The construction of a new Jewish settlement at Jabal Abu Ghunaym is but the latest effort by the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over East Jerusalem and preempt the “final status” talks on the city’s future. In addition to completing the inner ring of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, Har Homa will eliminate Jabal Abu Ghunaym as a land reserve for the natural growth of the surrounding Palestinian communities.
Even with Western media focused on the bulldozers at Jabal Abu Ghunaym, many journalists have failed to report on other long-standing Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. Since 1995, the Israeli government has been revoking the residency rights of Palestinians who lived outside the city’s municipal borders for any period of time. Those who choose to remain as “illegal immigrants” in their own city lose access to health care and social insurance, the ability to enroll their children in school and the right to travel freely inside or outside Jerusalem. By its own admission, the Israeli government has stripped more than 1,047 Palestinians of their Jerusalem ID cards since 1996 alone. According to B’Tselem (the Israeli human rights organization), within the next few months, the Interior Ministry intends to replace the ID cards of all Israeli citizens and residents. According to estimates, some 70 percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are liable to lose their residency status in the process.
Palestinian Jerusalemites can apply for residency permits for non-Jerusalemite family members who have been separated by this policy. Since 1995, however, the Israeli government has all but ceased to approve such applications for “family reunification.” According to Tova Elinson, spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry, “We don’t have the staff” to process the thousands of applications that have accumulated in the ministry. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post reports, however, that, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, “During the same period, her ministry evaluated and approved 236,268 applications for citizenship for Jews and their family members abroad.”
The construction of Har Homa and the sprawling tourist and industrial areas approved for the Jabal Abu Ghunaym area are the last in a long succession of crises, each of which ultimately results in further Palestinian backtracking and concessions. These Israeli policies seriously compromise — by design — the “final status” negotiations and the chances for a lasting and fair agreement on the status of Jerusalem. Robert Fisk argues in The Nation that: “Only the US administration and the Western media still seem to believe that the ‘peace process&;rsquo; — long dead in the mind of most Arabs — can be put, as the tired State Department cliche goes, ‘back on track.’” It is clear, however, that — given the power imbalance between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators as well as US failure to address Palestinian grievances — this deplorable state of affairs is the track. The result of Israel’s unilateral imposition of its US-backed “vision of peace” will be a weak, fragmented Palestinian entity. The Israelis may agree to call this a Palestinian “state” if only to deflect attention from the fact that these autonomous Palestinian islands will closely resemble the bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa.
South African bantustans, however, were never politically viable, let alone just, and it is unlikely that the Palestinian version will be any more sustainable. At this juncture, it is unclear how the Palestinian people, saddled with the Palestinian Authority’s authoritarian rule and economic depression, will respond. To think, however, that the current political process will ultimately yield peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike is to be blind to the devastation this “peace” has meant to the Palestinians. To ignore this is to perpetuate the conflict and condemn the region to continued violent confrontation.