After more than 38 years of its oppressive military occupation of the Gaza Strip, Israel will soon begin evacuating the few thousand settlers who have been denying freedom to more than a million Palestinians there. Israel has marketed the Gaza withdrawal as yet another historic opportunity to jump-start the peace process. But Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem indicate that Israel s unilaterally imposed disengagement was never meant to start a peace process, but rather to end one.
As the world s attention is diverted by scenes of the removal of settlers who had no right to be in Gaza in the first place, the real strategy behind disengagement is revealed by Israel s aggressive moves to consolidate its occupation of Jerusalem s eastern Palestinian sector.
At stake is the very basis of peace between Palestinians and Israelis - a negotiated two-state solution. Israel s plan is to use "concessions" in Gaza to remove Jerusalem from the negotiation table. But without Jerusalem as a shared capital for Palestinians and Israelis, there is no two-state solution.
In violation of President George W. Bush s May warning not to prejudice the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli cabinet recently approved a decision to complete Israel s wall in East Jerusalem by the end of August, while the world s attention is on the Gaza disengagement. The wall, which Israel is using to redefine Jerusalem s borders, is being routed through occupied territory in such a way as to maximize the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites behind the wall, while maximizing the amount of Palestinian land on the "Israeli" side. About 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be effectively cut off from the their city, forced to access their schools, hospitals and even families through Israeli military gates which, as Palestinians know from experience, can be closed at a soldier s whim.
These Palestinian Christians and Muslims will be denied free access to the holy sites in their own city. Already, Palestinian Christians and Muslims in the West Bank can no longer freely pray at the Old City s Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al Sharif).
Difficulty in accessing their own city will cause Palestinian Jerusalemites to go deeper into the West Bank for educational, medical and religious services. Israel will then have a pretext - "insufficient links" to the city - for revoking their Jerusalem residency rights. To date, more than 6,500 Palestinians have lost their residency rights in the Jewish state s unstated but measurable efforts to rid the Holy City of as many Christians and Muslims as possible.
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in and around occupied East Jerusalem are increasingly common, with more than 50 homes destroyed so far this year. Sixty-four homes in a Palestinian neighborhood near Jerusalem s Old City have demolition orders pending against them, even though the homes were built on privately owned Palestinian land. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, there are more than 10,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem. Such orders are usually enforced without warning and in the middle of the night.
As the homes of Christians and Muslims are destroyed, new Israeli settlements in and around East Jerusalem continue to expand. A few months ago, Israel announced plans to build 3,500 Israeli housing units to the east of Jerusalem - in an area which would complete the encirclement of occupied East Jerusalem by Israeli settlements. The Israeli press announced recently the planned construction of 21 new Jewish homes in the heart of the Old City s Muslim Quarter. Muslims have no equal right to build homes in the Jewish Quarter.
Israel greedily insists on retaining control over the whole of Jerusalem, rejecting Palestinian compromises to share the city on equal terms. Indeed, Israel, as a Jewish state, rejects the very idea of a pluralistic Jerusalem. But Jerusalem is sacred to all three of the world s monotheistic religions - it cannot be the monopoly of just one.
The Palestinian Authority remains committed to a two-state solution based on international law. However, negotiations require an Israeli partner and Israel, as the more powerful party, realizes it can impose its own agenda rather than negotiate a solution.
Israeli violations of U.S. policy and international law are annually funded by billions of dollars from the American taxpayer. Yet Israel repays American goodwill and financial support by adopting measures to which the United States is opposed and which risk destroying the very two-state solution to which President Bush is so publicly committed.
America has so far not been willing to hold Israel accountable. Such inaction reduces U.S. credibility and alienates potential friends, undermining efforts to defeat terrorism and to build Middle East democracy.
(Hind Khoury is the Palestinian Authority s minister of state for Jerusalem affairs.)
Source: International Herald Tribune