The Right to Explode in Anger

It is impossible to predict how Palestinians will interpret warnings over settlement construction, whether they will see them as a signal that they have the right to explode in anger once again over their continuing dispossession from their lands and future.

The negotiations over the future of our land, from the sea to the river, and the two peoples living in it, are proceeding along two parallel channels. It has been that way since the Madrid and Oslo talks for 17 years now. One channel is between the Palestinians and Israelis - such as Tuesday's meeting in Jerusalem between chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The other is being conducted between the Israelis and themselves. Will the only genuine point of contact between these two channels be another explosion of blood, as occurred in 1996 and 2000?

The Palestinians have declared that they are not retreating from the international resolutions regarding a solution (for example the June 4, 1967 borders), and are demanding an immediate end to construction in the settlements. The Israelis are demanding that the Palestinians fight terror. The talk is the same as it was nine and 12 years ago, which makes the current negotiations virtual only.

The real progress is in the intra-Israeli channel. In these negotiations, the future of more than 10 percent of the West Bank has already been decided: the area west of the separation fence/wall. In the past few weeks various evacuation-compensation initiatives for the settlers living east of the barrier have been raised. There is great opposition to them, and the likelihood of their being implemented is questionable. But Meretz members' participation in the initiatives provides an additional public endorsement of the settlements west of the fence and of the annexation of the lands that Israel stole there.

It is often said how difficult the unauthorized outposts are to evacuate. The security establishment predicts that right-wing activists will employ unprecedented levels of violence if the outposts are removed. Media consumers conclude: What do we need a civil war for, who are the outposts bothering? After all, even the justice minister is searching for ways to make them legal. Vice Premier Haim Ramon, casting about for his own evacuation-compensation initiative, has already proposed to Likud that in exchange the outposts would not be evacuated. An aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaked Jerusalem's fears that the U.S. would increase pressure on Israel to evacuate the outposts and freeze building in the settlements. With such a juicy headline, no one will notice that what will happen is what has gone on in the past 17 years. That is, nothing.

In the internal negotiations, Israelis are willing to oppose the outposts a little bit because they were built mainly on "private lands." In other words, all the settlements that were built on non-private lands are kosher. And Area C, after all [the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli security control and administrative control according to the Oslo Accords], is filled with such non-private lands; why not build for Jews there? It seems that in the intra-Israeli negotiations the size of the enclaves of the prospective Palestinian state overlap more and more with the land registered as privately owned with the Civil Administration.

In the intra-Israeli negotiations, the boundaries of the concessions over Jerusalem have also been drawn: After Israel took most of the available, unoccupied land of the Palestinian villages and neighborhoods to prevent them from expanding and to create its own settlements - called neighborhoods - Israel agreed to relinquish the residents. The land to us, the people to the Palestinian Authority. And the world will glorify Israel for its willingness to compromise and tear from its heart holy parts such as Anata and Kafr A'qab.

Despite domestic opposition, the eternal representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and PA - Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qureia and Saeb Erekat - continue to take part in these virtual negotiations. On Tuesday, following a meeting with Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee warned that continued settlement construction is likely to wreck the negotiations. The warning may have been for internal consumption only, but similar alarms were sounded in 1996 and 2000. Israelis dismissed them in the belief that the participation by senior Palestinian officials in the virtual negotiations is what counted. To the Palestinian public, the warnings did not sound hollow.

It is impossible to predict how the Palestinian people will interpret the warnings this time around, and whether they will see them as a signal that they have the right to explode in anger once again over their continuing dispossession from their lands and future.