As yet another round of Israel-Palestine peace talks floats dead in the water, the extent of the Palestinian National Authority’s willingness to cooperate and Israel’s intransigence are sad reminders that Middle East peace is an unattainable dream.
This week, Obama spoke in Jakarta about his disappointment in Israel’s decision to continue building settlements in East Jerusalem. That statement was quickly met by a retort from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.’
Sadly, this recent statement is another testament to Israel’s policy of stubborn indifference to political realities.
The eastern part of Israel’s capital has a population of around 430,000. Of those, 181,000 are Jews and 230,000 are Muslims.
The more telling aspect of these figures is how these numbers stack up against each respective religion’s total population in the capital. The 180,000 Jews in East Jerusalem comprise 42 percent of Jerusalem’s total Jewish population. The 230,000 Muslims living there, by stark contrast, make up 99 percent of Jerusalem’s total Muslim population.
And yet, despite East Jerusalem’s overwhelming Muslim population, the Israeli government claims it is virtually identical to its western counterpart. Obviously, that claim is false.
So even if Israel were to maintain its grasp on the eastern half in a peace agreement, then what? Either the Muslim population living there would remain, leading to conflict, or 99 percent of Jerusalem’s Muslims would be forced to move to the less economically prosperous West Bank for the sake of fewer than half of Jerusalem’s Jews.
Obviously, Israel is more set on a third option: building settlements (which are, in reality, apartments, not the acres-long villages one may think of) and slowly supplanting the Muslim population.
Such action not only ignores the demographic reality, it ignores political consensus.
As a whole, the international community disagrees with Israel’s construction of settlements in East Jerusalem. Even the U.S., one of Israel’s most consistent supporters, has taken issue with it.
Although many of Israel’s supporters are convinced that the international community, the UN especially, are biased against Israel, there are valid issues to take with the construction: Many times it is based on shaky legal grounds, deprives Palestinians of their homes and is done with the barely-concealed motive of turning East Jerusalem into a majority-Jewish region.
The image Israel is creating with its sharp denial to cease construction contrasts with the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to maintain hope. PNA President Mahmoud Abbas has so far not ceased negotiations entirely, despite pressure to do so.
In addition, the PNA, instead of capitulating to extremist demands, has tightened its enforcement of security, often at the cost of deepening the rift between itself and Hamas.
Such a move proves two things. First, unlike past situations, the moderate Palestinian political party is unwilling to turn a blind eye to terrorism; second, the PNA, in taking an unprecedented step in cracking down, is willing to break up the Palestinian bloc if it means peace.
These actions demonstrate Abbas’ commitment to peace. Even if he is not as ideal a partner as Israel might wish for, he is the best Netanyahu is going to get.
In its consideration of whether to cease construction and revive negotiations, Israel might want to consider the deepening tensions between Israel and its neighbors. In addition to Iran’s rapidly increasing nuclear capability, there is Hezbollah ‘ Hamas’ stronger counterpart in Lebanon ‘ which is growing in military capability.
On the political side, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran are strengthening their ties in unity against Israel.
None of this bodes well for Israel. If, however, it ceased settlement building and demonstrated its willingness to engage in real peace talks, the situation could be helped. Though Netanyahu wouldn’t placate all Israel’s enemies through continued negotiations, it would certainly help Israel’s status with borderline allies like Turkey and Egypt.
Second ‘ and probably more important ‘ returning to the table would undoubtedly boost Israel’s stature outside of the region. This is progress, but particularly so in a time of such instability in the Middle East.
All we can do is wait for some signal from Netanyahu. Unfortunately, the religious right has a death grip on Netanyahu’s coalition; their biblical claims to the land leave no room for negotiation or Palestinians in general. Once again, all things considered, the peace process looks doomed.