The theme of the Israel Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv on Monday is the 50th anniversary of the occupation. Fifty years is a significant period, and the developments that Israel has experienced during this time cannot be ignored.
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On Sunday, Yotam Berger reported Central Bureau of Statistics data showing that in 2015, over 380,000 Jewish settlers lived in the occupied territories. In addition, according to publications of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, an estimated 210,000 people live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Forty-four percent of West Bank settlers live in settlements and outposts that are outside of the main settlement blocs.
These are tough numbers for anyone who believes there is no solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than the two-state solution. Moreover, it seems that the settlers appetite for territory is growing steadily. The settlers and their representatives in the Knesset and the government dream of settling a million Israelis in the West Bank. When that happens, they say, it will no longer be possible to draw a map of two states. They believe that evacuating so many people would be impossible even if the left were in power, and thus the two-state solution would be buried.
The paradigm in Israeli political discussions is that the two-state solution would entail the evacuation of settlements, with many supporters of two states speaking of leaving the blocs under Israeli sovereignty. Now it turns out that Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to shatter this paradigm and to invent a new formula: two states without the evacuation of the settlers. On Sunday, it was disclosed that in the negotiations with the Obama administration in early 2014 over the framework document, the prime ministers suggested that settlers who wished to stay in their homes be allowed to do so, living under Palestinian sovereignty.
Subsequently it emerged, as reported by Amir Tibon and Barak Ravid, that in talks with senior officials in the Trump administration, Netanyahu hardened his position, saying that in any permanent arrangement Israel will insist that isolated settlements that are not annexed remain as enclaves under Israeli sovereignty within the Palestinian territory. This tougher stance elicited a similar tough response from the Palestinian side, with a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying the Palestinians would never agree to a single settler remaining in Palestine under a permanent arrangement.
Once again, Netanyahu is doing everything he can to buy time by adding new obstacles and conditions that cannot be met. This time can only help the settlers to realize their million-person vision and will serve to throw the two-state solution onto the dustheap of history. The numbers indicate that this is a critical moment in the history of the conflict. Supporters of the two-state solution on both sides must do everything in their power to advance it, before its too late.