Do the Palestinians have a snowball's chance in hell of getting what they want?

May 12, 2010
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The Palestinian Authority say there will be no talks with Israel until it freezes settlement building. The US seems to decree otherwise.

It's been just a couple of days since both sides started indirect talks with the US in the middle and already, it's not making very much sense.

President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy Senator George Mitchell said, Israel has agreed to freeze construction on the Ramat Shlomo Jewish settlement.

(You might remember the fuss the building caused in March when Israel announced it, embarrassing the then-visiting US Vice President Joe Biden. The US had been pressing Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem which is territory contested by the Palestinians for their future state, and also well, illegal under international law.)

So back to the announcement.

Israel, according to Mitchell, is going to freeze construction on this controversial settlement for two years.

Two years is the time frame the US-led mediation team is giving for the two sides to reach some form of an agreement, which has eluded them for well, decades now. But hang on, what happens after two years? How is stopping construction for two years a solution?

It's like plugging a leak for two seconds.

'Every Arab country, including the Palestinians—and I visited 13 of them...said that there would be no progress without a freeze.' Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's mideast envoy

Before anyone had time to clarify, the Israeli government jumped in and sorted the whole situation out. There would be no freeze on the settlements. Construction in Jerusalem will continue, declares the city's mayor Nir Barkat. And in Israel, that includes the Palestinian-contested east Jerusalem.

And the territorial integrity of Jewish Jerusalem remains intact! (Incidentally, so does prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's place in the Israeli government. When news of the Mitchell announcement broke,  Netanyahu's hardline right-wing coalition partners were threatening to kick him out of the government.

What about the Palestinians and their dogged insistence that there will be no direct talks with Israel,  if it doesn't freeze construction on these Jewish settlements?

It seems now they can say it as many times as they want, but they are not going to get it. Not from the Israelis, and apparently not from the Americans as well.

In an January interview on US television, Senator Mitchell was asked about the peace process. He said,

“Every Arab country, including the Palestinians—and I visited 13 of them before we began substantive discussions with the Israelis—said that there would be no progress without a freeze.”

In the same interview was this exchange:

George Mitchell: ... Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1980.

Charlie Rose (interviewer): Annexed is an important word.

George Mitchell: Annexed is a very important word.  No other country and including the United States recognizes that annexation.  And neither do the Palestinians or the Arabs of course but for the Israelis, what they're building in, is in part of Israel.

When asked if the US was going to let them continue with the construction, this was the senator's reply:

“When you say let them go ahead, it's what they regard as their country. They don't regard -- they don't say they're letting us go ahead when we build in Manhattan or in the Bronx ...

“... There are disputed legal issues. .. And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal issues or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them in a manner that meets the aspirations of both societies.”

So by that reckoning, Senator Mitchell is practically saying that Palestinians should drop their protestations against Israel building on Jerusalem land they are claiming for their future state.

'If you want to get 60 percent, do you begin by asking for 60 percent?' Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's mideast envoy

Since Israel already now recognises the entire city as a part of the country, it is inconceivable to ask them to stop construction there, the same way it would be ludicrous to mandate that the US should stop building in Manhattan?

Anyone still bearing hope of seeing the West Bank/Jerusalem settlements evacuated like in Gaza in 2005, or construction on them frozen?

Sorry, Palestinians, since I guess Israel got there first, you might want to kiss your dream of a future capital in East Jerusalem goodbye.

To the American mediators, the Palestinian/Arab demands for a freeze on construction in the settlements seems to be a condition to be bargained down.

As Senator Mitchell pointed out in the same interview,

“If you want to get 60 percent, do you begin by asking for 60 percent?”

No, as he explains. You state a higher figure and then bargain it down, like in a proper Middle Eastern souk.

It remains to be seen what the Palestinians' final “60 percent” will actually look like, if the talks even get anywhere. In the end, whatever the outcome, one thing seems clear: these controversial Jewish settlements are here to stay.


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi