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Palestinians query viability of two states - BBC

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  • Zafar Khan
    Palestinians query viability of two states By James Reynolds BBC Jerusalem Correspondent http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2353851.stm The accepted
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2002
      Palestinians query viability of two states
      By James Reynolds
      BBC Jerusalem Correspondent


      The accepted international solution to the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be very clear
      - two states side by side. But the Palestinians are
      now questioning this.

      They say that continued Israeli settlement expansion
      and road building inside the West Bank may kill off
      the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

      They accuse Israel of trying to join the dots between
      settlements, of trying to encircle and cut off
      Palestinian towns.

      Palestinian Liberation Organisation legal advisor
      Michael Tarazi believes that new Israeli outposts,
      settlements and roads in the West Bank may have a
      fatal effect on the possibility of a two state

      "The danger here is that the Israelis have become so
      successful in changing the demographics and the
      geography on the ground that anything left to the
      Palestinians won't be viable," he says.

      "The idea of two states is now being seriously
      reconsidered by the Palestinians because we don't want
      a state that's simply a glorified Indian reservation."

      Terje Larsen, the UN special co-ordinator here, echoes
      some of these views.

      "We in the UN share these concerns about settlements
      and roads which will make it difficult if not
      impossible to establish a viable, contiguous state."

      But Israeli officials reject the assertion that
      settlements are expanding to the point of threatening
      a future Palestinian state.

      Join the dots

      "The demographics over the past two years have hardly
      changed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," says
      Mark Sofer, a senior official from the Israeli Foreign

      "I really take issue with the assertion that it is the
      settlement issue which is preventing a solution to the
      Israeli Palestinian conflict.

      "Just two years ago we had a solution on the table
      proposed by the United States, endorsed by the
      international community, which called for this two
      state solution and exchanges of territory in that
      respect. And the Palestinians walked away from it."

      There's one group of settlements in particular that
      the Palestinians have highlighted - the Binyamin bloc
      outside the Palestinian town of Ramallah.

      Click here to see map of settlement expansion plans.
      The Palestinians say the Israelis are attempting to
      isolate Ramallah from the rest of the West Bank.

      To check this, I went to see the Mayor of the Binyamin
      Bloc, Pinhas Valerstein. I showed him a map prepared
      by the Palestinians - outlining the projected
      expansion of his settlements.

      "No, it's much bigger, for sure," the Mayor told me,
      pointing to the expansion area the Palestinians had
      drawn. He believes that the Palestinians have actually
      underestimated his ambitions.

      His plans to encircle and cut off Ramallah go much
      further than the Palestinians have predicted.

      Pinhas Valerstein is one of many settlers who believe
      that there should not be a Palestinian state in the
      West Bank.

      He's doing his best to make sure that his settlements
      expand and cut off Palestinian areas.

      Claimed freeze

      A government freeze on new settlements appears to make
      very little difference to his plans. He simply goes
      ahead and starts new buildings anyway.

      "Does the government try to stop you or not?" I asked

      "They cannot stop me. No-one can stop you in your land
      if you have a plan."

      Jewish settlements
      There are 145 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza
      400,000 people live in settlements, including 11
      settlers quarters in East Jerusalem
      Almost 40,000 houses have been built in settlements
      since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993

      Source: Peace Now

      Many here believe the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
      Sharon is with the settlers - despite his government's
      claimed settlement freeze.

      Since Mr Sharon came to power a year and a half ago,
      left wing groups say that settlers have started up
      dozens of outposts - or makeshift settlements - in the
      West Bank. They say that only a tiny fraction have
      been dismantled.

      Many observers find it hard to reconcile Mr Sharon's
      support for the settler movement with his publicly
      stated belief that there should, in the end, be a
      Palestinian state. Many believe he can't have it both

      According to the leading Israeli left wing politician
      Yossi Beilin, Mr Sharon's vision of a Palestinian
      state is "a joke rather than a state".

      Binational state

      The Palestinians believe that Mr Sharon is helping the
      settlers to prevent the creation of a meaningful
      Palestinian state.

      PLO legal advisor Michael Tarazi says that because of
      this, the Palestinians are now having to consider
      abandoning support for a two state solution.

      Palestinians burn a model of a Jewish settlement

      The alternative, for them, is a one-state-for-all plan
      - a single binational country encompassing Israel, the
      West Bank and Gaza.

      "Our ultimate strategy will be based on whether or not
      the international community decides to intervene," he

      "Whether or not responsible Israelis get a hold of
      their senses and actually stop what their government's

      "But if that doesn't happen we certainly will be
      forced to consider re-evaluating our position and
      moving from a movement of equal nationhood to equal

      That's something that Israel would not accept. A
      single state would, within a few years, have an Arab
      majority - destroying for Israelis the concept of a
      Jewish state.

      Israeli officials believe the Palestinians are trying
      to find a pretext with the settlement issue to avoid
      having to consider a two state solution.

      "I cannot exacerbate enough the fear in Israeli
      society that the Palestinians are finding every excuse
      under the sun to walk away from the table - as they
      did two years ago," says Mark Sofer.

      But as Israel continues to expand its presence in the
      West Bank, Palestinians see the land they hope will
      make up their state shrinking and the possibility of a
      two state solution receding.

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