Bridging the Gap Report: Settlements Back to the Center of the Conflict
Between Israel and Palestinians
Husam Bajis, Executive Director of the Brazilian
Palestinian National Interest Committee.
By João Novaes (Globo G1-São Paulo), 03/21/2010 Israel plans to build homes in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians demand halt to restart peace talks.
The Israeli settlements in territories claimed by Palestinians returned to the
center of discussion this week, with international pressure on the Israeli
government to stop the construction of 1,600 houses in the eastern portion of
Jerusalem. The measure has drawn criticism even from the more traditional
Israeli ally, the United States.
Last Friday (19), the diplomatic Quartet group on the Middle East (comprising of
the U.S., European Union, Russia and the UN), which attempts to establish a plan
for peace between Jews and Palestinians, called on Israel to freeze all
settlements, and the Palestinians to not take steps that would undermine the
start of negotiations. The diplomats also outlined a plan for both parties to
achieve peace in two years.
The Israeli public is divided - according to research commissioned by the
newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Friday, 51% of respondents are in favor of building
new settlements in Jerusalem, compared with 46%. In another survey, published
the same day by the journal Haaretz, the difference is 48 to 41%, respectively.
On the one hand, the Palestinians consider a halt to construction of settlements
in both East Jerusalem and in the region of the West Bank, as pre-condition to
peace negotiations. In turn, the current administration in Israel says the
settlements are not harmful to the peace agreements, while Jerusalem is the
"sole and undivided capital" of their country.
"There is a connotation exaggerated around the issue of settlements. Building
houses does not kill anyone, firing rockets, yes. To think the entire
Arab-Israeli conflict revolves around this question is an artificial vision and
populist," said the spokesman of the Embassy of Israel in Brazil, Raphael
The diplomat rejects criticism that Israel does not seek to advance peace. "No
country has done what we did today. We withdrew from Sinai in 1982 after signing
a peace agreement in an area three times larger than ours. We left Gaza in 2005
evacuating eight thousand people, with families who were there for two
generations. So everything can be negotiated," the diplomat said.
But the executive director of the Brazilian Palestinian National Interest
Committee (BPNIC), Husam Bajis, has an opposite view. "The settlements affect
the lives of the residents of Palestinian towns close to them. Definitely not
contributing to peace and affect the relations between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. "
To the activist, the existence of settlements in itself is an illegal act from
the standpoint of international law. These settlements are on the rise, are
constructed unilaterally and considered illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention - which prohibits the taking of territory by force, preventing
the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. They are also
condemned by resolutions 242 (1967 after the Six Day War) and 338 (1973, after
the Yom Kippur War) of the UN Security Council, demanding withdrawal from these
territories. Thus, the international community has an obligation to stop these
initiatives, "he said.
Second to Bajis, the presence of settlements is a source of great suffering and
hardship for the Palestinian people's daily lives. "To facilitate the expansion
of settlements on Palestinian land, Israel continues to build a vast network of
roads connecting one illegal settlement to another. At the same time, imposing a
series of restrictions on mobility and access, hampering travel from one city to
another. I speak of about 2.4 million Palestinians living for generations in the
West Bank," he protests.
In the opinion of Bajis, the same must occur in these two regions (West Bank and
East Jerusalem) as the procedure in the Gaza Strip in 2005, when Israel
unilaterally evacuated the area. "Currently, approximately 17% of the population
in the West Bank is composed of Jewish settlers, making it difficult for such an
evacuation to occur. By December 2009 we had 400 thousand settlers in the
occupied West Bank and 280 thousand in East Jerusalem. The evacuation must be
done partially, and the Palestinian Authority must help Israel this time."
At that time, the total number of evacuees was 8 thousand in all settlements in
the Gaza Strip and two in the West Bank, causing serious damage to the
government of then prime minister Ariel Sharon. However, Bajis recalls that if
this occurs, other problems may affect the Palestinians: "The unemployment rate
will certainly increase when the Israelis are gone." Singer, in turn, says
Israel can discuss the topic, but recalls that many settlements already have
more than twenty thousand inhabitants. "These are towns in practice."
Husam Bajis (R), Executive Director of BPNIC
during a meeting with mayor of Hebron, Khalid Osaily (C), on the relationship of
sister cities between Brazil and the PNA.
The Solution of Two States
Bajis and Singer argue that the solution passes through the coexistence of two
states. "We believe that only the establishment of a Palestinian state will
bring peace to the region. Israel recognizes our right to exist, and the
Palestinians, in turn, must take this into account," says Bajis.
Singer recalls the Palestinian stance in establishing pre-conditions so the
conversations can start. "Historically, (the Palestinians) will always find a
reason not to negotiate, and now found these 1600 houses. But if they want to
resolve the impasse, we have to negotiate. Although we do not agree on some
points, they can not set preconditions."
The diplomat said that Abbas, unlike Hamas, is considered by Israel a partner,
but he must be willing to talk without conditions. "For the solution of
two-states to become a reality, he must sit at a table. We have many things to
handle but difficult to solve. Don't not just make statements to the press, we
have to talk face to face, as it was decided in the past."
However, the two sides disagree on important issues, especially regarding the
division of Jerusalem. "Although not everyone agrees with us, Jerusalem is part
of Israel, our capital city, any country has the right to build homes in its
capital." The Palestinian position argues that with the creation of their future
Palestinian state, East Jerusalem becomes the capital.
Bajis believes that without U.S. support, Israel would find itself in a
difficult situation. "I believe that President Barack Obama could help to halt
new settlements, but as he has many affairs to settle, I'm not optimistic about
that." However, the activist points out the need to look into the positive
aspects of the conflict. "The two main U.S. parties already recognize the
need for the existence of two independent states. We now require that
Palestinians and Israelis do the same and work together to seek peace and
improve the lives of the Palestinian population."
Singer already said that the international community should press for the speedy
resumption of negotiations in order to avoid rising tensions . "There must be a
commitment to eliminate the negative forces that are troubling the peacekeepers.
I am speaking specifically of Iran, which supports groups like Hamas and
Hezbollah. This policy is not only against the interest of Israel, but against
the Palestinians themselves. "
The Palestinians want to proclaim the West Bank and Gaza Strip a sovereign
state. To do so, requires an Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied
since June 1967, including East Jerusalem.
According to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians want "a state that is
based on the 1967 borders." "The surface of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is 6205
km2 and we want these 6205 km2."
Israel conquered in 1967, the eastern (Arab) Jerusalem and made it its own, and
considers city the eternal and undivided capital the State of Israel.
The Palestinian Authority wants to turn East Jerusalem the capital of their
future state and asserts that this is a non-negotiable condition.
In peace talks at Camp David in 2000, the Israeli prime minister at the time,
Ehud Barak, broke the taboo and first proposed sharing sovereignty in East
Jerusalem, suggesting that Arab suburbs be under Palestinian control.
Barak also suggested giving special status to the mosque compound in East
Jerusalem, the Muslim holy site built on the ancient temple of the Jews.
There are four million Palestinian refugees driven from their homes when the
State of Israel was created in 1948.
The Palestinians have always demanded that Israel recognize the right of return
of these people, as indicated in Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly .
Israel categorically refuses to grant the "right of return" because it would put
an end to the Jewish character of the state, but is willing to tolerate the
placement of these refugees in the future Palestinian state.
Besides this, Israel controls 80% of the ground water level, or first layer of
underground water, in the West Bank. The Palestinians want to share it fairly
and argue that their population grows faster and also suffers from a chronic
shortage of this essential natural resource.
Israel demands the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state as the "State of the
Jewish people" in any future peace negotiations. But Palestinians believe that
accepting this point would mean losing the right of return for their
This article was published by João Novaes through
The Brazilian Palestinian National Interest Committee is a non-profit
organization whose principal mission is to work with the legislative body of
Brazil on legislation that strengthens the relationship between Brazil and