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.