A recent front-page New York Times article on Condoleezza Rice’s role in shaping US foreign policy reported that in the spring of 2002, when violence was escalating between Israel and the Palestinians, President Bush asked the following of Dr. Rice: Beyond the question of whether the US is “pushing this party hard enough or that party hard enough,” what is the “fundamental problem” that has defeated all previous peace initiatives and continues to stand in the way of a political agreement?1
Dr. Rice’s answer was that the fundamental problem is Yasser Arafat—his refusal to act to stop terrorism and the absence of democracy and accountability in Palestinian political institutions. She concluded, therefore, that sidelining Yasser Arafat, democratizing Palestinian institutions, and bringing to the fore a new Palestinian leadership would improve the prospects of an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement. This insight, according to Dr. Rice, countered the “prevailing wisdom” that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was “just about land.”
Of course, the conflict has never been just about land, but what has defeated every previous peace initiative—from the Oslo Accords to the Mitchell proposals to the Tenet guidelines to the current roadmap—is the struggle over land. And what has made land the central issue is Israel’s unilateral expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an expansion that continues relentlessly even as Prime Minister Sharon speaks of disengagement, withdrawal, painful concessions, and the dismantling of settlements.
Israel’s expansion into the West Bank threatens to preclude a two-state solution, the only outcome that would resolve the conflict without the disastrous result of ending either Jewish or Palestinian national existence. The settler movement, which has enjoyed the patronage of Sharon from its inception in 1967, has made no secret that it is precisely the prevention of a Palestinian state in the West Bank that is its central goal.
While the physical space taken up by the inhabited areas of the Jewish settlements is not more than 3 percent of the West Bank, the municipal borders of these settlements and the infrastructure that supports them take up about 50 percent of the West Bank. It is land that under the terms of the Oslo Accords was designated Area C, considered “government land” when Jordan occupied the West Bank. Un-der the terms of the Oslo Accords, this area—except for military bases in which the Israeli Defense Force would remain for varying periods of time to deal with residual security concerns—was to have been returned to the Palestinians.
The 1947 UN partition plan that divided Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs of Palestine allotted roughly 50 percent to each side. Because of the wars that followed Arab rejection of the UN resolution, Israel enlarged its share to 78 percent of pre-1948 Palestine, annexing over 50 percent more territory than allotted by the UN partition plan. Following the 1967 war, when the remaining 22 percent of Arab Palestine came under Israeli occupation, the UN adopted resolutions 242 and 338, which affirmed the obligation of Arab countries to recog-nize…
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