As the US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel with the aim of securing an agreement on a settlement freeze, a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed that Palestinian statehood is just two years away. Both Mr Mitchell and Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that there remain many outstanding issues on settlements that they hope to resolve in the coming days.
Palestinian state to be established in two years?
As the US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel with the aim of securing an agreement on a settlement freeze, a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed that Palestinian statehood is two years away. "Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume next month on the basis of an understanding that the establishment of a Palestinian state will be officially announced in two years. "Palestinian and European Union sources told Haaretz that talks will initially focus on determining the permanent border between Israel and the West Bank. "Due to the Palestinians' reservations over establishing a state with temporary borders, as was proposed during the second stage of the road map, this step will probably be defined as 'early recognition' of Palestine." In Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch noted: "The most immediate issue raised by 'borders first' is whether it will deal with the Greater Jerusalem border. The issue here is not the Old City, the central focus of so much emotion and identity. It is the large central area of the West Bank, an area far beyond the old municipal boundaries of the city which extends deep into the central West Bank. Israel has developed huge settlements and a massive infrastructure which now almost surrounds East Jerusalem and which all but prevents any meaningful connection between the north and the south, and between the West Bank and East Jerusalem. "Will the negotiated border between the West Bank and Israel deal with the Jerusalem area? If the negotiated borders ratify the Israeli settlements and infrastructure as currently configured and proposed (including the controversial E-1 area), then the supposed Palestinian state would be essentially non-viable. It's hard to imagine a government led by Netanyahu agreeing to remove existing settlements around the Greater Jerusalem area. But no Palestinian leader is likely to be able to sell a deal which ignores or ratifies the Greater Jerusalem settlement areas to his people, even if pressured to accept. If the negotiated borders ignore or defer the Jerusalem area - an idea I've heard in circulation - then the outcome would be meaningless and counter-productive." The Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery wrote: "There no question anymore that the only recipe for healing the Israeli-Palestinian wound is the termination of the occupation and the establishment of peace between the State of Israel and the new State of Palestine beside it. This demands meaningful and intense negotiations, within a fixed time span. That is impossible if at the same time settlements continue to expand. As the Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarasi aptly put it: 'We are negotiating about the division of a pizza and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.' "That's why Obama has presented the Israeli government with an unequivocal demand: an immediate stop to all building in the settlements, including East Jerusalem. A clear and logical demand. But while pressuring Netanyahu, he himself is exposed to heavy pressure at home over the health insurance system and the Afghan war... "The Americans recognise, of course, that our government is trying to deceive them. If they allow the building of just another 500 houses in the settlement blocks, and the completion of just another 2500 houses whose construction has already begun, and just a few more in East Jerusalem, in practice the building will go on unchecked. "The settlers know perfectly well that their whole enterprise has been based on deceit and trickery, house after house and neighbourhood after neighbourhood, and they are happy to allow Netanyahu to continue with this method. For the time being, they do not cry out, they are not worried, the more so as no large Israeli public movement has yet arisen in support of Obama's peace efforts." Writing for Middle East Report Online, Jeff Halper said: "Since the Cairo speech [given by Mr Obama in June]... fundamental doubts about US efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by Obama upon Israel has been for a settlement 'freeze', a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic 'blocs' that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and 'greater' Jerusalem, the Arab areas to the north, south and east of the city where Israel has planted its flag. Focusing on this one issue - which, months later, is still being haggled over - has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction that, when completed, will truly render the occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the separation barrier, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the 'Green Line', the pre-June 1967 boundary to which Israel is supposed to withdraw, by the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, but on which even the most ardent two-staters have long since given up. Israel is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the 'judaization' of the city. It is confiscating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and 'greater' Jerusalem and pouring bypass road asphalt at a feverish pace so as to permanently redraw the map. It is laying track on Palestinian land for a light-rail line connecting the West Bank settlement-city of Pisgat Ze'ev to Israel. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether, or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank. " 'Quiet', behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have emerged are far from reassuring. The [US] state department has mocked as 'fiction' a ten-point document given to the Arab press by Fatah figure Hasan Khreisheh that promises an 'international presence' in parts of the West Bank and US backing for a Palestinian state by 2011. The component of this alleged plan that seems more likely is that the US wants a partial freeze on settlement activity from Israel in exchange for a pledge from Washington to push for more stringent sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear research. On August 25, The Guardian quoted 'an official close to the negotiations' saying: 'The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not.' By all indications, if the Obama administration does present a regional peace plan, which it is expected by many to do around the time of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 20, it will be nothing more than a 'rough draft'. It is no exaggeration to say a two-state solution will rise or fall on the outlines of this draft - and may perhaps fall forever if no concrete plan is presented at all, which is also possible. Although the two-state solution has been eulogized many times in the past, Obama represents a best-case scenario. If he presents, in the end, a disappointing peace plan that offers no genuine breakthrough, then the shift to a one-state solution on the part of the Palestinian people and their international supporters will be inescapable." In Israel's Ynet, Sever Plocker wrote: "Without the Palestinians grasping the process, and without most of Israeli citizens giving it some thought, the areas beyond the 1967 borders have become the main absorption area for new Israeli citizens: New immigrants from the former Soviet Union, young Jerusalemites, haredim facing economic distress, etc. The 'territories' served as Israel's territorial backbone, and played this role with great success. "Israel's Leftist camp believes that it has the upper hand, referring as ultimate proof to Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau's declaration in favour of a Palestinian state, albeit with some conditions. Yet the Left is wrong: While it was engaged in the futile 'diplomatic process,' the active Rightist camp, with the backing and assistance of all of Israel's governments with the exception of one, engaged in developing Jewish settlements in the territories. "Half a million Jews beyond the Green Line constitute the point of no return. The talk about a 'construction freeze' or 'construction suspicion' at certain settlements are a joke and an insurance policy for the leaders - in Israel, in Palestine, and in the world - who know deep in their hearts that the decision had been made. "What we have here is two peoples that cannot be divided: A mixture of Jews and Palestinians that cannot be separated. It's too late."