made harsh comments about Turkey, Israel's increasingly alienated ally, saying the Turkish prime minister was coming to resemble Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Lieberman, who heads an ultranationalist party, has become known for a belligerent tone that has earned him critics abroad and inside Israel.

His remarks Tuesday on Palestinian independence took aim at a Palestinian policy that has emerged as U.S. attempts to restart peace talks have stalled.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose Western-backed administration has a limited governing role in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, announced plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, possibly as early as 2011 – even without a peace deal.

Lieberman warned that if Palestinians declared independence, Israel could revoke 1990s peace agreements or annex parts of the West Bank.

"Any unilateral decision will release us from all of our commitments and will allow us also to make unilateral decisions," Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Ynet news Web site. "For example, imposing Israeli sovereignty on certain areas, cutting off all kinds of ties and transfers of money and a string of benefits and agreements put into place since the (peace) accords."

An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it is Israel's long-standing policy that unilateral moves by the Palestinians would draw similar action from Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu's office released no official comment on Lieberman's remarks.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – as part of their future state. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in the two areas before peace talks can resume.

Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been on hold since late 2008. The Obama administration has pressed Israel to stop building. The Jewish state has imposed a 10-month slowdown on West Bank construction, but the order does not include east Jerusalem.

"I think we have to make clear to Obama that we are not only not freezing construction in Jerusalem, but after the 10-month freeze we will go back to building" in the West Bank, Lieberman said.
You can read the entire New York Times article here and the Huffington Post article here.

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