Global Education

Israeli settlements may stall peace talks

By Denebola
Published: December 2007

By Nicole Repina

Of the many disagreements and roadblocks towards achieving peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab World is the contentious issue of Israel’s Jewish settlements in the “occupied territories.”
During the Six Day War or an Naksah, “the Setback” Israel defeated Syria, Jordan, and Egypt during a war of pre-emptive defense. As a result of the war, Israel tripled the size of its territory and thus occupied lands populated by Palestinians, such as the Golan Heights, the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Palestinians and the Arab nations who supported them were enraged that they were now under Israeli occupation, while many Israelis and Zionists celebrated the tremendous victory. Right-wing Israelis believed that the new land needed to be used for Jewish expansion; the Palestinians appealed to the Israeli government and the United Nations for the eventual formation of a Palestinian state.
The current government within the occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli government have agreed to discuss the controversial settlements.
On December 2, the Israel Land Authority Web site invited firms to bid to build 307 “residential and/ or commercial and/or hotels and/or leisure” units in Har Homa, a settlement in between Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and nearby West Bank areas. This annexation, however, is not recognized internationally.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced while attending the Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 27, that he wanted this area to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. By building homes in Har Homa, Israel is encroaching onto Arab territory, which may spur protests and conflicts.
“This is an attempt to obstruct negotiations,” the chief Palestinian negotiator and former prime minister, Ahmed Qurei said.
Qurei explained that the construction of such projects is “is a flagrant violation of all that happened at Annapolis.” Furthermore, these issues he believes will lead to “no peace process.”
Palestinians say Israel is trying to encircle the capital of the future Palestinian state. Nevertheless, Israel does not view this site as part of the West Bank territory that Palestinians want for an independent state. According to a Housing Ministry spokeswoman, it was part of a 20-year-old Israeli plan. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman also said that the plan to build 300 homes did not go against any rules created at Annapolis to follow the commitments set by the 2003 “road map,” which included halting Jewish settlement on Palestinian land.
While there is almost universal critisism worldwide over the settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, stated the necessity for the settlements during an interview in 1998, “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many [Palestinian] hilltops as they can to enlarge the [Jewish] settlements because everything we take now will stay ours…everything we don’t grab will go to them.”
The Palestinian Authority is now asking for help from other nations, especially the United States. Abbas’s administration noted that Israel’s actions go against the agreement reached at Annapolis. “This is a real test for all of us,” said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, “We urge you to have the Israeli government revoke this order because it will be a severe blow to all those who took part in Annapolis.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the United States, the largest supporter of the state of Israel, declared that they disapprove of the actions Israel may take.
“We are in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence with the parties, and this doesn’t help to build confidence. It’s even more important now that we are on the eve of the beginning of the negotiations. I made that position clear,” she told journalists.
Israeli officials have stated that President Bush will make his first presidential visit to the region in January 2008. Abbas hopes that Bush would be able to resolve the housing issue, as well as other conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, by the end of his remaining 13 months in office.

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