TINKERING AT THE MARGINS OF ISRAELI RULE WILL NOT END OCCUPATION OR SETTLEMENT
By Geoffrey Aronson
"Israel's continued settlement expansion and land confiscation in the West Bank makes physical separation of our two peoples increasingly impossible," wrote Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the Wall Street Journal on September 19, 2008. "We are impatient for our freedom. Yet partial peace, as proposed again by my current [Israeli] interlocutors, is not the way forward. Partial freedom is a contradiction in terms. Either a Palestinian lives free or continues to live under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.
"We want our children to live with hope and the opportunity to realize their potential," Abbas continued." Yet our daily reality worsens.We are walled into shrinking pockets of land, reminiscent of the Bantustans of South Africa."
Abbas, having despaired of an agreement with Israel, has reportedly turned his efforts to winning a letter of support from outgoing U.S. president George W. Bush for a "political solution based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders."
There was a time in the early decades of occupation and settlement when the international community applauded Israel's "benevolent occupation." Israeli leaders rationalized settlement creation by explaining that settlements were making use of "empty" land and that the introduction of settlers did not compromise Palestinian life in any way but was in fact an engine of modernization and economic advancement.When, however, Palestinian children are forbidden by Israeli soldiers to ride their bikes to school because of the outrageous security prerogatives of Israeli settlers, where concrete and barbed wire mark roads whose use by Palestinians is prohibited, and when Palestinian farmers are required to harvest olives only in coordination with Israeli soldiers for fear of settler attacks, it is not surprising that even the pretense of harmonious coexistence under occupation was long ago dropped from Israel's arsenal of excuses for maintaining the status quo.
What has not changed, however, is Israel's continuing commitment to preserving the core elements of occupation that today require the imposition of expansive restrictions on Palestinian life that grow more onerous as the settler population expands, whatever the costs to Palestinians. A recent International Monetary Fund report on the effect of the Annapolis process* notes that restrictions on Palestinian movement have increased in the past year, resulting in a contraction in real GDP in the first quarter of 2008. Despite extraordinary international effort, and the contribution of an unprecedented international aid, including $1.63 billion in direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority this year, the results achieved-more checkpoints, continuing economic stagnation, Gaza's relentless push into penury, and the consolidation of Hamas' rule there-are the opposite of the objectives established one year ago at Annapolis.
In an address to Quartet representatives on September 22, PA prime minister Salaam Fayyad took note of the failure of the central assumption guiding the international effort, namely, that Palestine's economic rehabilitation can be achieved without reversing the essential elements of Israeli rule.