Facts on the ground
Sean Gonsalves

This article by Sean Gonsalves appeared in the February 13, 2021 edition of the Cape Cod Times, for which he is a staff writer.  Mr. Gonsalves is also a syndicated columinist

I was humbled by my ignorance.  But even the ignorant quickly learn that studying maps and the lay of the land is central to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"If you only look at what is called the 'peace process,' from the political point of view, you get a certain picture," Jeff Halper explained in his Jerusalem living room.

Halper, an American-born Israeli Jew, is a professor of anthropology at Ben Gurion University.  He's been part of the Israeli peace movement for more than 25 years and now heads up an organization called the Israeli Committee Against (Palestinian) House Demolitions.

Without dismissing the good things that have come from the "peace process", Halper, with humility and painstaking thoroughness, illustrates that if you focus only on the political rhetoric the picture you get of the conflict is severely distorted.

"Look at the generous offer that Israel made the Palestinians—95 percent of the West Bank, dividing Jerusalem"—a typical American (and Israeli) reaction to news reports about the 'peace process'," Halper said.

Then he asked, "How do you explain the Palestinian reaction to that?"  When the Barak government first started negotiating, they were offering 42 percent of the West Bank.  The Palestinian negotiating team rejected the proposal.

"You see or hear about these advances and think Israel has come around and then the Palestinians start shooting. It doesn't make any sense to people," he continued.

What you have to plug into the equation is what's happening on the ground.  "Unless you can understand the maps, unless you can understand why 95 percent isn't a good deal for Palestinians, or what the other five percent means, then it's impossible to evaluate what's going on.  Why are the Palestinians behaving the way they are?  Is Barak really generous?"

We left Halper's house for a three-hour tour of parts of "Metropolitan Jerusalem," which I later learned encompasses not just the city of Jerusalem, but 40 percent of the West Bank, including large Palestinian towns and villages—Ramalla, El Bireh, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, to name a few.

What one has to understand about Jerusalem is that it is being transformed from a city into a larger region by the Israeli government.  This has three effects: It divides the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part; isolates Jerusalem's Palestinian population from fellow Palestinians and; creates a corridor from Tel Aviv to Amman, Jordan.  All of this ensures Israeli control over any Palestinian state that might emerge from the "peace process."

Then Halper started talking about something called E1—an Israeli government plan that annexes Palestinian land to create a contiguous urban strip between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.  E1 effectively cuts the West Bank in half, which, when and if it's completed, will prevent the free movement of Palestinians and their goods and make a viable Palestinian state impossible.

According to the master plan approved by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, E1 calls for 1,500 exclusively Jewish housing units, an industrial park, offices, entertainment and sports centers, 10 hotels, health and academic facilities and a regional cemetery.

Many of the Israeli "settlers" are being used as pawns, Halper said.  The Israeli government builds these subsidized settlements for poor and working-poor Israelis as an incentive for them to move into Palestinian areas.

"I call them economic settlers.  They're not religious settlers as in other settlements," he said.  "If the government built homes for them inside Israel proper, they would move."

E1, also known as Plan 420/4 Ma'aleh Adumim, is illegal in international law to the extent that it promotes the settlement of an occupying power in occupied territories.  It violates Israeli Supreme Court decisions that settlements can only be established for security purposes and it violates the Interim Agreement of Oslo that obligates Israel to preserve the status quo and territorial integrity of the West Bank pending final negotiations.

"E1 creates facts on the ground by unalterably integrating Israeli settlement and infrastructure on the West Bank into Israel proper," Halper said.  "Keep in mind that the settlement population has doubled since the Oslo accords were signed."

None of this is to say that Israel doesn't have a right to exist or that fringe Palestinian violence is justified.  But if you want to understand Palestinian rejection of Barak's "generous" offer, you must understand the "facts on the ground."

Add to this the fact that it's all being imposed by U.S.-supported military might and you'll understand a small piece of what it is that Palestinians are rejecting.

Next week, I'd like to share with you what I learned about Palestinian "terrorism."