A few months before the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, and with a renewed effort about to be made to kick-start the peace talks − it’s useful to pause for a moment and examine what has happened in the West Bank these past two decades. A series of visits there reinforces the impression that, despite the good intentions of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the reality on the ground could well be the undoing of his new initiative, as happened with that of most of his predecessors since the mid-1990s.
The problem is not just the fundamental differences in the approaches of the two sides to the key issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees), but developments on the ground − and, above all, the expansion of the settlements. The question, then, is whether the newest American effort has come too late.
Shaul Arieli thinks not. A retired colonel who is a senior figure in the Geneva Initiative and the Council for Peace and Security, and a major player in peace negotiations during Ehud Barak’s time as prime minister, Arieli visits the West Bank every week. As we drive through Samaria, he points out the resurgent building momentum in the settlements. But he also fires off data which, in his view, show that the settlers’ leadership has failed to prevent establishment of a future Palestinian state and ensure the settlements’ annexation to Israel.
Some 360,000 Israelis currently live in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). The settlement blocs, where 75 percent of the Israelis live, occupy only 6 percent of the territory of the West Bank. In addition, 88 percent of its inhabitants are Palestinians and only 12 percent Israelis. Within the blocs, the population ratio is 95:5 in favor of the Jews; outside of them, it is 97:3 in favor of the Palestinians. The ratio of built-up areas in the blocs is 6:1 in favor of the Israelis, but outside it is 16:1 in favor of the Palestinians.
Read more at Haaretz.com.