A ring of Jewish settlements all but surrounds East Jerusalem, crippling the dream of making it the future capital of Palestine. The settlements, checkpoints, roadblocks, “sterile” zones, “closed military areas,” settlers- and VIP-only roads, and Israel’s full military occupation of 60 percent of the West Bank have all combined to carve a would-be Palestine into disjointed cantons, not the “viable and contiguous” land that the US officially seeks for Palestine.
Without a doubt, rockets from Gaza or, in past years, suicide bombers from the West Bank have clearly undermined the Palestinians’ own case. But the Israeli seizure of Palestinian land has continued apace, regardless of the level of violence.
These facts on the ground send clear signals that the Palestinians don’t have a partner for peace. With each new Jewish housing project, with each clearly-stated intent not to dismantle major settlements or allow Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem or the crucial Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Ariel Sharon before him, has essentially shown unambiguous contempt for two sovereign states. Rather, Israeli leaders are turning the Holy Land into a single entity, with land, borders, airspace and underground aquifers controlled by Israel, and with citizenship rights granted only to some.
In the face of this, Mahmoud Abbas, the weak and unpopular leader of the West Bank Palestinians, had nothing to lose by going to the UN for its semi-meaningful statehood declaration. (The title “observer status” speaks to the largely symbolic nature of the recognition, but the prospect of Palestine joining the International Criminal Court has very real implications. Chief among them: Palestinian membership could subject Israel to war crimes investigations, and Israeli officials to arrest and prosecution abroad.)