A Palestinian puts a newborn lamb on a donkey in an area
near Jerusalem known as E-1, where there are plans for
construction of about 3000 settler homes. Photo by Reuters.
It's as if the world's leaders were earnestly warning us
that global warming will cause the extinction of the dinosaurs.
They've actually been dead for a long time already. So has the
Middle East ''peace process''.
As soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that
Israel would build 3000 homes on ''East One'' (E-1), the last
piece of land connecting East Jerusalem with the West Bank
that is not already covered with Jewish settlements, the
ritual condemnations started to flow. Even United States
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that ''these
activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace'', and
others went a lot further.
The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt,
warned that ''the settlements plan ...has the potential to
alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens
the viability of a two-state solution''.
France called in the Israeli ambassador and told him that
''settlements are illegal under international law ... and
constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state
Even the Australian Government summoned the Israeli
ambassador and told him that Israeli plans to build on the
land in question ''threaten the viability of a two-state
UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said that the plan would be
''an almost fatal blow'' to the two-state solution, as if it
were still alive. And Mr Netanyahu, secure in the knowledge
that they wouldn't actually do anything, just stonewalled and
In almost all the media coverage, the Israeli announcement is
explained as an angry response to the United Nations General
Assembly's vote last month to grant the Palestinian Authority
permanent observer status at the UN, which is tantamount to
recognising Palestine as an independent state. As if Mr
Netanyahu were an impulsive man who had just lost his temper,
not a wily strategist who thinks long term.
Building in the ''E-1'' area, which covers most of the space
between the Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem and
the huge Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the Palestinian
West Bank, is definitely a game-changer. It effectively
separates the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the city that
the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. It
also almost cuts the West Bank in two. But it's not a new
The Israeli government declared its intention to build on
this land 14 years ago, when Mr Netanyahu was prime minister
for the first time. The plan was frozen in response to
outraged protests from practically all of Israel's allies,
who had invested a great deal of political capital in the
two-state solution. But it was never abandoned.
Successive US presidents were assured by various Israeli
governments that construction would not proceed there, but
most of those governments went on preparing for the day when
a pretext to break the freeze would present itself. The land
is still deserted today, but there are street lights,
electric cables and water mains.
Now a pretext has arisen, even if the UN General Assembly's
recognition of a Palestinian state makes little practical
difference. Mr Netanyahu has seized the opportunity, as he
undoubtedly always planned to. And you can't kill the
To Mr Netanyahu's considerable satisfaction, it is already
Creating two independent states, Israeli and Palestinian,
separated by the ''green line'' that was Israel's border
until it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the
1967 war, was the goal of the 1993 Oslo Accords. That's what
the ''peace process'' was all about, but it was really doomed
when Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who signed the Oslo
deal, was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in
Mr Netanyahu was elected prime minister after Mr Rabin's
death, and spent the next three years stalling on the
transfers of land and political authority to the Palestinian
Authority that were required under the Oslo Accords.
Meanwhile, he supported a vastly expanded programme of Jewish
settlement in the West Bank, although it was obvious that
this would ultimately make a Palestinian state impossible.
After a two-year interval when the Labour Party under Ehud
Barak formed a government and seriously pursued a final peace
settlement with the Palestinians, the Israeli right recovered
power in 2001 and has relentlessly pursued the project of
settling Jews on Palestinian territory ever since.
The number of Jews living in the West Bank has doubled in the
past 12 years, and they now account for one-fifth of the
population there. Jewish settlements, roads reserved for
Jewish settlers, and Israeli military bases and reservations
now cover 40% of the West Bank's territory. But to retain US
support, Mr Netanyahu still has to pretend that he is really
interested in a two-state solution.
That's why he had to wait for the right excuse before
building on ''E-1'' and sealing East Jerusalem off from the
West Bank. But he always intended to kill off the ''peace
process'', and in practice he succeeded long ago.
Why do his Western allies in the United States and elsewhere
put up with this fraud? Because they cannot think of anything
else to do.
• Gwynne Dyer is an independent London