Al-Ahram Weekly – 26 September 2002
PLO officials have completed their first maps of the West Bank detailing Israel’s plans for its 360km security fence and have concluded that Israel is rapidly destroying any negotiating options for the Palestinians, particularly over the long- running stumbling block of Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Task Force, working for Abu Mazen’s negotiation affairs department, which presented Palestinian positions at the Camp David and Taba talks, says the completion of the electronic fence will make the realisation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel impossible. President George W Bush has repeatedly stated that he favours the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
Armed with the new maps, PLO officials are warning the international community that unless they act quickly to halt Israel’s current annexation of land in the West Bank and Jerusalem to build the fence, they may have to abandon all hopes of a two-state solution. Instead, they say, foreign governments will have to start formulating options for a one-state solution, a binational state to include Palestinians and Israelis.
Matthew Brubacher, an American expert on settlements who has been working on the maps for three years with the task force, said: “The room for debate is narrowing all the time over a final status agreement. I think the international community is alarmed to hear that even PLO officials warn that a Palestinian state may soon be an impossibility.”
The first stage of the Israeli fence is currently being built between Salem, close to Jenin, and Kfar Qassem, south of Qalqilya. Although the fence roughly follows the Green Line, the pre- 1967 border, some 8 per cent of the northern and central West Bank, or 435 square kilometres, is being annexed in the initial stages so that 41 illegal settlements can be included on the Israeli side. Further territory is likely to be lost when construction begins around the southern West Bank. The towns of Tulkaram and Qalqilya are already being sealed off by the fence. More than half of Qalqilya’s municipal lands have been confiscated for the fence’s construction, including some of its best farming land.
In the main, however, Israel has refrained from making territorial incisions deep into the West Bank for fear of including too many Palestinians on Israel’s side of the fence. But almost exactly the opposite strategy is being pursued in Jerusalem, says Brubacher. There are some 200,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem are being enclosed by a 54km fence as part of an “Enveloping Jerusalem” plan. Israel created both a security and demographic problem for itself after the 1967 War when it annexed some 70 square kilometres of land around Jerusalem, taking territory far beyond the 6.5 square kilometres considered the Jordanian part of the city. Overnight some 28 West Bank villages were incorporated into “east Jerusalem” by Israel.
In the subsequent 35 years Israel has built a ring of illegal settlements around east Jerusalem both to territorially contain existing Palestinian districts and to increase the numbers of Jews in the area, thereby solidifiying its claim to the city as its unified capital. There are currently some 220,000 settlers in and around east Jerusalem. Now with the construction of the fence, Israel is trying to square the circle: separating the two populations to provide security for the Jewish state, while maintaining the appearance of one city.
The fence being built will incorporate the Greater Jerusalem municipal area, as currently defined by Israel, but will also include two large illegal settlement-blocs, Givon and Maale Adumim, both outside the municipal boundaries. “In effect there will be two fences protecting Jerusalem,” said Brubacher. “The first will roughly follow the enlarged municipal boundaries as declared by Israel, and the second will be an outer defence wall around the settlement blocs.”
The Jerusalem Task Force describes the fence being built in terms of the thread of a necklace, connecting up the beads of the settlements and military sites that already possess their own security cordons. Israel’s biggest priority is consolidating established outer security barriers to the north and south of Jerusalem: a 9km security road with barbed wire through Kalandia Airport, south of Ramallah, and a similar 7km road through the northern parts of Bethlehem.
Israel’s determination to preserve the illusion of a united Jerusalem will also lead to the reinforcement of ridiculous anomalies. Two areas close to Ramallah, Kalandia refugee camp and Kfar Aqab, where the Palestinian inhabitants hold Jerusalem ID cards and pay Israeli taxes but receive no municipal services, will be penned into their own fenced areas outside the main outer wall rather than being transferred to the West Bank.
“The residents will be made virtual prisoners cut off from both Jerusalem and the West Bank just so that the mayor, Ehud Olmert, does not have to the deny that the city is already divided,” said Brubacher.
There is a similar problem to the east of Jerusalem where, according to projections, the outer fence will include the huge settlement bloc of Maale Adumim. To do this Israel will need to annex new areas such as Abu Dis, which in the Oslo agreements was designated as Area B under Palestinian administrative control and Israel security control.
In the south, the task force is concerned by the recent decision to annex land around Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem after pressure from the national-religious lobby. This annexation will extend the Jerusalem municipal boundaries into part of Bethlehem.
Brubacher said: “These plans effectively break up continuity and access between the three Palestinian cities of east Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. This would be the heart of any future Palestinian state. Israel is trying to carve up both the centre of the West Bank, its intellectual, commercial, trading and touristic hub, and sever it from the peripheries of the north and south West Bank.”