The latest news on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has focused on the announcement of the planned construction of new homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, which is located over the 1967 Green line.
The United States, Europe and Arab states said that the announcement would complicate efforts to renew peace talks and to defuse a crisis over the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. Britain and the EU called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said new settlement building would be “counter-productive”. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd also released a statement criticising the planned construction, calling on Israel to “cease settlement activity”.
However, the criticism ignores the fact that Gilo is a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in south-western Jerusalem that is likely to remain part of Israel under any conceivable peace deal and that the units represent natural growth within the suburb. And more generally, it should be noted that there has been no territorial expansion of Israeli settlements for almost a decade, with most growth taking place within existing boundaries.
As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said, in every peace plan on the table in the past 18 years, Gilo “stays part of Jerusalem and therefore this planning decision in no way contradicts” the current Israeli Government’s desire for peace based on two states for the two peoples. Netanyahu also emphasised that the construction approval was a “preliminary planning decision”.
Meanwhile, on October 1, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal also made an announcement that is a serious blow to peace efforts, yet this announcement was barely reported by the media.
Meshal told an international conference in Iran called the ‘5th International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada’, that:
“Palestinians must resort to resistance no matter how costly it is, until Palestine is free and Israel is destroyed”.
Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a Palestinian state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Hamas remains part of the Palestinian ‘unity government’ with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Meshal’s words illustrate the difficulty in making peace with the Palestinians, given that the PA in the West Bank has no control over Hamas in Gaza and Hamas has repeatedly stated that it will refuse to recognise Israel’s right to exist, and it calls for Palestinian ‘resistance’ until Israel is destroyed. The fact that Hamas has continually condemned the Palestinian UN bid fearing it may undermine Palestinian rights also illustrates the lack of unity in this ‘unity government’.
It is revealing that while Israel is continually criticised for actions such as natural growth within existing settlements that are marginal to genuine peace prospects, Palestinian division and intransigence, which remain profound obstacles to peace are largely ignored.