Guillaume Decamme, AFP
Last updated: 5 December, 2012

Palestinians say settler plan dashes state’s chances

Nabil gestures with his cigarette to make his point as he talks about Israeli plans for settlement construction between his east Jerusalem neighbourhood and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim.

“This project will kill any hope of a Palestinian state,” he says of the controversial E1 settlement plan, unfrozen after years by Israel this week after the Palestinians were granted upgraded UN status.

Nabil, a Palestinian, lives in Al-Eizariya, an unlovely place perched on a hilltop on Jerusalem’s eastern fringes.

On its main street, rubbish burns in a skip, metal workshops jostle for space with low-budget furniture showrooms, and stray dogs eye passers-by.

Named for Lazarus, who according to Christian tradition was raised from the dead by Jesus near here, the suburb ends at an Israeli roadblock further down the hill, which guards the entrance to Maaleh Adumim, home to 36,100 Israelis.

The settlement provides a stark contrast to Al-Eizariya, featuring a shopping centre, restaurants and neat little houses that give it the air of a provincial town.

But between the settlement and nearby Jerusalem, a short drive along a purpose-built highway and where many of its residents work, is a largely barren patch of desert, where the contentious E1 project is slated to rise.

The plan has been in the works since the early 1990s, but was never implemented because of pressure from the international community, led by the United States.

It is seen as particularly problematic as its implementation would effectively cut the West Bank in half and make the creation of a viable Palestinian state almost impossible.

The project would put thousands of Israeli homes between the Palestinian towns and villages of the southern West Bank and the Palestinian neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six Day war, and annexed shortly afterward, in a move never recognised by the rest of the world.

Nabil, who makes a living selling electrical parts, says the project would destroy “any hope of a Palestinian state”.

It would leave Al-Eizariya “cut off from the world,” he says.

Across the road, Alaa sells pirated video games and laptop computer covers.

In his shop window he displays a poster proclaiming “One People. Solidarity with Gaza,” which he put up during last month’s eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza militants.

“For now, we have Gaza and the West Bank. But with this project, we shall have three entities: Gaza, the southern West Bank and the northern West Bank,” he says.

For now the E1 — or East 1 — zone is still largely arid desert hills. The wind blows through some conifers, while on the ridge above lies a Bedouin camp, inaccessible by vehicle.

To urbanise E1 would be “fatal” to the viability of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, says Daniel Seidemann, director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO that monitors Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem.

“The West Bank will be divided into two and the two-state solution will be impossible.”

Apparently unmoved by an international outcry over his decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not reconsider reviving the plan.

And the move, which was announced ahead of a snap general election to be held on January 22, has the support of the Maaleh Adumim settlers.

“It is important to build,” local resident Yair says in the settlement’s commercial centre. “Here we are in Israel. This land does not belong to Arabs.”

“We need to be connected to Jerusalem,” adds Esti, who works in a jewellery store in Maaleh Adumim, dismissing protests from France and other governments.

“In any case, the French have never loved us.”