KUNM

Palestinians Eye Israeli Settlements With Unease, Hoping For Foreign Support

Dec 31, 2016
Originally published on December 31, 2016 4:10 pm

Updated at 6:10 p.m. ET Saturday with comment from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

From his office in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, Jad Isaac has a close-up view of the big debate that has erupted over Israeli settlements.

He's director of The Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, a Palestinian organization for sustainable development, and outside his window is a hill covered in rows of homes: the Jewish settlement of Har Homa.

Isaac listened keenly to what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in his recent speech following the U.S. decision to not veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlements built on land Israel captured in 1967.

Kerry defended the move, saying the West Bank and east Jerusalem are up for negotiation and settlements jeopardize the chances for peace. Israeli leaders were exasperated by his speech. Isaac was encouraged.

"Frankly, I was very happy hearing it," said Isaac.

In his address, Kerry argued that continued Israeli settlement construction would make it impossible for Palestinians to ever have a sovereign state. Isaac said he sees this possibility unfolding before his eyes every day, out his window.

Har Homa, an Israeli settlement on land captured in 1967, is now home to nearly 20,000 Israelis. While Israel considers it a part of Jerusalem, it looks close enough to be a part of Bethlehem. Isaac pointed out construction cranes where new areas are being built.

"You can see it is not done haphazardly," Isaac said. "The intention is to form a wall of settlements, to totally segregate Jerusalem from Bethlehem."

In other words, it would stand between Bethlehem and the city Palestinians claim as their future capital.

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to be supportive of Jewish settlements. Isaac hopes other world powers will get involved to restart peace talks.

"The United States cannot be the only broker for the negotiations," Isaac said, "and we want a well-defined timeline."

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, "We want to emphasize our willingness to work with the newly-elected American administration" to reach a two-state solution to the conflict.

Yet in recent days, Palestinian officials have indicated they wish to bypass the Trump administration and have the international community lead peace talks.

In January, some 70 countries are expected to meet in Paris to discuss the fate of Israel-Palestinian peace talks. They may use the recent U.N. resolution, which deems Israeli settlements illegal, to help define the terms of the talks.

Israel rejects the notion that settlements are at the root of the conflict. It blames Palestinian violence and Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. In addition, Israel stresses Jewish ties to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, going back to the Bible.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he supports the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But some Palestinians think it's already too late to create a Palestinian state.

"It's too complicated now, with the facts on the ground, with the Israeli settlements within the West Bank," said Palestinian travel agent Rana Salman. "Geographically it doesn't make any sense."

She lives around corner from Isaac's institute, and also has a front row seat overlooking the Har Homa settlement.

She cites Israeli roads, checkpoints and buildings throughout the West Bank, and doesn't believe Israel and the Palestinians can be separated. Instead, she'd like Israelis and Palestinians to live together in one state — regardless of what that state would be called.

"I don't care now about the name. More about having human rights for everyone, equal rights, and living in dignity for everyone," Salman said.

John Kerry spoke about this in his speech, too.

"If the choice is one state," Kerry said, "Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're going to hear now about what some Palestinians thought of the debate this week over Israeli settlements. The U.S. decided not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Secretary of State Kerry said that territory is up for negotiation and that settlements jeopardize chances for peace. Israeli leaders responded angrily. NPR's Daniel Estrin spoke to some Palestinians with a close-up view of the issue.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I met Jad Isaac in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. He runs a research institute for sustainable development. His office faces a hill covered in rows of homes - a Jewish settlement. It's one of the reasons Isaac listened closely to what John Kerry said in his speech this week.

JAD ISAAC: Frankly, I was very happy hearing it.

ESTRIN: Kerry warned in his speech that continued Israeli settlement construction would make it impossible for Palestinians to ever have a sovereign state. Isaac sees this possibility unfolding before his eyes every day through his window.

ISAAC: Look, look, here, here, here. This is Har Homa.

ESTRIN: Har Homa is an Israeli settlement on land captured in 1967, now home to nearly 20,000 Israelis. Israel considers it a neighborhood of Jerusalem, but it looks close enough to be a neighborhood of Bethlehem. Isaac pointed out construction cranes and showed me a map of new areas being built.

ISAAC: There is another one here, another one here. You can see it's not done haphazardly. The intention is to form a wall of settlements to totally segregate Jerusalem from Bethlehem.

ESTRIN: Meaning, it would stand between Bethlehem and the city Palestinians claim as their future capital. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to be supportive of Jewish settlements. Isaac hopes other world powers will get involved to restart peace talks.

ISAAC: The United States cannot be the only broker for the negotiations, and we want a well-defined timeline.

ESTRIN: He echoes what Palestinian officials have been saying in recent days. They'd like to bypass the Trump administration and have the international community lead peace talks. Next month, some 70 countries are expected to meet in Paris. They could use the U.N. resolution that deems Israeli settlements illegal to help define the terms of the talks. For its part, Israel says settlements are not the root of the conflict. Israel blames Palestinian violence and rejection of a Jewish state, and it stresses Jewish ties to the land, going back to the Bible. Meanwhile, some Palestinians think it's already too late to create a Palestinian state.

RANA SALMAN: Because it's too complicated now with the facts on the ground, with the Israeli settlements within the West Bank. Geographically, it doesn't make any sense.

ESTRIN: Rana Salman is a travel agent who lives around the corner from Isaac's institute. She also has a front-row seat overlooking the Har Homa settlement. She looks at Israeli roads, checkpoints and buildings throughout the West Bank and doesn't believe the two sides can be separated. She'd like Israelis and Palestinians to live together in one state.

And what would that one state be called?

SALMAN: I don't care now about the name, more about human rights for everyone, equal rights and living in dignity for everyone.

ESTRIN: John Kerry spoke about this in his speech, too. He said if Israel becomes one state for Jews and Arabs, it can either be Jewish or Democratic. It cannot be both. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Bethlehem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.