The Netanyahu government had announced a settlement freeze in much of the West Bank for 8 months, but does not include the areas it unilaterally annexed to the district of Jerusalem as West Bank territory. Nor is the 'settlement freeze' really any such thing, since there are plans to expand housing in existing colonies on the West Bank.
This controversy comes on the heels of demonstrations in al-Khalil/ Hebron and Jerusalem by Palestinians outraged by the unilateral Israeli designation of the Tombs of the Patriarchs and the tomb of Rachel, in Palestinian West Bank territory, as Israeli heritage sites. In Palestinian experience, such Israeli claims often precede Israeli annexation. While US mass media did not cover the demonstrations in any detail (much reporting from Israel in US media is by dual citizens or by reporters who have served or have children serving in the Israeli army), they are a big story in the Middle East, and the creeping Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem is guaranteed to enrage the world's 1.5 billion Muslims and result in violence.
The Obama administration came into office determined to restart the negotiations between Abbas and the Israelis, with the aim of achieving a two-state solution. After over a year of meetings and carrying messages and cajoling, the patient-as-Job special envoy George Mitchell finally convinced Mahmoud Abbas to agree to indirect negotiations with Israel. For the past year, Abbas had refused to talk, on the grounds that the Israelis were actively colonizing the West Bank and so taking away the very territory that was subject to negotiation. How do you parlay with someone who is stealing from you at that very moment?
The Oslo process of the 1990s, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, had aimed at establishing two states side by side, Israel and Palestine. Neither the Likud Party of Netanyahu nor Hamas among the Palestinians wanted to see that process succeed. Likud wanted all of the former British Mandate of Palestine to be permanently under Israeli control, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967 and which have a stateless, rights-less Palestinian population of over 4 million persons. The Israelis have steadily and determinedly usurped Palestinian territory throughout the last nearly a century, and by now it is highly unlikely that what is left of the Palestinian West Bank and the besieged, half-starving Gaza Strip can plausibly be cobbled together into a 'state.'
It doesn't really matter if Netanyahu's slap in the face to Biden derails the proposed indirect talks. The Likud-led government has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state, and there is now no place to put one. Israel-Palestine has unalterably entered the era of Apartheid (actually something worse), and it will spell both the end of dreams of peace in our generation, and probably over time the end of Israel as Netanyahu's generation knew it.
The Palestinians cannot be left stateless (the legal estate of slaves as well as of Jews under Nazi rule, i.e. people with no legal rights) forever. If they can't have Palestinian citizenship, then they'll have to have Israeli citizenship. The future of Israel-Palestine is likely to become a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state like Lebanon. Ironically, it is Netanyahu who is in no small measure responsible for this likely outcome, the opposite of the one he aspires to.
Israelis claim a 'birthright' to do things like colonize Palestinian territory, based on romantic-nationalist reworkings of biblical narratives. But Canaan was populated for millenia before some Canaanite tribes adopted the new religion of Judaism, and it was also ruled, as Palestine, for centuries by Romans and Greeks, and for 1400 years by Muslims. The Palestinian Jews converted to Christianity and then to Islam, so they are cousins of the European Jews. European Jews are about half European by parentage and all European by cultural heritage, and it is no more natural that they be in geographical Palestine than that they be in Europe (where nearly two-thirds of their mothers were from and about a third of their fathers). From a Middle Eastern point of view, European Jews planted in British Mandate Palestine by the British Empire were no different from the million colons or European colonists brought to Algeria while it was under French rule from 1830-1962. (Algeria had been ruled in antiquity by Rome, and the French considered themselves heirs of the Roman Empire, so it was natural that people from Marseilles should return to 'their' territory. Romantic nationalism, whether French or Zionist, always has the same shape). I don't predict the same fate for Jewish Israelis as befell the French colons. Rather, they are likely to more and more resemble in their position the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon-- i.e. powerful and formerly dominant population-wise, but increasingly challenged by other rising communities.
Maybe someday the US will take an objective look at the tiny nation we've nurtured and cultivated, and swear undying allegiance to any time given the podium. Do we share any values, other than the right to vote? Do we admire a nation that does nothing to get along with its neighbors, other than military intimidation? Do we think that its all right that a very militarily aggressive and domineering country has a nuclear arsenal? Do we admire sectarian states? Does it matter that this recipient of so much of our favor and treasure is nothing more than an oblivious ingrate?
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