COMMENT: East Jerusalem: ethnic encroachment and exclusion —Ishtiaq Ahmed
Ethnic encroachment means a gradual usurpation or annexation through legal subterfuges of space belonging to others by a group or state authority, which fills it with its own members. Ethnic exclusion is a set of policies and procedures applied systematically to deny entry to bona fide residents of an area and thus reduce their numbers
The world has quickly and correctly condemned the outrageous call of the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadnejad, to “wipe Israel off the map”. All sensible people in the world are agreed that a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict should make the whole world more peaceful and safe than if it were to linger on and on. Such people can also easily agree that the only workable solution under the present circumstances is to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The call given by the Iranian president is only the standpoint of extremists.
The two-state formula is now accepted not only by the mainstream Palestinian leadership but also by Arab states. A Saudi plan based on such thinking was put forward a couple of years ago and the then Israeli president was willing to travel to Saudi Arabia to discuss it. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, too, the two-state formula enjoys wide acceptance. The same is true of progressive Israelis and Jews. But that is not true of several Israeli governments. Israeli governments have been evasive and inflexible. The Bantu-land type of arrangement, which President Clinton and Ehud Barak had agreed to, virtually made a mockery of the idea of a viable state. It was therefore no fair solution.
What is more alarming and demoralising is that not only the USA, which has almost invariably sided with Israel, but even the EU has started suppressing criticism of Israel’s intransigence. The present article is based on information provided by a Jewish friend of mine about an article by Bitte Hammargren in the Stockholm-based Svenska Dagbladet of December 14, 2005.
According to the article, the EU “head of foreign affairs” Javier Solana decided only last week to suppress an EU-commissioned report which in detail describes how Israel’s expansion of settlements around occupied eastern Jerusalem poses an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict.
The report, which was ready this month, was expected to be formally approved by the EU foreign ministers. But this did not happen despite the fact that 18 out of the 25 member states had actively taken part in the enquiry. Javier Solana and the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, strongly opposed its publication, arguing that it could adversely affect the elections in Israel during spring. Reportedly, Italy and the Czech Republic supported Solana and Straw while the foreign ministers from the Nordic countries, including Sweden’s Laila Freidvalds, argued that the report should be adopted and made public.
The report mentions that East Jerusalem was captured in 1967 and annexed in 1980. The Palestinians and Arab states have refused to accept the annexation. Also, most member-states of the UN have also refused to accept that East Jerusalem is an ‘inalienable part’ of Israel. Such a standpoint derives from the UN resolution 242 which rejects acquisition of territory by force.
Therefore EU members have continued to have their foreign missions in Tel Aviv and have not moved them to Jerusalem, but since 1967 the character and population composition of East Jerusalem has gone through vast changes. Currently there are 190,000 Israeli settlers, mainly in big suburbs around East Jerusalem. These settlements are as illegal as are those elsewhere on the West Bank where ‘separating barriers’ have been built deep beyond the green line which was the boundary till 1967.
These constructions have been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice which, unlike the EU report, calls them walls and not separating barriers. Much of eastern Jerusalem with its 230,000 Palestinians has therefore been separated from the rest of the West Bank. This means that the barriers separate Palestinians from Palestinians instead of Palestinians from Israelis.
The report describes East Jerusalam as the nerve-centre of Palestinian political, religious and cultural activities. If the Palestinians on the West Bank are to develop their economy it is necessary that they have access to East Jerusalem. The activities of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem make up to 33 percent of the Palestinian economy. Therefore for the economy to be viable it is necessary that the organic linkage between East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem be maintained.
The report further states that according to a maximalist plan which the Israelis want to implement the barriers are also to include the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim. This would result in the West Bank being separated into a northern and a southern part.
Moreover Palestinians in East Jerusalem face great difficulty in getting building permission. Houses they build without permission are often demolished. In contrast not a single Jewish settlement has been dismantled. The municipal taxation and levies discriminate against the Palestinians.
These are some of the findings of the EU report whose publication has been withheld. One can add that since 1967 Israel has often been refusing permission to Palestinians to return and settle in their homes on the West Bank and East Jerusalem even when they have been abroad for higher studies or to work.
Clearly such policies deserve to be condemned by all fair-minded people. What we are witnessing is ethnic cleansing — a form of forced expulsion of undesired or unwanted people from a territory by a powerful group or state with a view to ‘purifying’ it and reserving it only for their own group or nation. Such policies are often a product of either fear or arrogance or both.
Ethnic cleansing is often achieved through the use of brute force and can include genocidal massacres. However, more imperceptible and subtler ways of realising it also exist. I would call them ethnic encroachment and ethnic exclusion. Ethnic encroachment means a gradual usurpation or annexation through legal subterfuges of space belonging to others by a group or state authority, which fills it with its own members. On the other hand, ethnic exclusion is a set of policies and procedures applied systematically to deny entry to bona fide residents of an area and thus reduce their numbers.
Both these types of policies are at work on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The Gaza strip and the West Bank are not contiguous but if sufficient goodwill exists this problem can be resolved. As long as Israel continues with highhanded policies the chances for a durable peace are minimal. Israeli intransigence only strengthens the extremist elements among the Palestinians.
The author is an associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is [email protected]