Palestinians reflect on 50 years of Insecurity and Lack of Peace
David Wakim is a member of the, Palestine Human Rights Campaign NZ Herald 8 May 98

This month the modern Israeli state has been in existence for 50 years and both Israelis and Palestinians have been focusing on its evolution. While some have tried to celebrate, others have reflected on 50 years of insecurity and no peace.

At present the Oslo Peace accords are in tatters. Tony Blair's recent visit to Jerusalem initiated talks in London. If these prove fruitless, the despair will result in further conflict

The key to the problems over the past 18 months has been Israeli settlements, particularly in Hebron and near Bethlehem as well as the delayed military withdrawal from the occupied territories. Jewish settlements have been crucial to the ongoing drama between Palestinians and Israelis. Few people know much about these settlements or why theyare such an obstacle to peace.

Since 1967, the building of Jewish settlements has continued with insolent disregard to international law, United Nations resolutions, the Fourth Geneva convention and the now-moribund Oslo peace process.

Visitors today see these settlements as large towns or suburbs builkt on hilltop ridges all over the occupied territories. They are substantial aesthetically pleasing constructions with shopping centres, swimming pools and rectreational facilities. Exclusively for Jews, but on Palestinian land, Israeli Government subsidies encourage Israeli Jews to move and live there. In 1977 there were 10,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied areas. By 1995 there were 135,000 in the West Bank area, 15,000 in the Syrian Golan Heights area 160,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem and even a few thousand in Gaza. In total there are now about 200 illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine. In 1967 the General Assembly of the United Nations voted 99 to 0 that the Israeli annexation of the Palestinian sector Of Jerusalem was "invalid" and called on the Israeli Government to do nothing to alter its status. But within weeks Israeli bulldozers were at work and are still working today, with the aim of changing the demography of Jerusalem.

As housing exclusively for Jews increased, Muslim and Christian Palestinians were displaced from their homes. They were forced to leave or move in with neighbours or relatives. Palestinians perceive this dislocation as a form of ethnic cleansing. The Security Council in 1968, adopted a resolution deploring Israel's failure to comply with the two resolutions by the General Assembly. When this brought no result, the Security Council met again and produced a unanimous (including the United States) resolution "censoring in the strongest terins" all measures the Israeli Government had taken to change the status of Jerusalem and confirming that all such measures throughout the occupied area were "invalid" and therefore should be revoked. Israel ignored these resolutions.

Unlike on matters of Iraq, which does not have friends in Washington, no action was. taken. How different the Middle East and the world would have been if the Americans had stuck to their moral guns and taken up the United Nations' challenge with the rest of the world. Since then, in Palestinian East Jerusalem alone, eight huge settlements were built for more than 60,000 Jews. In the same period only 500 units were approved for Palestinians, the last of these over 20 years ago.

This has resulted in a shortage of over 21,000 new housing units simply to meet existing needs of Plaestinians of East Jerusalem. The process goes on all over the occupied areas of Palsetine. In addition, the land is divided by a network of wide roads linking the Jewish settlements for exclusive Jewish use, creating a patchwork of isolated Palestinian communities.

The often-referred to analogy of creating Palestinian Bantustans modelled on the aparthied system is obvious but there is no Nelson Mandella in sight.

The reasons Israel gives for these actions are security, religious claims to Eretz Israel and the Zionist settlement plans to occupy all Palestine. Thirty year sof such activities have prolonged the suffering of all affacted and there are now more than three million United Nations registered Palestinian refugees.

Under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Israel withdrew from its occupies territory but destroyed the settlements there, rather than hand them over to the Egyptians. Instead of destroying the present settlements, an action only a few extremists would support they could be handed over to the Palestianin Goverm=nment when self-determination occurs.

The Israeli Government has received more than $US100 billion in war reparations and direct aid from the United States. By comparison, the victim of the victim have received nothing. Such settlement handovers would be a generous step towards reconciliation and redressing past injustices. Christian and Muslim Palestinians would have the right to live in the settlements, along with Jews who chose to stay, If Christian and Muslim Palestinians can live peacefully in Israel as Israeli citizens, then surely Jews can live in Palestine as Palestinian citizens. Interestingly, these peoples Lived peacefully together for centuries up to recent times. Given the goodwill of those Palestinias and Israelis who prepared the Oslo peace accords, peace will come when these injustices are addressed.