Recently I saw an online ad that started with the farcical claim that people are claiming that "if only the Palestinians had a state, there would be peace in the Middle East." Okay, alarm bells going off, red flags rising, because no one says that. People will say that such a state is a necessary component of peace, but no one in their right mind would say it is a panacea.
The ad goes on to say something like "did you know that Israel has offered the Palestinians a state" and how the Palestinians refused, thus proving they have no interest in peace and so forth and so on.
Well in fact, I did know about that supposed offer. It came in 2000 when Bill Clinton, desperate to secure some kind of Mideast agreement to secure his legacy convinced Yassir Arafat to meet with him and then-Israeli PM Ehud Barak even though Arafat thought nothing would be accomplished and a failed meeting would be worse than no meeting.
At that meeting, Barak made his supposedly "generous offer" to Arafat, involving a Palestinian state in Gaza and something like 90% of the West Bank. Arafat refused, the talks broke down, Clinton blamed Arafat, and so it was, and among Israeli loyalists still is, said that the Palestinian "true face" was exposed, one determined not to make peace with Israel.
There is just one problem: The deal that Barak proposed was one that the Israelis knew in advance Arafat would not, could not, accept. It was nothing but a propaganda ploy designed to head off the possibility of a settlement.
What was wrong with the "generous" offer? A number of things, but two stand out. One, the 10% of the West Bank not part of this Palestinian state would be occupied by Israeli "security corridors" connecting settlements and outposts, which would have effectively sliced the West Bank into a bunch of Bantustans, with Palestinians needing the permission of the Israeli military to get from one part of their country to another.
The other, perhaps even more important, issue was that the agreement would have required the Palestinians to completely relinquish any "right of return," the dream of the families of those who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war to return to them someday. This is an intensely emotional issue among Palestinians: I remember one activist telling me some years ago "the Jews did not forget their homeland in 2,000 years but they expect us to forget ours in twenty-five."
In terms of the symbolic, emotional impact, you might well compare it to leaders of the Zionist movement being told in 1948 that sure, you can have a Jewish state in Palestine - provided you agree that no more Jews can ever move there in the future.
No Palestinian leader could have accepted that and survived politically - and perhaps physically. And the Israelis knew it. What's more, they also knew that
[e]ven those who hold an 'extreme' position on the issue, among them Arafat, have adopted the position that if Israel recognizes the right of return in principle, its implementation can be partial and limited.The offer was a fraud and a PR ploy and considering it is still cited now, it has to be regarded as one of the most successful PR coups of modern times.
Which brings us to now.
Showing its own commitment to peace, Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank, trying to make Israeli control of the area a fait accompli that turns into Israeli possession of the area.
About 400,000 Israeli settlers live in 126 settlements scattered aross the West Bank and another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians still hope to make the capital of a Palestinian state. Those settlements are regarded by the world community - including the EU, at least as of now the US, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, and almost all experts on international law - as illegal.
Israel doesn't care. In fact, two months ago, the government announced plans to expand those existing settlements by another 5500 homes.
And on March 30 Israel's Security Cabinet unanimously approved the construction of an entirely new settlement in the West Bank, the first new settlement in Palestinian territory since 1999.
Apparently, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer feels it necessary to play the lying game of building more and more housing in existing settlements while claiming the lack of entirely new ones means expansion has been "halted."
What makes this especially outrageous is that the new settlement, which will be constructed north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, is intended for Israeli settlers evacuated from Amona, an outpost that was destroyed by Israeli authorities in February because it was not sanctioned by the Israeli government (the position of the Palestinian Authority being of no concern).
In other words, it was "Your settlement is not sanctioned. It must come down. But don't worry - we'll just build you a new one! Your settlement was illegal? Who cares?"
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the announcement "once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."
Netanyahu said the building of the new settlement was "keeping a promise." Apparently, keeping the promises he has repeatedly made for honest negotiations are not ones he regards as worth keeping.
And if you do believe in peace, you must regard that as an outrage.