On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed for the first time in three years to meet for “Peace Talks” in Washington, DC.
“I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is a significant and welcome step forward. We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful,” he announced in Amman on Friday
If everything goes according to plan, Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat will travel to Washington, DC as early as next week to begin the talks.
One of the most important concessions from Israel was a promise to release 82 Palestinian prisoners, all of whom have been imprisoned in Israeli jails since before the Oslo Accords in 1993. However, who these prisoners are—as there are 103 who have been in jail since before the Oslo Accords—has yet to be announced. For now, dozens of Palestinian families are hopeful and waiting with bated breath to see if their loved ones will be among the prisoners released.
However, of great concern is that there will not be a freeze—even temporary or partial—on illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank—something that in past years was critical to negotiations, and, ultimately caused them to collapse. In fact, around the same time that the talks are slated to happen in Washington DC, in cities across Israel dozens with protest against the Prawer Plan: Israel’s most recent initiative to confiscate 800,000 dunums of Bedouin land in the Naqab desert, destroy 100 “unrecognized villages” and displace 50,000 Palestinian Bedouin. Many Palestinians are calling the plan a “second Nakba”—referring to the original Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in 1948 when Palestinians were pushed off their land to establish what is now the state of Israel.
If the plan is successful, these ancestral Bedouin villages will become Israeli military bases and Jewish-only settlements. The Palestinian Bedouin who will inevitably be displaced will be relocated to makeshift urban cities, where their traditional way of life would be unsustainable—not to mention confining 30 percent of the Palestinian Bedouins to only 1 percent of the land. However, it is comically doubtful that this plan will come up during the peace talks—much less be challenged as unjust.
In addition to the controversial Prawer Plan, Israel has greatly expanded settlements since three years ago—and constructed settler outposts, which are even illegal under Israeli law—throughout the West Bank. Although they have been careful not to construct any new settlements—in order to boost their public relations—that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been an influx of settlers, and illegal outposts aren’t formally recorded as settlements. Last time official numbers were taken in 2012, there were 350,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, up from only slightly more than 300,000 when peace talks were abandoned three years ago.
The reason that settlements—and a settlement freeze—is so important to peace and the conversations surrounding peace process and an eventual peace plan is that these illegal Jewish-only Israeli settlements that populate the West Bank—and parts of East Jerusalem—are single-handedly killing the two-state solution, which of course is the solution most often bantered around in Washington. The reason for this is that the foundation of the two-state solution is based on the 1967 borderlines outlining two states; however, currently there are exclusive Jewish-only homes and neighborhoods, roads and schools populating the West Bank, and evicting Palestinian homes for their expansion. Without a freeze on settlement building and expansion, this will continue unchecked even with peace negotiations under way in the White House, shattering any hope of a lasting or even temporary peace.