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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 20

Behind the smokescreen:
A Palestinian View

by Ghassan Khatib

While the Israeli plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is creating plenty of excitement and lots of attention among the Israeli and international publics, the Palestinians are worried that, among other things, that plan is serving as a smokescreen to cover up dramatic changes and developments in the West Bank, especially in and around Jerusalem.

The reason for this is that, while talking about vacating settlements with less than 2,000 housing units in Gaza, Israel has been busy constructing, this year alone, something like 6,400 housing units in illegal settlements in the West Bank, mostly centered on Jerusalem.

A further expression of Israeli attempts to achieve certain objectives in Jerusalem is the crazy and illegal idea of building this ugly wall separating one neighborhood from another in this "unified city of Jerusalem". This wall separates houses from houses, people and children from their schools and hospitals and in general makes life miserable without achieving any of the security, demographic or political objectives of the occupation. The continuing acquisition of land in Jerusalem and continuing depriving people of their basic right of urban development only serve to create further frustration, anger and hostility between two peoples who desire to live in one city.

If there is any illusion in Israel or elsewhere that peace and two states are possible while Jerusalem is still occupied, it should be made clear that this is not the case. Jerusalem is the soul of the Palestinian homeland, not only for religious, historical and spiritual reasons, but also because it is geographically central and plays a significant economic role due to the importance of tourism.

The continuation of the illegal Judaization of the city through efforts to alter its demographic balance and nature and suppressing its Palestinian citizens in order to force them out, is only backfiring. The harder Israel pushes, the closer the attachment of Palestinians to their capital and the greater the determination of Palestinians to make all and any effort toward ending the Israeli occupation of that important part of their country.

This Israeli government has lost any sense of propriety in its attempts to be "victorious" where all previous governments have failed, i.e., with regard to the control of East Jerusalem. It has reached a point where the Israeli government and the prime minister's office even appear to have been part of illegal deals, aimed at appropriating properties in the occupied part of the city.

After 38 years of occupation and unceasing efforts to make occupied East Jerusalem a part of Israel and of the so-called unified Jerusalem, Israel must realize that this is doomed to failure. East Jerusalem was, is and will remain a Palestinian Arab city as much as Ramallah, Jenin or Gaza City. Israel must come to terms with international legality, which considers the city to be under a belligerent military occupation.

Thus, Israel has two options as far Jerusalem as is concerned to arrive at a peaceful settlement: either it gives up its occupation of the eastern part of the city, or it allows for a unified Jerusalem to be the capital of both Palestine and Israel with free access for both peoples.- Published 13/6/2005 (c)

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years. is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. 14-06-2005

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