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Photo: Erez Ehrlichman
Dror Etkes
Photo: Erez Ehrlichman
Israel's hollow declarations
Olmert says Israel doesn't wish to rule Palestinians, but reality proves otherwise

Once again, for the countless time in the past decade and a half, a senior Israeli statesman is declaring openly that Israel is not interested in maintaining its control over the Palestinians. This time it was Prime Minister Olmert, who upon the Sharm summit's conclusion on Monday declared that Israel has no intention of dictating the way of life in the Palestinian Authority.

 

And it is indeed unpleasant to put a damper on such a rare joyous occasion such as a four-way summit  where such noble declarations are made, yet the simple facts (which, unfortunately, very few people in Israel take the time to confirm) do not quite match such declarations.

 

Olmert's problem, and in fact the problem faced by all of us, is that in reality one cannot fool all the people all the time. Certainly not the Palestinians, who continue to see on a daily basis how more land is being taken away and paved under the wheels of the settlement and annexation machine, which does not rest even for a day.

 

At one location land is being seized for building the fence, with "only" 80 percent of it being built east of the Green Line, that is, in West Bank territory. Elsewhere land is being seized in favor of expanding one or another "consensus settlement."

 

Simultaneously, at the heart of the West Bank, settlers who are fans of organic agriculture, plant vineyards on land that up until recently was worked by Palestinian farmers, while yet another bypass road is being paved on land confiscated with the High Court's approval for "public benefit."

 

After all, in the West Bank everything is always done for public benefit – the Israeli public that is (which accounts for only 10 percent of the West Bank's population).

 

In order to calibrate the national expectation gauge of the Sharm el-Sheik summit and the festive declarations that followed it, it would be worthwhile for us Israelis to one day clarify to ourselves, among the other terms we use routinely in order to describe our realities, the term "consensus."

 

The Even-Shoshan dictionary defines the term as follows: "general agreement," "unanimity," or "homogenous position." Where then does consensus have to prevail when it comes to the issue of settlements? Are we talking about a consensus between the Labor and Kadima parties? Or perhaps a consensus between the settler Right and all those who have yet to pledge their allegiance to the notion of the Greater Land of Israel?

 

What are we fighting for?

After 40 years and tens of thousands of people killed and wounded on both sides, the time has come for political discourse within Israel society regarding the future of the West Bank and its Palestinian population to reflect the fact that the main conflict takes place neither on the axis between the settler Right and the rest of Israeli society, nor on the axis between the Israeli government and the American administration, which every prime minister ensures to be fully coordinated with.

 

The conflict in this country is between Israelis, most of them the children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren of immigrants, and the Palestinians, who are the natives of this land. The conflict's focal point is the legitimacy of the collective existence of both these groups.

 

It is true that both peoples include groups carrying considerable public weight that reject the legitimacy of the other group's existence, yet the settlement enterprise on all its "consensual" and "non-consensual" forms and derivatives is the State of Israel's official 40-year contribution to the escalation in mutual de-legitimization.

 

The unreasonable gap between the declarations of Israeli politicians in the past decade and a half since Oslo and the acts of those same politicians – acts that most Israelis prefer to barely know about, while the Palestinians cannot escape their implications, even if they wished to do – is the gap that continues and will continue to feed and escalate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

Dror Etkes coordinates the settlement monitoring project for the Peace Now movement

 

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