Now let us rephrase the case. Under the Oslo agreements, Israel agreed to sell electric power to the Palestinian Authority at a fair market price, and it did so. At the same time, Israel promised to transfer to the Palestinian Authority all the taxes collected from residents of the Palestinian terrotories for work within Israel proper - that is within the Green Line.
Because of the chronic lack of funds of the Palestinian Authority, Israel extended credit to Ramallah for the power transfer, again and again. By now, the Palestinian debt amounts to $ 800 million dollars.
Then the Palestinian Authority went to the UN and obtained recognition as a State bypassing the negotiating process with Israel. This move, from a legal persepective was an open violation of the Oslo agreements. As a consequence of its new status, the Palestinians gained also access to the International Court.
In this context, Prime Minister Netanyahu, right or wrong, retaliated by beginning a planning process for construction in an area known as the "E-1 corridor", a piece of barren hilly land that lies between the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish community of Ma'aleh Adumim on the Judean hills, east of the Green Line. He also announced that the money Israel normally transfers to the Palestinian Authority will be "docked" and applied toward their overdue electric bill.
The Palestinians then counter retaliated by threatening to go to the International Court to force Israelis to "stop building settlements on their stolen land and stealing their money". they also claimed that building on the E-1 corridor made a contiguous Palestinian State impossible and is therefore a sabotage of the two-State solution.
Let us think about the Palestinian claim. They claimed that Israel is building on "their stolen land". Is this true?. From a legal perspective, most of the land in Turkish and later British Palestine was the property of the State. Part of these State lands included the barren hill known as "E-1". When the Arabs signed the Cease Fire Agreements of 1949, it was them -not Israel - who insisted that the "Green Line" be considered a Cease Fire, as stated on the agreement itself:
"The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question." (see article on the Agreements)
When 1967 came along and the Arabs lost control of Gaza and the part of Western Palestine held by Jordan, the new agreements of 1967 insisted on the temporary nature of the new separation lines between Israeli held territory and the Arab countries. Since the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 were part of the British Mandate, the lands continued to be "State Lands". While Jordan formally annexed the West Bank of the Jordan River and (in theory at least) held the title to those state lands, the Hashemite Kingdom formally renounced all rights to that land in 1984. Whose lands is it then? A case could be made that legal rights do not imply moral rights, but legally speaking those State lands had no owners. This is not the same as privately owned land in the same area, which belongs to individuals or in come cases villages. That is not the case of the E-1 corridor.
But waht about the claim that it prevents the establishment of a "geographically contiguous Palestine"?. This claim looks good on paper, but when confronted with the topological and geographic realities the situation is different. The hill separating Jerusalem form the city of Ma'ale Adumim (40,000 inhabitants) is about two or three miles wide, a barren nob on the Judean Hills where no even goats dare to graze. Crossed by one road, the one currently connecting Ma'ale Adumim to the city, it was never the site of any human habitation. As for the "interruption of the geographic contiguity of Palestine", it is worth noting that east of Ma'ale Adumim, between that city and the Jordan river, there is a major highway connecting the northern part of the West Bank with Hebron. Yes, it means a detour - but one which is shorter than the one Israelis were forced to take between 1949 and 1967 to go from Be'er Sheba or Haifa to Jerusalem.
So what about the stolen money? I don't know the specifics of International law, and it might indeed be that Palestinians do have acase - legally. From amoral persepective, however, it is not different from the case I used at the beginning of this blog of the neighbor docking your wife's pay to get his money back.
The Palestinian tactic is, in fact, a move to prevent Israeli control of Jerusalem. What makes it odd, however, is that no construction is taking place at this time - the announcement was about commissioning urban planning for that hill. Could it be that this is just a Palestinian pretext to go to Court to flex their muscles by indicting Israel of "War Crimes"? This would not only open another front in the never-ending attack on Israel's legitimacy, but it would also create difficulties for Israeli officials and eventually private citizens to travel abroad or do bussiness.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved, as clearly stated by our President, through direct negotiations. No solution can be imposed from the outside, since it will not hold unless the parts are talking to each other - a conversation in which Abbas refused to engage for the last few years with one pretext or another.
It has been an implicit agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that Israel will eventually retain the major settlement blocks in exchange for territory within pre-67 Israel. This has been the basis of negotiation for at least the last 15 years. That means that the Palestinians want the "contiguity of Palestine" to come at the expense of the contiguity of Israel.
World leaders and Diplomats who reacted so quickly to Netanyahu's announcements would do well to have a look at the realities on the ground. Without this knowledge, a barren hill one-mile long, connecting two major Israeli population centers, acquires the dimensions of Texas by the magic of ignorance and misdirection...
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