A 10-minute drive from where negotiators will sit down on Wednesday to resume long-stalled Middle East peace talks, Israeli bulldozers are busy reshaping land that Palestinians want for their future state.
Settler homes are popping up across East Jerusalem and major roads are being built to burgeoning Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has just approved plans for 3,100 new homes on the territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
The non-stop building on the land that is at the heart of the conflict raises serious doubts about whether the latest round of U.S.-brokered talks can result in a deal to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The two-state solution by now is unobtainable,” said Dani Dayan, a former chairman of the settler movement, arguing that any accord palatable to the Palestinians would involve removing so many settlers that it would be impossible to enact.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the driving force behind the resumption of talks following a three-year hiatus, agrees it is a major problem, but says there is time for a final push.
“What this underscores is the importance of getting to the table, getting to the table quickly,” he told reporters in Colombia on Monday when asked about the series of Israeli building announcements in the run-up to the new negotiations.
Israel has rejected criticism of its construction plans, saying the new homes would be erected in settlements within blocs it intends to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
The settler numbers are imposing. In 2010, when the Palestinians quit negotiations over settlement building, some 311,110 Israelis were living in the West Bank. Today, according to Israel’s Army Radio, this has surged to 367,000.
Adding in East Jerusalem, then the number of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines rises to nearly 600,000. Few, if any, would willingly quit their homes as part of a peace deal.