More Israeli Settlements Could Scuttle Peace Plan
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
For years the United States has urged the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace accord based on a two-state solution. Well, there are growing concerns within the international community that the chances of that ever happening are dimming.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Palestinians angered Israel last week by securing a symbolically important vote at the United Nations General Assembly, upgrading their status from a non-member entity to a non-member state. Israel responded with reprisals.
GREENE: The Israelis announced plans for 3,000 new homes in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports on another Israeli plan, outlining the development of a highly contentious plot of land.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: A bus winds to the top of a hill and draws to a halt. Out of it steps Daniel Seidemann. Seidemann is an Israeli attorney who campaigns against Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories.
DANIEL SEIDEMANN: So this is E1.
REEVES: He's come here, to the West Bank, with some American Peace Now activists to show them the lay of the land.
SEIDEMANN: E1 is 12 square kilometers. Twelve times the size of the Old City. OK? I have a map.
REEVES: Seidemann points across the parched hills towards the eastern edge of Jerusalem. This, he explains, is where Israel is planning thousands of new homes under a settlement plan known as E1. Israel has many settlements which are regarded as illegal by the international community. Seidemann says E1 is different.
SEIDEMANN: E1 is not just another settlement. E1 is the fatal heart attack of the two-state solution.
REEVES: E1 concerns an area between East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians aspire to create their capital, and the big Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. If built, E1 would cut in two a big chunk of the West Bank. That, says Seidemann, would prevent the Palestinians from having a contiguous stretch of land, which they need if they're to have a viable state.
SEIDEMANN: What E1 would do would drive a wedge from East Jerusalem almost down to the Jordan River Valley, with a very steep decline. It would dismember any potential future Palestinian state.
REEVES: On the hilltop opposite, there's a rather different scene.
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REEVES: In a sparkling mall in Ma'ale Adumi, Israeli shoppers relax over coffee and browse the boutiques. Ma'ale Adumim is home to some 40,000 people, who are this year celebrating the 30th anniversary of their settlement. Theirs is a smart hilltop town with palm trees and neat sandy-colored homes with red-tiled roofs.
The mayor, Benny Kashriel, says he's delighted Israel is going ahead with planning preparations for E1. So, he says, is pretty much everyone else in Ma'ale Adumim.
MAYOR BENNY KASHRIEL: Our residents are very, very happy because the parents want to see their children establishing their new family living right by them. But we have to wait to see the houses are being built.
REEVES: For Kashriel, building E1 is about achieving security for Israelis.
KASHRIEL: And if you don't build this place, the Palestinians will build this place. And we cannot - we cannot put a buffer between us and Jerusalem, because every buffer between us and Jerusalem can risk Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood, and can risk Ma'ale Adumim City too.
REEVES: At present, Israel is only moving ahead with preliminary planning and zoning preparations for E1. E1 may never actually be built. Yet even those preliminary moves are causing consternation in Washington and elsewhere. Successive U.S. administrations have urged Israel not to build E1, fearing it would wreck chances of a negotiated peace.
Palestinian government spokesperson Nour Odeh says it would be a serious blow to any prospect of a two-state accord.
NOUR ODEH: Constructing E1 would mean that this state would be mutilated. So it's a very strategic, very important, very dangerous decision.
SEIDEMANN: Now, this morning we were...
REEVES: As he stands on the hilltop with his party of Americans, Seidemann sees building E1 as a real possibility.
SEIDEMANN: This is serious. This is not a drill. If the government of Israel is allowed to fulfill its aspirations, E1 will be built.
REEVES: It doesn't take long for plans sketched on paper to turn into bricks and mortar, warns Seidemann.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.