Saving the Two-State Solution
By SAEB EREKAT
New York Times Op Ed - 20 Dec: JERUSALEM — Palestinians are committed to two equal states for two equal peoples. Israel's insatiable appetite for constructing settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, however, is making a two-state solution impossible, in the process frustrating all efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.
One such effort is today's meeting in Washington among officials of the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations — the so-called quartet — to discuss a "road map" to peace. This map will lead nowhere unless it stops Israel's ongoing land grabs.
Over the last two years, as the world has focused on the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the underlying causes of the violence have been largely ignored, even as they have intensified. Rather than reverse the effects of the occupation, Israel has used the years since the Oslo peace accord was signed in 1993 to double the number of Israeli settlers living in the occupied territories, now numbering nearly 400,000, half of whom live in occupied East Jerusalem. Since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office nearly two years ago, more than 60 new Israeli settlements have been erected in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, in violation of international law and United Nations resolutions.
According to a recent Israeli human rights report, Israeli settlements now control almost 42 percent of the West Bank, not including Palestinian East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements and bypass roads have virtually encircled occupied East Jerusalem, making it impossible for Palestinians to develop and expand their most important urban center — and making a mockery of the idea of a shared capital.
And Israel's so-called security wall, parts of which are nearly 25 feet high and are topped with watch towers and barbed wire, has more to do with seizing Palestinian land than it does with security. The wall is not being built on Israel's border, but rather in occupied Palestinian territory in such a way as to separate Palestinians from their adjacent farmland and water resources, thereby denying Palestinians not only their freedom of movement but also their livelihood.
Israel's relentless construction of settlements and settler-only roads in the West Bank has resulted in the confiscation of Palestinian land, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the destruction of Palestinian agriculture, the outright theft of Palestinian water resources, the displacement of Palestinian families and the disruption of Palestinian territorial contiguity and social cohesion. Israel's refusal to stop this process undermines Palestinian trust in Israel's intentions — a lack of trust at the heart of the current uprising.
According to a survey by the advocacy group Peace Now, however, more than half of Israelis claim that they favor a Palestinian state as part of a permanent peace. Even Mr. Sharon has managed to utter his support for a Palestinian state despite the Likud Party's resolution against it.
So how are Palestinians to reconcile such support for Palestinian statehood with Israel's construction of settlements? It has become clear to many Palestinians that what Mr. Sharon and many other Israelis have in mind for the Palestinians is a ghetto "state" surrounded by Israeli settlements, with no ability to defend itself, deprived of water resources and arable land, with an insignificant presence in Jerusalem and sovereign in name only. Palestinians will never accept such a future. Nor should we.
Without a dramatic change in Israeli policy, the possibility of a two-state solution will be relegated to the history books. Yet despite international laws that prohibit the construction of settlements, despite a call to "freeze all settlement activity" by an international panel led by former United States Senator George Mitchell in 2001, despite Palestinian pleas to address the underlying causes of violence — occupation and settlement construction — the international community has done nothing to stop Israel. President Bush reiterates support for two states, yet he continues to support an Israeli government that makes the two-state solution an increasing impossibility.
There are currently two opportunities to save prospects for a two-state solution. First, the quartet must make a full and internationally monitored settlement freeze the top priority. Without such a freeze, ongoing settlement construction will only provoke more hostility and undermine any attempts to stop violence.
Second, elections next month give Israelis the opportunity to send a message to Palestinians. By electing a leadership committed to evacuating settlements rather than building them, to ending the occupation rather than intensifying it, Israelis can undermine the Palestinian extremists and help bring an end to the horrors of the past two years.
Israel has a right to peace and security. But if the international community and the Israeli public miss these opportunities, they will have only themselves to blame for the consequences we will all suffer.
Saeb Erekat is chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization.