This evening I went out for a meal with Kathy Bergen and two of her friends here in Ramallah, Lois and Khalil. I joined the three of them in a Mexican restaurant, which they said had opened two years ago. Nowadays you can find quite a variety of restaurants and cafés in Ramallah: Chinese, Italian, “Charlie Fried Chicken”, etc., although I have yet to find an Indian restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant that we had chosen turned out to be rather noisy. But it may just have been because it is Thursday night, the start of the weekend here.
Because of the noise, it was difficult to hold much of a conversation, but I did ask Khalil what he thought about the current peace talks between Israel and Palestine. He said that they are not peace talks but “capitulation talks”. The Palestinians are being expected to capitulate to Israeli demands. The Israelis have suggested, for example, that the Jordan Valley be given to Israel on a 99-year lease, and that the border between Israel and the West Bank should follow the “separation barrier” instead of the Green Line that was drawn in 1967.
How can the Palestinians be expected to give up more land? They have already had so much taken away from them. There was Al Nakba, “the Catastrophe”, in 1948, when many were driven out of their villages and became refugees, the war in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and, during the past 20 years, the de facto annexation of Area C which covers 61% of the West Bank.
Area C includes a significant number of Israeli settlements well inside the West Bank. These will have to be given up, if a Palestinian state is to be viable. There are several settlements in the Jordan Valley with a total population of about 9,000. But there are about 56,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, mostly in Jericho, but also in villages such as Auja, which I visited with a Quaker Voluntary Action group about a fortnight ago.
Should Israel be given control over the Jordan Valley (and its fertile land and water resources), which they claim they need as a buffer zone against potentially hostile Arab neighbours? Or does a Palestinian state have to include the Jordan Valley, if it is to be viable? Israel has already stolen much of the land and the lion’s share of the water in defiance of international law. Should this be tolerated?
I’m not a great fan of Tony Blair, but he says: “Along the Jordan Valley you have immensely rich agricultural land. It’s hard to see frankly how in the future you’re going to have a Palestinian state that doesn’t include that. … What we’ve got to try to do I think, even in advance of final agreement, is to give people on the Palestinian side a sense that the world is changing and that they can see the prospect of a genuine state opening up before them, … Likewise for the Israelis of course [we must show] that the security concerns… are going to be taken account of.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24802623)
It is indeed essential to heed Israel’s legitimate security concerns. But the path to peace and security is not through the creation of an apartheid state in which Palestinians are confined within half-a-dozen “Bantustans”. There can only be peace with justice. The human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, wherever they live, must be safeguarded in any solution to the conflict. At present the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel mean that many Palestinians are denied their basic human rights.
I don’t wish to be pessimistic, but I find it difficult to imagine that the current peace talks will result in an agreement. There are too many intractable issues: the status of East Jerusalem, the future of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the right of refugees to return to their homeland,…
We are told that US Secretary of State John Kerry will submit a peace plan, if the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators fail to reach agreement. If that peace plan is fair to the Palestinians, I can’t imagine that the Israeli government would accept it, especially with Avigdor Lieberman back as Foreign Minister, having been acquitted of corruption charges.
Will the international community then stand by wringing its hands as Israel continues to extend the West Bank settlements, “which are illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace”, as the EU frequently complains? Or will we demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinians (and Israelis who should also be allowed to live in peace and security) by joining their boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign?