Monday, January 21

President Bush is currently here on a tour of the Middle East. You can read a great intro. to what he hopes to accomplish here. One of his main goals while here is to try to move the peace process forward. Remember Annapolis? Not much has happened since then. One of the most significant elements holding the peace talks back are the issue of settlements (more on that below). The President is here to hopefully try to get things moving again and get some kind of action on the settlement issue.

What is a Settlement?

A settlement is any house or building that's built on land that belongs to Palestinians. Some Palestinians, Hamas, for example, would say that the entire state of Israel is built on Palestinian land. Most Palestinians -- in addition to the UN and the International Court of Justice -- would argue that anything built on the Palestinian side of the Green Line (there's a link explaining the Green Line to the right) is a settlement. The Israeli government annexed certain parts of Jerusalem, which it captured from Jordan in 1967. Then, they started building all around the edges of Jerusalem and moved Israeli citizens into those homes. There are other settlements as well, built inside the West Bank. For example, Ariel and Karnei Shomron are
two of the larger settlements there. Their location geographically makes it extremely difficult for any future Palestinian state to be contiguous; these are just some of the settlements that are right in the middle of the West Bank. And as you can see, these aren't just a few houses that can be demolished and the families relocated...

Sometimes settlements look like Ariel, and sometimes they look like Har Homa, one of the settlements built in a ring around the city both sides claim as a capital. As you can see in these pictures, construction on Har Homa continues today.

Often settlements start out like this, with just a few trailers and some water supplies. Eventually electricity is brought in and real homes start to be built. When they're in this stage they're considered 'outposts', but outposts usually turn into towns and then cities.

Now, officially the Israeli government is against the construction of illegal outposts, like the one pictured above. The government claims that it does its best to remove them. However, many still exist. With outposts and settlements come soldiers for the protection of the (illegal) settlers, and then checkpoints, etc. The situation becomes very difficult, and it would seem that if the Israeli government truly wanted peace or the establishment of a Palestinian state, they would stop the building of settlements. On the other hand, Palestinian leaders should denounce and seek to stop the minority of Palestinians who are choosing violence (e.g. rockets and suicide bombings) as a means to resolve the conflict.

Bush's Visit to the Region

Yesterday we watched a live press conference held by President Bush and the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, held a press conference with Bush today. When Bush and Olmert spoke, both said that they were committed to peace, but there were some things that pointed to difficulties down the road. For his part, Bush said the goals of this trip for him were that there would be a clear vision of what a future Palestinian state would look like, that the road map issues for both sides would begin to be dealt with (see the 'educate yourself' part of this earlier post), and that the Palestinians would begin to organize their security forces to stop terror attacks. PM Olmert said some things as well. He mentioned previous agreements with the Palestinians, wherein the Palestinians are supposed to put a stop to terror (which hasn't happened). At the same time, Israel has previously agreed to stop settlement expansion (also hasn't happened). With neither side having lived up to their part of the bargain, both sides have an excuse to continue doing what they want to do. Who will take the first step?

Brief notes to conclude:

1) the Israeli Prime Minister promised there would be no new settlements. Sounds good, but note that 'no new settlements' doesn't mean existing ones won't be expanded. An important distinction.

2) A Palestinian reporter asked President Bush about UN resolutions which say that Israel should withdraw to the Green Line in exchange for peace. Bush responded, "The UN deal didn't work." He suggested we try something new. Perhaps we shouldn't be so flippant about what the body representing most of the countries in the world says.

3) What about Hamas? They were democratically elected and represent a significant portion of the population. Any agreement made not involving them most likely won't hold up, since it will be an agreement with only part of the Palestinian representatives and not all of them. Hopefully the Bush administration can find ways to get Hamas invested in the process.

4) The President did surprise us when he explained that a future Palestinian state must be viable. He told the room full of reporters, "Swiss cheese ain't going to work." Territorial contiguity is a pretty important thing to consider when trying to establish a state.

5) President Bush, the Optimist, hopes to leave here having established a 'firm vision of what a future Palestinian state would look like'. However unlikely that there will be a viable Palestinian state in 2009, we really, really, really hope that he's able to accomplish what he's trying to do. Life here will be better for everyone if Israeli occupation and the Palestinians carrying out terrorism both stop, and there's a just solution to the conflict here.

No comments: