A Surprising Decision by the PA Cabinet

How might the decision of the Palestinian cabinet serve as leverage for a popular struggle - Palestinian, Israeli and international - against the Israeli policy of carving the Palestinian territory into enclaves and mutilating the two-state solution.

There were no real surprises in the map submitted two months ago by Israeli officials to World Bank representatives and, via these representatives, to the donor countries. It presented a system of 16 passages - tunnels or bridges - and roads slated for upgrading or construction in the West Bank. The passages were intended to keep Palestinian and Israeli vehicles far apart by diverting the Palestinian vehicles to secondary roads. Israelis, that is, Jews, will for the most part travel on a system of well-maintained highways.

The Jewish settler logic of ethnic separation based on blatant discrimination in rights, living conditions, laws and the official attitude toward Jews and Palestinians has deepened over the years until it has become second nature for Israeli society. Who, if not the various consuls and World Bank representatives, who often travel around the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are well aware of the logic that has developed here and finds expression in the map they received?

It is also not surprising that Israel expects the donor countries to finance these alternative roads and passages, which are aimed at ensuring the well-being of the settlements and their ability to develop and expand. After all, Israel has become accustomed to this luxury: It occupies the Palestinian territories, and the taxpayers of the Western countries bear the burden of the occupation's damages.

Those taxpayers financed the rehabilitation of the Palestinian infrastructure at the beginning of the Oslo process, which years of intentional neglect during the period of direct Israeli rule had destroyed. During the Oslo years of indirect occupation, they compensated for the economic closure and siege that Israel imposed as a means of political pressure on the Palestinian Authority, but they did not succeed in dampening the fervor of Israeli construction in the settlements.

Since the outbreak of the intifada, they have spread a wide safety net by financing the daily sustenance of about half of the Palestinian population, which fell into unprecedented poverty as a result of the policy of internal closure. They build new housing to replace the homes of civilians that Israel shells, bombs and demolishes with bulldozers. They cover the deficit in the current budget of the Palestinian Authority when the Israeli government or Israeli judges decide to put a lien on the PA's tax revenues (which are transferred via the Israeli Finance Ministry).

So why shouldn't the taxpayers in the United States and Japan also pay for the passages near Itamar and Alon Moreh in order to enable the dozens of residents of these settlements to continue to travel safely on Arab-free roads, to build on the hilltops until they link up with the neighboring settlement, to market eggs from free-range chickens in Israel while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the area are clustered into strange mini-enclaves, trapped between Israeli roads and settlement blocs?

Perhaps there is one surprising thing in this story of submitting the map of passages: The Palestinian cabinet heard the Palestinian Ministry of Planning's analysis, which views the Israeli proposal as a plan to perpetuate the settlements and establish an apartheid system. Despite the short-term logic in accepting the passages plan - it would enable relatively free Palestinian movement in the West Bank after years of destructive internal closure - the cabinet decided to reject it completely. In this way, it signaled to the donor countries not to agree to finance the passages nor any other road without the approval of a special Palestinian inter-ministerial committee. That is, the cabinet did not only protest verbally, but also adopted a practical measure.

This is surprising because since 1994, the PA has acted as if it is incapable of doing a thing to counter the Israeli policy of creating Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. One aspect of this policy was the accelerated construction in the settlements and the roads servicing them under all governments, both Labor-Meretz and Likud. A second aspect was the pass system for Palestinians and travel restrictions Israel imposed within the occupied territories since 1991. The travel restrictions were ultimately aimed at ensuring the unfettered expansion of the settlements - that is, the creation of Jewish territorial contiguity.

The Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, acted as if it were a matter of force majeure, a deterministic process that no diplomatic or popular struggle could counter. It generally left efforts to oppose land expropriations for settlement construction in the hands of NGOs and private individuals. It was busy with the big show of "state building." Its leaders cooperated and are continuing to cooperate with the closure regime - that is, with the pass system. As VIPs, they enjoyed and continue to enjoy Israel easing their own travel. They were not behind the decision of some villages to refuse to accept the special travel passes issued by the Civil Administration for residents of "the closed military area" between the separation fence and the Green Line.

The question is how the decision of the Palestinian cabinet, which even obligates the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), might serve as leverage for a popular struggle - Palestinian, Israeli and international - against the Israeli policy of carving the Palestinian territory into enclaves and mutilating the two-state solution.