x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rumors of a Middle East peace breakthrough appear premature

Israel's predictions that it is close to reaching a compromise deal in response to US demands for a settlement freeze are being viewed with scepticism as prime minister Netanyahu insists Jerusalem's status is non-negotiable. While Israel might hope to link an agreement on settlements to the imposition of economic sanctions on Iran such a linkage makes no obvious sense in light of Tehran's current state.

Israel's predictions that it is close to reaching a compromise deal in response to US demands for a settlement freeze are being viewed with scepticism as prime minister Netanyahu insists Jerusalem's status is non-negotiable. "A report by The Guardian newspaper that Israel is close to a White House Middle East peace deal - linking a partial freeze on Israeli settlements to sweeping sanctions on Iran - has captured diplomatic attention in Europe, though some details are being met with scepticism," The Christian Science Monitor reported. "Most experts doubt the Obama team is ready to fuse the two crucial policies, particularly in the aftermath of Iranian elections. "Yet with French president Nicolas Sarkozy today suggesting 'reinforced sanctions' on Iran if Tehran's nuclear policy does not change by a September 20 UN summit, and expressing support for a Palestinian state and immediate freeze on settlements - the White House may have a partner in Middle East dealmaking. Under Sarkozy, France has taken an ever tougher line against Iran's nuclear and missile policy - partly to close the earlier gap with the Americans over Iraq, and partly because France and other European nations have crept closer to Israel. "Yet with authority in Tehran now in flux, European diplomats say, it is far too early to pose clear sanctions policies since their outcome could in the end hurt moderates and others seeking reform." Walter Rogers, former Jerusalem bureau chief for CNN wrote in The Christian Science Monitor: "The idea that the Obama administration can advance the Middle East peace process by having Israel freeze its construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank stretches credulity. "Does any serious observer of the region believe that Israel's appetite for land - owned and occupied for generations by Palestinians - is going to abate? "The Israeli land grab has continued for four decades, in defiance of international law and most US presidents. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been trying to secure a halt, but his efforts follow a well-worn path that typically ends in charade." In The Guardian, Rory McCarthy, though the example of one West Bank settlement, described the process through which Palestinian dispossession has continued relentlessly since 1967. "The rise of Ma'ale Adumim captures the success of Israel's vast settlement project and the extent of the challenge posed to any future Palestinian state by the settlements and the often overlooked infrastructure of Israel's occupation. "In March 1975 there was no Ma'ale Adumim. After Israel captured and occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war the site was earmarked as a an industrial park. A group of activist settlers from the Gush Emunim - the Bloc of the Faithful - arrived one morning and built a water tower and simple concrete hut. They were removed that day by soldiers, but in December that year the first settler families moved in for good. The city then grew exponentially. "The site is a compelling example of how infrastructure is used to extend Israel's reach around and well beyond the settlement. Ma'ale Adumim's buildings seem to cover one main hilltop, but the municipal area of the settlement is nearly 20 square miles, the size of Tel Aviv. Then there are the Israeli-built roads connecting Ma'ale Adumim with nearby smaller, satellite settlements, as well as a major highway running further east past Jericho and cutting across the West Bank until it reaches the Jordanian border. Israel is now building its steel and concrete West Bank barrier around Ma'ale Adumim and the other smaller settlements, effectively incorporating them on the 'Israeli' side and by doing so taking another 24 square miles of the West Bank." In Al Jazeera, the Middle East historian, Mark Levine, said: "the Israeli 'matrix of control' that is comprised of the settlements, the wall, the roads and the checkpoints, has all but suffocated Palestinian political, social and economic life - particularly through the isolation of Jerusalem from its traditional satellite towns and the other major Palestinian cities, which can only be reached by crossings Israeli checkpoints. "At the opening of the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Palestinian delegation declared that Jerusalem was the 'the soul of Palestine' and went on to state that Jerusalem was 'the capital of our homeland and future state, defining Palestinian existence, past, present, and future.' "For its part, all Israeli governments have declared that Jerusalem will always remain 'the undivided capital of Israel' and that the city is as Jewish as 'London is British'. "Behind-the-scenes negotiations during Oslo came close to resolving this impasse, based on a formula in which what is under Jewish/Israeli control will remain Jewish and what is Palestinian will remain Palestinian. "The problem is that the ever-increasing Israeli control over East Jerusalem - most recently epitomised by the much-criticised Israeli announcement that it intends to build in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, near the Old City - leaves increasingly little land remaining in Palestinian hands." Reporting from Sheikh Jarrah, Rory McCarthy recounted the manner in which the latest Palestinian families were driven out of their homes. "The police came for them at dawn on a Sunday, heavily armed, wearing helmets and riot shields as they broke down the metal doors of the houses and dragged the two Palestinian families out onto the streets. "It was over in minutes, the Hanoun and the Ghawi families evicted from what had been their homes for the past five decades, and thrown onto the pavement before the sun had fully risen. "Within hours young, religious Israeli settlers had been moved in, guarded by dozens of armed police and their own private armed security guards. "These streets of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, have become the new front line in Israel's complex battle to extend its control over this divided city; their latest victims 17 members of the Hanoun family and 38 from the Ghawi family. "Both families now sleep on mattresses on the street outside their homes and spend the day sitting in the shade watching settlers walk in and out of their front doors. " 'I don't know how they sleep,' said Maher Hanoun, 51. 'We were here in our house legally. That is the important thing.' "It was the second time he has been evicted from the house, but the first time settlers have moved in. "Around the corner sat Nasser Ghawi, 46, facing the same situation. 'I am dying a hundred times a day,' he said. 'This is my house, this is what's left of my furniture. I have no other place to go. This is where I was born.' "

pwoodward@thenational.ae