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Following E1 decision, Israel is more isolated than ever but not likely to change course

The decision to promote construction plans for the E1 area and build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank has European diplomats making a last-ditch effort to save the two-state solution. 

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So far, the recent diplomatic failures have not hurt Netanyahu  (photo: Avi Ochayon/ Government Press Office)

Israeli ambassadors in several European capitals have been summoned to receive angry responses to Jerusalem’s recent decision to construct 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank settlements and promote the zoning plan for E1 area, northeast of Jerusalem. E1 is the only remaining corridor between the large Palestinian cities in the West Bank. It is the final brick in the great project Likud and Kadima prime ministers have been carrying out in the last two decades, which is designed to encircle the Palestinian part of Jerusalem with Israeli settlements and neighborhoods in such a way that would permanently prevent and division of the city, or any other territorial compromise, for that matter.

A spokesperson for the German embassy expressed “great concern” over the decision and called the Israeli government “to reconsider it.” The head of the French foreign office told the Israeli ambassador that the settlements are “illegal by international law.” Similar messages were expressed by the Netherlands and the British governments.

Greater Jerusalem Map, Updated 2011. The E1 area will complete the Jewish “ring” around Palestinian East Jerusalem, and will disconnect the north of the West Bank from its south (source: Ir Amim)

The language of the European responses seems unprecedented. Haaretz reported this morning that Britain and France were considering recalling their envoys to Tel Aviv (a report later confirmed by the British network Sky). Such a move seems highly unlikely, but the very notion marks a new low point in relations between the Israeli government and its European allies. After four years in power, Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have managed to isolate Israel in a way never seen before.

Yet in the internal Israeli game, all of this won’t matter that much. The Israeli public has grown used to hearing European and American reports which condemn settlement construction projects. The same headlines have been declaring that “the American administration is dismayed” or that “the European Union condemns…” for the last four decades. It seem that Netanyahu won’t lose support with the public, meanwhile Likud ministers have been going around explaining to the public why only “light measures” against the Palestinian Authority were taken.

In the early evening, a government spokesperson told Haaretz that the decisions Israel has made – among them the confiscation of almost half a billion shekels ($120 million) of tax money that Israel collects for the PA – will not be reconsidered. The government also announced that further steps will be considered if the PA takes any other unilateral actions. Jerusalem, it seems, simply sees Palestinians – their foreign policy included – as its prisoners, subjects to sticks and carrots according to the degree to with which they stay in line with the Likud’s policy objectives.

It is not surprising though that the diplomatic drama of the last couple of weeks is met with indifference among both the Israeli and the Palestinian public. I highly recommend reading Haggai Matar’s account of the sad “independence night” in Ramallah. Clearly, any sense of Palestinian national pride that the UN vote could have brought has been overshadowed by the understanding that at this point in time, there is nothing further from reality than the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state.

The debate over what contiguity means reflects the low point in which we find ourselves. Under the Oslo accords, Israel specifically committed to viewing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as one unit. A couple of years ago, I posted an official IDF slideshow, casually mentioning the separation of the Gaza and the West Bank as an Israeli policy objective. Today, with the settlement of Ariel (16 miles into the West Bank) and its access road seen by the government as one of the future “settlement blocs” which will be kept in Israeli hands, and with construction in E1 moving forward, it seems that the West Bank alone will soon be torn into three pieces. The Gaza Strip – whose border is open only from its Egyptian side – could just the same be on a different planet. And the future? Even if Israel was to remove some 50 to 80 thousands settlers – clearly a fantasy at this point in time – all the Palestinians could hope for is something between the famous “Palestinian Archipelago” map and open-air prison which is now Gaza.

European policy, even in its most engaged moments, is using the conceptual framework of the 80s and 90s to deal with a problem that has gone through considerable changes. More failures are all but inevitable. I seriously doubt whether the European Union is able to enforce its own ban on products from the settlements, but even if it does, it would be like trying to turn a car around by arguing with one of its wheels. The economy of the occupation – for Palestinians and settlers alike – is part of the Israeli economy by now, just as the military justice system in the West Bank is part of the Israeli court system. The argument over a single house here or a neighborhood there has clearly run its course.

The Palestinian problem is a human and civil rights problem disguised as a diplomatic issue. An adequate approach to the occupation would focus on the problem at hand and not the desired solution, which at the moment seems more like a fantasy. The problem is the military control over the lives of millions which has lasted for over half a century, and the absence of political and human rights that comes along with said rule. A Palestinian state is one possible solution to this situation, but it shouldn’t be a policy objective on its own. Treating it like one gives the Israeli leadership an incentive to use the Palestinians as prisoners and their land as a bargaining chip. Israel should face demands that have to do with Palestinian rights – including a just solution to the refugee problem – accompanied by adequate policy measures. Among other things, the result will be a more honest public debate in Israel, and a policy which is more accountable for its long term effects.

Palestinian President Abbas: The only leader fighting for the Jewish state
Resource: What is the E1 area, and why is it so important? 

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    1. Danny

      Israel is being led by a stupid, ignorant man who believes he is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, but is in fact nothing more than a peddler in a shuk with a smart suit and a fancy American accent. The E1 punishment is nothing more than a bluff, an election stunt meant to satisfy the howling right wing masses. Just like with “pillar of cloud”, Bibi will again come down from the tree with his tail between his legs because, perhaps most unlike Winston Churchill, he is at his core a profound coward.

      Reply to Comment
      • amy

        Too right. Unfortunately, the damage he causes before (and after) the tail finds it’s rightful place between his legs…will also be profound.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          Actually, Bibi – through his inane and idiotic maneuvers – is doing more to bring about a Palestinian state than all of his predecessors put together. Never before has Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world been lower, and its leverage over the Palestinians weaker. It seems that both the PA and Hamas are becoming stronger by the day, as Israel is losing its grip on its sanity. With a little bit of luck, Netanyahu will do something REALLY stupid, like annexing area C; paradoxically, a move like that would be a Godsend for the sane Israelis who wish to have sane leadership.

          Reply to Comment
          • amy

            It’s a little like our G.Dubya Bush experience here in the states…there are those who believe (I am included in this group) that we may never have elected B. Obama without having been dragged across the bottom of the barrel by our Dubya…for 8 very long and very painful years…Israelis hate this analogy. They do not see it. I know. I’ve floated it here before and got lambasted, but I still think it has merit. In other words, I agree with your basic premise. We survived Bush, will Israel survive Bibi?

            Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        You, being who you are – no-one really, have very little moral right to call prime minister of any state “stupid”, especially one with more academic education than you could ever dream of.

        Only very low people resort to personal assaults while not being able to say something worthy regarding policies.

        p.s. In my opinion it is absolutely idiotic to bash Bibi for not unleashing ground operation.
        I mean REALLY idiotic – the goal of operation was to stop rocket fire inside Israel – and there were not even one single attack after the ceasefire commenced.

        Are you sorry that only 150 Palestinians were killed?

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny’s a stupid, ignorant man. Let’s not be too rough on him.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Trespasser is a stupid, ignorant man who managed to state a truth: “Only very low people resort to personal assaults”

            Reply to Comment
        • “Permanently” like what, the Israeli settlements in Gaza? In Sinai? The French colonies in Algeria? “Permanently.”

          Reply to Comment
        • rose

          I do bet that I have an higher education than you and your PM. Danny just expressed what most of the people around the world do believe. A little PM for little sympathizers.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Wanna bet?

            “After graduating from high school in 1967, Netanyahu returned to Israel to enlist in the IDF. He trained as a combat soldier and became a team leader in an elite special forces unit of the IDF, Sayeret Matkal. He took part in numerous cross-border assault raids during the 1969–70 War of Attrition. He was involved in many other missions, including the rescue of the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 in May 1972 in which he was wounded by friendly fire.[11]

            After his army service, Netanyahu returned to the United States in late 1972 to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to Israel in October of 1973 to serve in the Yom Kippur War for a 40 day period.[12] While there, he fought in special forces raids along the Suez Canal, as well as leading a commando team deep into Syrian territory. He then returned to the United States and eventually completed an S.B.[13] degree in architecture[14] in 1975 and earned an S.M.[13] degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1977. Concurrently, he studied political science at Harvard University.”

            So, the man served in Sayeret Matkal, freed hostages, fought on few wars, earned few academic degrees.

            And disregarding all that some simpler life forms call him stupid and coward.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            By any chance, is your name Danny Danon? It would explain a lot…

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            No. Sorry.

            Seeking to explain things by applying sticker (ex. “danny danon”) won’t actually explain anything.

            Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        European diplomats should’ve not cancel the Oslo agreements.

        Besides, Bibi has definitely secured support of the only important player – USA.

        Reply to Comment
      • Weinstein Henry

        I’m afraid the problem is not Bibi, Danny, but the Israeli people’s mindset.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Maxime Rodinson on Israel as a colonial-settler state:
      “The Jews attracted by Zionism emigrated to Palestine, and then then they dominated it. They occupied it in deed and then adopted legislation to justify this occupation by law. Everything is there.”
      This was written decades ago, but the world stayed deaf and blind. And now it seems to be too late for any meaningful change.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        No, change is coming Englebert though those pompous stuffed shirts (and hypocrites) in Europe won’t be part of it. I’m starting to fancy a flutter on Israel losing the European Under-21 footie championships though. And Gaza’s fishermen and farmers just got a bit more leash as well. It only took a few rockets and one bus bomb to achieve that. Then there is the prospect of the ICC being opened up. Methinks Israel ain’t home and dry yet. Bibi’s next term might be a rough one for Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    3. You are exactly right: Israel and israelis have heard admonitory words and pay them no attention (except perhaps to regard them as signs of anti-Semitism; having confused both general anti-Zionism and the more limited anti-occupation & anti-settlements opinion with anti-Semitism).

      So why care what UK or France thinks or says? Or Rahm Emanuel, either.

      People who feel themselves more than adequately protected by God Almighty, or by Israeli chutzpa, or by an unending run of good luck — need not fear the world outside themselves. fear, after all, or respect, or making-nice-with-others is for weaklings, for diaspora-Jews, not for brave sabra-type Israelis.

      Keep tuned.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      In one week, Bibi has accomplished more to delegitimatize Israel than all the leftist activity over the decade.

      Keep it up!

      Reply to Comment
    5. “The Palestinian problem is a human and civil rights problem disguised as a diplomatic issue. An adequate approach to the occupation would focus on the problem at hand and not the desired solution, which at the moment seems more like a fantasy. The problem is the military control over the lives of millions which has lasted for over half a century, and the absence of political and human rights that comes along with said rule.”

      And political/human rights have to include the freedom to build an economy for livelihood. When tht Two State “solution” is finally seen as failed, I believe there is some chance the US will begin to question its aid. One side benefit of deploying many Iron Domes (I’m all for US aid in that) is that the military security framing of Israeli actions will have less import. Human rights will gain in discourse. But suicide bombings could erase that path. It is thus crucial that the Palestinian protest of the Wall continue, to provide an alternative political economy to violence in the Bank. I cannot fathom how that movement endures in the heart after so many no’s, so many hits, including deaths.

      It is now overly obvious that there is a zero sum game between thriving settlements and truncated, blunted lives in the Bank. Withholding “Palestinian taxes” will merely accentuate that gradiant of difference. The Israeli State’s employment of punishment has become religious belief. The vanguard settler Torah ideology has indeed attached itself to the State.

      “We cannot defeat you; so we prepare the ground for after your defeat.”

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      (1) Odd that these same European countries that are whining about this latest Israeli move regarding the settlements didn’t have any trouble supporting the Palestinians making a unilateral move in the UN that is a direct violation of the Oslo Agreements. If the Europeans can not be counted on to support the terms of signed agreement they themselves backed, how can they turn around and demand Israel take “risks for peace” if any future agreements go sour on Israel?

      (2) “This latest move is destroying the last chance for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian”. We have been hearing this refrain for decades now. Don’t woryy, the “peace industry” will keep the Arab-Israeli diplomatic game going no matter what, even if Israel does acutally build these new apartments. Actually the best statement I heard about the situation was made 30 years in a lecture by Meron Benveniste that I attended. He said then “it is already too late to divide the country…the settlements are an irreversible fact”. Again THIS WAS 30 YEARS AGO.
      The hand-wringing over building in E-1 is ridiculous. The Palestinians will never agree to anything other than a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines and implementation of an unrestricted right of return of the Palestinian refugees, so they are not interested in merely a corridor through E-1, they want it all, including Jerusalem.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        X: They want it all including EAST Jerusalem (but never let the facts get in the way). Funny you should be worrying about the Oslo Agreements. It was after all intended to produce a permanent settlement (FOURTEEN YEARS AGO) based on UNSC Resolution 242 which includes such trifles as freedom of navigation through international waters (for the Mavi Marmara for example), just settlement for the refugee problem and guarantees of territorial inviolability for every state in the area. (Now then would that mean that Israel should not be constructing settlements anywhere on Palestinian territory?)And you are worried about a unilateral move at the UN! You’re as pathetic as that Mekon creep that pretends to be Britain’s Foreign Secretary.

        Reply to Comment
      • The two-state solution is an ex-parrot and has been for a long time now. I agree with Benvenisti. (Incidentally, have you read his book ‘Sacred Landscapes’? I just finished it a couple of months ago. Interesting read.) But as far as Israel’s increasing isolation goes, this isn’t really the point. The point is how international leaders are perceiving and reacting to this. When William Hague spoke, he did make the usual concerned cries about the ‘viability of the two-state solution’, but he also said that he ‘didn’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus’ amongst European countries for sanctions against Israel. This is interesting for two reasons: it is possibly the first time a senior European diplomat has publicly used that word in the same breath as Israel, and saying ‘no consensus’ is a tacit admission that the issue has been raised. The fact that everyone is fixating on a dead parrot does not alter the nature of the diplomatic shifts that are taking place.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Palestinian

      No country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital , yet Israeli writers ,bloggers and even activists refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital …deluded ?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Jerusalem is the place where all three branches of Israeli government are based. Draw your own conclusions.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      A right-wing israeli supporter objected to my assertion that the E-1 development would put a ring around East Jerusalem.

      She described that the E-1 corridor would make it more inconvenient for Palestinians to travel between areas of residence, but that it wouldn’t divide East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

      Any thoughts? Which is true?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        This isn’t a trivial question. Under the current status quo E1 does nothing whatsoever to Palestinian transportation options. However, E1 in combination with other settlements does put a ring around Jerusalem. It isn’t a closed ring territorially but it basically cements Israeli transportation control over the current road network and creates an Israeli Greater Jerusalem which the Palestinians would need to build an expensive road infrastructure to bypass via Jericho if they were to ever get East Jerusalem in an agreement. So, the answer is no, it wouldn’t divide East Jerusalem from the West Bank territorially but it would increase the cost of connecting the Northern West Bank, the Southern West Bank and East Jerusalem in the future.

        Note that everything above is entirely true with or without building E1 if Israel maintains any kind of security control over a corridor between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim in a future agreement. The real issue in play is whether Israel permanently takes Maaleh Adumim off the table by building E1 to connect Maale Adumim to Jerusalem.

        Reply to Comment
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