For the Palestinians the passage of time offers little reprieve. While their circumstances have changed this past year, they have only changed for the worse. Israel has systematically worked to isolate them and hem them into smaller spaces. Governments worldwide seem prepared to accept their continued deprivation and Israel’s steroidal apartheid. The latest salvo between Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israel ended with more than 150 dead Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, and five Israelis killed. The conflict is deepening.
Some analysts continue to insist that there is a two-state blueprint that is workable for the Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, reality has moved sharply away from any such accommodation. The settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem have altered the ‘reality on the ground’ in irreversible ways. Jerusalem is being ethnically cleansed. Palestine has been colonized into nothing. That’s the reality.
At this stage it is worth evaluating what the overall Israeli policy in Jerusalem and the West Bank appears to be. While decision-making in Israel appears to be driven by short-term considerations, there is a long-term outlook, and it is becoming more evident daily. Nir Barkat, the Jewish Israeli mayor of West Jerusalem, has been very effective at restricting the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. In some cases, public works projects are cynically announced with the object of forestalling Palestinian development. For instance, a large tract of private Palestinian land near the neighborhood of Silwan has recently been designated as “state property”. The Jerusalem municipality has declared that a park will be constructed on the site, a claim that some observers regard as a pretext for continued Israeli colonization of East Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, Palestinian life is so circumscribed that many of the city’s indigenous residents are forced to live elsewhere. The lack of development in Palestinian neighborhoods along with the refusal to grant building permits work to drive the Judaization of the city.
Processes in the West Bank follow the dominant Jerusalem strategy. More than 60 percent of that occupied territory, the Oslo process’s “Areas B and C”, is off-limits to Palestinians. They are not granted building permits in their rural villages — a policy that forces many people into the Palestinian Authority (PA) administered “Area A”. In other words, a West Bank version of ‘bantustanization’ — the apartheid-era South African policy dividing up the territory of black inhabitants — is developing with few impediments.
Essentially then, the Israeli strategy is to Judaize Jerusalem through ethnic cleansing while doing the same to Areas B and C of the West Bank. The “Gaza solution” — isolating Palestinians in shrinking cantons — is being adapted to the particular geography of the other Palestinian territories.
Historically, the PA leadership has demonstrated its profound impotence in the face of persistent Israeli apartheid and occupation. But that may be changing.
President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to seek a status upgrade at the United Nations on November 29 is the most concrete challenge the PA has posed to the Israelis in years. In fact, the move poses a serious threat to the Israeli leadership because it could provide the Palestinians with access to international adjudicatory bodies. In particular, the International Criminal Court could be called upon to intervene in cases where sufficient evidence of Israeli crimes exists. Analysts have speculated that the Israeli decision to attack Gaza in November is linked in part to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to petition the United Nations for upgraded status. The Israeli elections in January and the fact that the other three Knesset elections this past decade were all preceded by massive military operations against Palestinian areas provides additional context for understanding the extent of the airstrikes.
The context of the attacks in Gaza — indeed, the broader context of what’s happening to the Palestinians — has changed. The Middle East is no longer ruled by programmable autocrats. Egypt and Turkey in particular may produce a ceasefire in the short term and a change in European policy — if not American policy — in the long term. Egypt and Turkey succeeded in enhancing their diplomatic clout after brokering a ceasefire between Hamas fighters and the Israeli government; that trend is likely a sustainable one.
It is far too early to know what the different constellation of powers in the Middle East means for the Palestinians in the long term. As for the short term, the safest assumption is that 2013 will bring no real change; apartheid and arbitrary war are the twin governors of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians will continue to suffer into the near future.
Ahmed Moor is a master of public policy candidate at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government