Magazine article Monthly Review

Palestinian Geography and the Peace Process: A Cartographic Addendum

Magazine article Monthly Review

Palestinian Geography and the Peace Process: A Cartographic Addendum

Article excerpt

These maps add a graphic dimension that will help readers understand just what has, and has not, gone on in the Middle East peace process. In the years since the Oslo process began in 1993, Israel has claimed to adhere to a "land for peace" principle, asserting, in effect, that in return for secure national borders it would relinquish control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Implicit was the idea that in those territories a Palestinian state would be established.

The existence of the territories dates back to a 1947 United Nations mandated partition of Palestine into two national entities, one Jewish and one Arab. Neither side accepted that division but, following Israel's war against its Arab neighbors in 1948, a military cease-fire divided Palestine among the Jewish state and Jordan and Egypt; the latter two administering, respectively, what became known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians who, before 1948, lived in what became Israel, were driven out during the war and by Israel's seizure of land and commercial and residential property. They, and the indigenous Palestinian Arab population, now stateless, were confined to these territories, often in hideous refugee camps. (It was in these camps that the modem Palestinian national movements were born.) A further series of wars between Israel and its neighbors culminated in the 1967 seizure and occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those territories are shaded on Map 1.

In 1993, following years of Palestinian uprising (the Intifada), peace negotiations began with the Palestinian side agreeing to accept the 1967 borders. The newly formed Palestinian Authority was given a kind of "sovereignty" over a number of towns and began to function as a government. At best, the seven years of sporadic negotiations were rocky, and it was not until 2000 that so-called Final Status talks began. Meanwhile, with the acquiescence of a succession of Israeli governments, both Likud and Labor, and often with their encouragement, support, and direct participation, many settlements were being built, mainly by Orthodox Jews who believed they were occupying the legendary ancient Jewish dominions of Judea and Samaria. This aggressive approach to settling Jews, in what are supposed to be Palestinian districts, was intended to create a new political reality. According to the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), using data supplied by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, by 2000, a pproximately 200,000 Jews have settled in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, 78 percent of whom were born in the U.S. or Europe. Public and private Israeli housing starts in the occupied territories are running at twice the per capita national rate: an average of 2,500 per year for the five most recent years for which data are available. The settler population of the Palestinian territories has doubled since 1993!

But the settlements never were an accidental consequence of a movement of the religious right. Civilian Israeli settlement throughout the occupied territories has been policy since the Six-Day War in 1967. The late Moshe Dayan, military commander in that war and the chief architect of the settlement policy said that their construction was essential "not because [settlements] can ensure security better than the army, but because without them we cannot keep the army in those territories. Without them the IDF [Israel's army] would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population, rather than one defending its citizens in their homeland."

This was a central assumption of Israeli policy as the Oslo process began. It is clear that peace process or not, the settlers, and both Likud and Labor governments, believe they are there to stay.

As the growth of the settlements accelerated, Ehud Barak, then Israeli Prime Minister, confronting the "new reality" revised his understanding of Oslo and demanded territory occupied by sixty-nine settlements where 85 percent of the settlers live, about 10 percent of the West Bank, shown in black on Map 2. …

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