Palestinian officials renewed demands on Wednesday for a two-state settlement based on 1967 borders, as they marked the 46th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat visited three villages in the West Bank whose populations fled advancing Israeli troops in the Six Day War.
“The fate of the 5,000 Palestinians who were evicted from these villages” in June 1967 still befalls Palestinians in the West Bank today, he told reporters in the village of Yalu.
The demolition of Yalu, Imwas and Beit Nuba nearly half a century ago was being repeated “in Jericho, Nablus and everywhere else” in the West Bank, he lamented, citing the destruction of houses by the Israeli army, which expels hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in areas under its control each year.
“Why did the Israelis evict those people in 1967? Simply because they wanted to declare the borders,” Erakat said.
He reiterated Palestinian demands for a halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, and a return to the pre-war lines as a basis for any peace talks.
Israel, for its part, demands talks “without preconditions” and refuses publicly to freeze settlement building.
Peace negotiations stalled in September 2010 over the settlements issue.
Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi slammed Israel’s continued settlement building in a statement marking the anniversary.
“Forty-six years later, the Israeli occupation of 22 percent of historical Palestine still constitutes a humanitarian and political disaster that dominates and controls the lives of the Palestinian people in Palestine and in exile,” she said.
“Our struggle will continue until we… witness the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Ashrawi said, stressing that Israeli settlement construction was illegal under international law.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in its own report marking the anniversary, slammed Israel’s “de facto annexation of Area C (of the West Bank) and creation of circumstances that will help perpetuate this situation and influence the final status of the area”.
Area C, which covers more than 60 percent of the territory, is under full Israeli civil and security control.
“In theory, Israel retains complete authority only in Area C,” B’Tselem said. “In practice, Israel’s control of Area C adversely affects all Palestinian West Bank residents,” more than 2.5 million people.
The report added that “contrary to international law,” Israel was actively encouraging its citizens to settle in the West Bank.
Deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin reiterated the Israeli government’s refusal to return to the pre-June 1967 lines.
“The people of Israel are not ready to commit suicide and make the same mistake they made when they pulled out of the Gaza Strip (in 2005),” he said, referring to the subsequent takeover of the territory by Islamist movement Hamas and the rockets which have since been fired at southern Israel.
Less than one in 10 Israelis would back the idea of a Palestinian state within the lines that existed before the outbreak of the Six Day War, a poll found.
Some 67 percent of respondents to the survey published by the Jerusalem Post newspaper said they were in favour of a two-state solution, while 33 percent said they were against.
However just 8 percent of respondents said they were ready to agree to the Palestinian demand for a state on 1967 borders.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is to visit the region next week for a fifth time since February, has been trying to draw the parties back into direct negotiations.
He warned on Monday that Israel could be facing its last chance to secure a lasting peace.