I recently returned to the US from a week in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. I arrived in the city on Sunday, 26 September, the day the temporary freeze on Israeli settlements was set to expire. I was staying with a friend in Sheikh Jarrah, metres away from where two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes last year; more are expected to be forced out in the coming months. As the end of the settlement freeze came and went, what struck me most about it, and about the latest round of peace negotiations of which it was a part, was their utter irrelevance to the realities of Palestinian life.
Settlements now control 42 per cent of the West Bank. The Arab population in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and elsewhere is being steadily boxed in, with declining access to water and other resources. Arab lands are being incorporated into Israel and consolidated into a new spatial order that aims to eliminate any physical separation between Israel and the settlements, thereby eliminating any possibility of a Palestinian state. In the West Bank, Israeli policy has clearly shifted from occupation to imposed sovereignty or de facto annexation.
One of the great achievements of Israeli policy over the last decade, with the support of a co-operative Palestinian Authority security structure, has been to make everyday life so difficult for the Palestinians that they have no energy left to oppose the occupation. People are now simply (and understandably) grateful for the absence of pain. A friend of mine from Bethlehem, a city severed by the separation wall, told me how ‘calm’ it is now because ‘we rarely see Israeli soldiers inside the city anymore.’ Under such confinement, any small breakthrough is a success of sorts: one morning I found myself elated by the lack of traffic at the Kalandia checkpoint, which meant I got where I was going in half the time it usually took me.
Given the steady contraction of Palestinian life, the most recent round of US-led negotiations was not about the resolution of conflict but about the degree of loss that can be inflicted on the Palestinians by the US and Israel. The Palestinian ‘state’ is now – and will remain for the foreseeable future – a US-Israeli initiative not a Palestinian one.