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Bush Should be Made Aware

Published on: January 2008​
Genre: Comparative Middle East Politics​ Category: Op eds​
As Bush embarks on his Middle East tour to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he should be made aware of the sad and desperate reality that shapes Palestinian lives. Bush’s latest request that Israel must dismantle "unauthorized illegal settler outposts," suggesting that Israel’s continued settlement expansion, restriction of Palestinian movement, and land expropriation in the West Bank is "legal" and "acceptable," is illustrative of either Washington’s ignorance or unprincipled bias.

In the privileged West Bank, settlement expansion, check points, closure policies, and a separation barrier have strangled the population. Israel’s settlement expansion has continued unabated in the post-Oslo years. In blatant disregard for international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into occupied territory, Israel has more than doubled its settler population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to over 400,000 since 1993. Last month, Israel confirmed its proposed expansion of two settlements in occupied East Jerusalem - Har Homa and Maaleh Adumim.

As part of the post-Oslo landscape, Israel has riddled Palestinian territory with a series of road blocks and checkpoints. According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, as of December 2007, the Israeli military had 63 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank, obstructing free travel in that territory. Moreover, Palestinians are restricted or prohibited from traveling on over 311 kilometers of West Bank roads, on which only Israelis and foreigners are permitted to travel freely.

The separation barrier, as it has been benignly dubbed, is no less an affront. The “barrier” divides communities and families, separating the West Bank from Jerusalem. Approximately, half a million Palestinians are or will be affected by the barrier. Over 27,000 Palestinians will require permits to live in their homes, and will only be able to leave their communities through a gate in the barrier. Moreover, approximately 249,000 Palestinians will be trapped between the Wall and the Green Line. The barrier and planned settlement expansion will effectively place 45.5 percent of the occupied West Bank under Israeli control.

In one of the most densely populated areas of the world, 1.48 million are sealed within 360 square kilometers which comprise the Gaza Strip, with limited ability to move beyond these caged boarders. Similarly, commodities, goods and produce cannot be transported into or out of this territory without the consent of Israel’s military. Economic development will not, and cannot, transpire under these conditions.

Like Hamas or not, in contravention to any standard of international legality, Israel’s collective punishment has harmed 1.48 million Gaza residents. To punish the Gaza Strip’s population for Hamas’ recent take-over, Israel has imposed new collective punishment measures. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel has cut regular diesel supplies by more than 40 percent and industrial gasoline by 9 percent, thus limiting needed resources to run the sewage and water system in the Gaza Strip. Israel has also sealed off all boarders, only allowing for the transport of what it deems “humanitarian goods.” Suffice it to say, Gaza is on the brink of humanitarian disaster, and Hamas is no weaker.

Putting this reality aside, Bush cannot be so naïve to believe that "dismantling settler outposts" is adequate to move any peace process forward. Unless Bush begins to understand that dignity needs to be restored to Palestinian lives, and that international law and UN resolutions must be the centerpiece of any peace process, this conflict will only continue to deteriorate.

Dr. Manal Jamal is a Research Fellow at the Dubai School of Government and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government.

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