Sunday, 10 January 2010

The End in Sight: Moves towards an Israel-Palestine settlement in 2010

My glass of Holy Land brew is half full. An optimist by nature, that’s the way it’s seemed to me for most of the past thirty years. Not one of my political pieces, written since 1980 and reproduced in my book “One Man’s Israel”, is actually negative in sentiment. Misconceived, some of them, no doubt. But I’ve never thought the prospects for a final settlement beyond hope.

Take the recent increase in terrorism by Fatah. I see the trend as reflecting a growing policy divide between the more extreme elements within Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority, represented by its prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

Fayyad has been in post for over two years, and in that time the West Bank’s economy has flourished. The World Bank predicts a 5% increase during 2009. Some 6000 new jobs have been created, trade with Israel is up by more than 80% and agricultural exports by over 200%. It is this obvious growth in economic strength on the West Bank – in stark contrast to the stagnation that persists in Gaza, despite the massive and continuing influx of aid and trade – that underlay Fayyad’s announcement in the summer of the establishment of “de facto Palestinian statehood” by the end of 2011.

Fayyad’s vision leaves him vulnerable to both Hamas and extremist elements within Fatah. It seems to reflect Netanyahu’s own concept of building Palestinian statehood based on economic development, and lays Fayyad open to charges of collaborating with the Zionist enemy. More than that, Fayyad proposes side-stepping one of the major bones of contention in any final peace agreement – the West Bank settlements. Last July he announced that Jews would be allowed to live in any future Palestinian state: “they certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel.”

Freezing further development of the West Bank settlements has emerged as the great stumbling block to any further progress on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The temporary freeze ordered by Netanyahu has already led to clashes, some of them violent, between settlers and the army.

There seems to be a general view in the media that most West Bank settlers are driven by ideological or religious conviction that the territory must remain Israel’s in perpetuity. But the true motive of many – perhaps most – is to live and bring up their families on the soil of the biblical Land of Israel, irrespective of where its sovereignty lies. Indeed some are passionately anti-Zionist in their religio-political views. If a final peace agreement incorporated the idea of some Jewish settlers remaining in their homes – just as well over a million Arabs are currently citizens of Israel – violent conflict between the Israeli government and its own citizens would be avoided. A system of dual nationality could be introduced for both groups at the moment the new Palestinian sovereign state came into existence.

I’ll bet something like this lies on the table at the secret negotiations that are continuously on the go, waiting to be revealed in due course.

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