November was a busy month. Between the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the American elections, Operation Pillar of Defense, and the Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the United Nations, we’d hoped the December tumble toward 2013 might slow its roll a little bit.
Alas, Friday afternoon, the day after Palestine became a non-member observer at the United Nations, it was reported that Israel “would pursue ‘preliminary zoning and planning preparations’ for a development that would separate the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. If such a project were to go beyond blueprints, it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
The administrative plan to build there, known as the E-1 Plan, is nothing new. The E-1 Plan was authored by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just months before his 1995 death (and a short while after he signed the Oslo Accords and a peace treaty with Jordan). It’s remained a plan semi-frequently invoked ever since and the idea was a consideration in at least two Israeli-led peace initiatives made in the last 12 years (provisions for a road connecting Bethlehem and Ramallah were reportedly included). We know how those talks ended.
In essence, E-1 is old news made new at a most terrible time. Israel has just suffered a diplomatic blow at the United Nations and this announcement, while retributive toward the Palestinian Authority, also insults the countries that stood by Israel during the intense goings on of the past few weeks, especially the United States.
In response to the surge of outrage from European Union and the United Nations over the weekend, yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified that no building has been approved in the E-1 zone yet (only planning). Most onlookers, including Britain, France, and Sweden, all of which reportedly were thinking about calling their ambassadors back over the plan, were not amused.
The E-1 bombshell (which is more like an unexploded mine that Israeli leaders keep poking at from afar) has already been called the “death knell” of the two-state solution in an act of journalistic stenography by various media (and others). One magazine (a little too giddily) characterized it as a game of Battleship, in which Bibi called out “E1” and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded “You sunk my two-state solution!” (Good one.)
It’s true that this is an exceedingly dumb idea by an Israeli leadership that excels at dumb ideas, but until the pickaxes are raised, let’s gather a little perspective here. The “death knell” of the two-state solution, in which Israel would hand over territory to the Palestinians for their state, is not 3,000 housing units between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. If anything, the “death knell” of the two-state solution would be the violent reactions to the Israeli withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza in the past 12 years.
The result of Israel having left those areas has been three wars (and, one could easily argue, an intifada). The result of those battles has been the shattering of trust that Israelis need to deal with their neighbors in good faith. It has also shattered the trust needed to inspire Israelis to elect leaders who seem serious about peace.
Nevertheless, it’s surreal that less than three weeks after the world stood transfixed while Gaza rockets proved again that Israelis should rightfully fear giving up more territory (as necessary as it ultimately is), the United Nations, the European Union, and whomever else have already forgotten that the actual death knell is probably death.
Israel Moves to Expand Settlements in East Jerusalem [NYT]
Netanyahu: Government Okayed E-1 Planning, But Not Building [JPost]
For the First Time, Britain and France May Recall Israeli Ambassadors Over Settlement Construction [Haaretz]
Israel and Palestine Play Battleship