Over the past 15 years, the international community has drawn two red lines with regard to Israel's settlements: Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem and Area E-1, east of the city, between the capital and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. As far as the world and the Palestinians are concerned, Israeli construction in these areas constitutes a point of no return, eradicating the chance for a Palestinian state.
Over the past decade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withstood the pressure from the right and maintained the construction freeze on Givat Hamatos and E-1. We will never know if it was fear of international pressure or because he understood the significance of such a step for Israel's future. But now, only a few days before a third election in a year, while the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus, Netanyahu has chosen to cross the red lines and take us all with him.
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It is obvious that this is an election spin. It's one of many populistic decisions aimed at pleasing various constituencies. But that does not mean it is possible to turn back the clock after Monday's election. More likely, the State of Israel has taken another step toward a bi-national state.
Givat Hamatos is a high, terraced hill overlooking Jerusalem from the south. In the 1990s, Ariel Sharon erected pre-fabricated homes there for Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. A development plan was drawn up for a neighborhood at the site, plans that were finally approved in 2014. But then the Obama administration, which had been humiliated by Netanyahu several times with regard to construction in East Jerusalem, vetoed construction on the hill. The Americans opened their maps and understood that building on Givat Hamatos would cut off East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and isolate two Palestinian neighborhoods, Beit Safafa and Sharafat, from the rest of the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods. To a chorus of condemnations from the right, Netanyahu was forced to capitulate and the plans were frozen before the land was put up for auction.
In the right’s vision, E-1 is “Mevasseret Adumim,” a dramatic northward expansion of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Several years ago, the government prepared the area for development: It paved roads, built traffic circles, installed electricity poles and even built the Judea and Samaria Police Headquarters at the top of the hill, funded by a settler foundation that received the old police building in East Jerusalem in return.
Thus emerged one of the anomalies of the Israeli occupation – a ghost town, in which there are roads and traffic circles and even a large police station, but not a single resident or home. The international community, led by the United States and Europe, saw construction in E-1 as a drastic change in the geopolitical situation of the West Bank. Not only is this area the only available space left for the expansion of Palestinian Jerusalem, but its development would basically cut the West Bank in two, eliminating territorial contiguity between the southern and northern parts of the territory.
In principle a peace agreement can overcome any obstacle by building another bridge or tunnel, opening additional border crossings, or turning all of Jerusalem into an "open city." But there is a limit to the number of problems that can be imposed on a future agreement. Every scenario has its breaking point. This is the point at which settlement construction would make dividing the land unfeasible from a political, engineering and economic perspective.
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The two-state solution has suffered many blows under Netanyahu’s rule, starting with the creeping change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, through the “no partner” approach and humiliation of the Palestinian Authority, to the wild growth of the outposts and settlements in the West Bank. It is not a stretch to say that green lighting construction on Givat Hamatos and in E-1, even if it was done out of short-term electoral considerations, creates a reality where a future Palestinian state is unimaginable.
We have left the red lines behind us on the road to one state for two peoples. If equal rights are granted to both peoples, it won't be a Zionist state. If it is to be a Zionist state, it will be an apartheid state. Perhaps it already is. In the end, this is Netanyahu's real legacy.