Sunday, May 2, 2010

Must-Read: How the Palestinian Authority’s Road Building Projects are Cementing the Occupation

Every once in a while an article comes down the pike that bursts the bubble of all the cautious optimists. You know, the folks who say, "Maybe Obama will present a peace plan soon," or "Gee, the Palestinian (i.e., the West Bank Palestinian) economy is doing better" or "Fayyad's state-building may do the trick."

J-Streeters and J-Callers should change direction and do some jaywalking. For what if the moderate and benign Palestinian Authority were taking measures that, far from building the future Palestinian state, are dooming it to oblivion?

Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Washington office of the Insitute for Palestinian Studies, and Jesse Rosenfeld, a reporter based in Israel and Palestine, have written a stunning article in the Nation on the effect of the Palestinian Authority's road construction in the West Bank – especialy the effect on Palestinian life. In a word, the PA, with donor money (especially USAID), can only fund construction projects that Israel approves. And Israel approves only those projects which allow for the maximum amount of settlement expansion and bypass roads. As the authors write:

For decades Israel has carried out its own infrastructure projects in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. These include a segregated road network that, together with the separation wall Israel began building in 2002, divides Palestinian areas from each other while bringing the settlements--all of which are illegal under international law--closer to Israel.

Now, armed with information from United Nations sources and their own research, Palestinian nongovernmental organizations are raising the alarm. Their evidence spotlights the extent to which PA road-building is facilitating the Israeli goal of annexing vast areas of the West Bank--making a viable Palestinian state impossible.

You will have to read the article for the evidence.

But here is one statistic -- almost a third of the Palestinian roads that the Israeli government proposed to the donors in 2004 – in a proposal that was rejected by the donors because it clearly served Israeli and not Palestinian aims – are now being built by the Palestinian Authority.

Let me make something clear. When the system of settlement by-pass roads came to pass during the Oslo period, it was part of an interim agreement that expired in 1999. The idea then was that these roads would be temporary measures to ensure the safety of the settlers during a transition period, at the end of which, many of them would have moved back to Israel. When Netanyahu beat Peres in 1996, one of the few things he liked about the Oslo agreements were the bypass roads. He knew that a) they would strengthen the settlements and b) they would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. The system of bypass roads is one of the reasons why it is an insult to apartheid to liken the situation in the West Bank to apartheid – for in apartheid South Africa, blacks and whites were able to use the same roads.

All this is not new. What is new is the extent to which the Palestinian Authority, for reasons known to only to itself, is willing to to make the lives of the ordinary Palestinians suffer. Well, maybe that is not new, either.

The important point is that were there to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace under the present circumstances, and with the status quo thinking, it would be an unmitigated long-term disaster both for Palestinians and the Israelis. As I have said here ad nauseum, none of the so-called two-staters I know really want two sovereign and independent states.

If Fayyad or Abbas succeed and the Palestinians get a state in the West Bank, then they will still be under Israeli Occupation, or some form of neo-colonialism, for they will still be under the effective control of Israel. The lives of the West Bank Palestinians would be only slightly less miserable than that of the Gazans.

I don't believe that Oslo was intended to kill a Palestinian state. But it has certainly hurt the chances for one.



Richard Witty said...

I think you are being unnecessarily and unproductively cynical in this post.

There is no reason that roads cannot be expanded, modified, anything, following a political definition.

And, your characterization of two-staters is unnecessarily and innaccurately insulting.

You used to describe yourself as an optimist. Why let incidental obstacles form your fundamental references?

And, in practise, in the present, the network of roads DO enhance current real Palestinian life.

Alex Cachinero-Gorman said...

just wanted to say that i agree with most of your analysis, except to say "the moderate and benign Palestinian Authority." what do you see as moderate or benign about the PA's activities, whether it be their active repression of internal dissent or their complicity with the occupation? or salam fayyad declaring that palestine is 'pregnant' and will be born in the next two years, whatever the hell that means? (such a declaration could be one of the biggest setbacks to the Palestinian liberation/solidarity movements in a long time).

Jerry Haber said...


If everything can be changed, then why not simply settle more hundreds of thousands of Jews on the West Bank in advance of a settlement. They can always be moved.

It is not so easy to return land on which roads are built to their former owners, to make them suitable for agricultural use or grazing once again. I have not heard of it done anywhere, have you? Please don't say "there is no reason" -- show me historical precedents.

I don't know many real two-staters. But I know a lot of people who think they are two-staters, but they are not. I don't mean to be insulting.

"Incidental obstacles"? In Hebrew we say that there is nothing more permanent than temporary.

Why don't you say, "Look, we moved settlers out of Gaza." I don't deny that it is not a logical or physical impossibility to move settlers. I just see no Israeli government capable of doing it. And all Israeli government want to annex large populations blocs.

And you final comment brings me to what I consider a drawback of your comments. They are simply not based on facts. They are based on what you think is reasonable. People build roads. Surely that makes life more convenient to them, you reason.

But you do not meet the specific objections of the specific roads as specifically detailed in the article I referred to.

I urge to you to come to the West Bank and see for yourself the reality. You can't base your views of what is going on in Palestine by reading Ethan Bronner and watching CNN. The mainstream media is way off.

Finally, I repeat. I am not opposed at all to a two-state settlement. Let me know when a serious offer has been put forth.

So far, it hasn't.

Jerry Haber said...

Alex, i should have written the so-called moderate and benign; I wrote it sarcastically, but how would anybody know that.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to exaggerate the PA's unpopularity with the Palestinian population. That doesn't keep anybody from making judgments on their own about it.

LeaNder said...

Returning to read The Nation article you cite, I find the link doesn't work. How here is the updated version.

I thought you might be interested the old link doesn't work anymore.

Unknown said...

I wanted to thank you on the 3rd anniversary of your wonderful blog, but got here by mistake, and see Richard commenting here now (I avoid the comments section). Oy!