A few tanks in the Jordan Valley will not make Israel safe

The government of Israel has done everything possible to make negotiations fail. This should not come as a surprise to anyone: The ruling coalition represents the political platform of the majority of its members, who are staunchly and outspokenly against the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state in any part of historical Palestine.

Intensified settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, one of a whole host of other violations of international law, speaks for itself. If Israel’s actions on the ground are not loud enough, the statements of numerous high-ranking Israeli officials on the subject of the two-state solution certainly are. Less apparent, however, are the diversionary tactics being used to stall the negotiations process and prevent the internationally-endorsed end goal, allowing Israel time to further entrench its occupation and colonization of Palestine.

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There are six final status issues in negotiations. Rather than genuinely trying to reach an agreement on these issues, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is attempting to bring two non-issues to the table. These are issues which divert attention from the core questions. They are designed to appease a government that is by, for and of the settlers. And they are issues that the Israeli government knows that no Palestinian negotiator could ever accept, giving Israel the opportunity to stall the negotiations process while attempting to blame the Palestinian side for its failure.

The first non-issue is the new Israeli proposal to effectively annex the Jordan Valley under the pretext of ‘security’. The Jordan Valley is an integral part of the occupied state of Palestine. It is deep within the Green Line, constitutes almost a third of the occupied West Bank and can never be a part of the state of Israel within the framework of the two-state solution. It has never been discussed at any point during the past twenty plus years of negotiations. It is an absolute non-starter that would deny the Palestine’s sovereignty over its own natural resources. 

In terms of demands for an Israeli military presence, Israeli military experts have clearly stated that in this age of modern warfare, the Jordan Valley has no security value. A few tanks in the Jordan Valley will not make Israel safe. Nevertheless, Palestinian officials have repeatedly stated that they are willing to accept a third party presence, which directly addresses any security claim, whether genuine or not.

The second new issue, which Netanyahu and his colleagues have succeeded in bringing to the fore, is this idea that Palestine should recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.”  Again, this is a non-issue. Palestine recognized the State of Israel in 1988, just as any other country has recognized Israel. In fact, even Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, has reportedly called the recognition of a Jewish state "unnecessary".

The simple truth is clear: this is a government that does not want the internationally-endorsed two-state solution. The statements made by Israeli minister Mosha Yaalon against Secretary Kerry should not be considered a mere personal opinion: they are is a reflection of the Israeli government’s true attitude towards the peace process.

This is a government whose main political agenda is to replace occupation by force with occupation by invitation. Israeli officials talk as if the vast majority of settlements in the occupied state of Palestine will be kept by Israel under any agreement. Netanyahu’s slogan that “there is no difference between Tel Aviv and [the settlement of] Ma’aleh Adumin,” has set the tone for the failure of any negotiations process.

The Palestinian position is clear, an independent sovereign Palestinian state is impossible while Israeli military and settler presence remains. The international community knows this well. Israel’s settlement policy has earned it wide condemnation. Most recently, Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Rome, Madrid, London and Paris about the continued settlement activity. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Lieberman, complained that these actions were “one sided.” But there are no two sides when it comes to violations of international law. Illegal is illegal.

We continue to negotiate in good faith, knowing that peace will benefit no one more than us, the occupied people. But at the same time, and in the face of the Israeli government’s willful sabotage of any effort towards peace, Palestine must press on with its international endeavors in order to hold Israel accountable for its severe and repeated violations of international law. We owe it to our people to take every legitimate step towards fulfilling their rights and the international community has a duty to help us attain those rights, through every forum to which we are entitled under international law.

Netanyahu’s placation of the settlers, including coalition partners, is short-sighted and dangerous. He now has two options: he can either choose to make peace and take the necessary steps which that entails - beginning by dropping these non-issues and pre-conditions and using the next three months to work on the real core issues - or he can continue on the path he has chosen and make history as the Israeli PM who consolidated apartheid in Palestine. I, for one, hope that wisdom and justice will prevail.

Shtayyeh is head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), a member of the FATAH Central Committee and former peace talks negotiator.