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Letting Israel Self-Destruct

By Daniel Seidemann
Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page A23

JERUSALEM -- Take a run down the four-mile stretch of road that leads from Jerusalem to Maleh Adumim, which, with its 31,000 residents, is the West Bank's largest settlement. As you hit the "T" junction at the old road to Jericho, look to your left, up the wooded hill. The few Caterpillar earthmovers cutting into the terrain seem benign in comparison to the frenetic construction taking place elsewhere in the West Bank. Looks deceive. These earthworks may portend the end of the state of Israel as we know it.

The excavations represent the commencement of work on the plan known as E-1, which will create a continuous built-up area connecting Maleh Adumim to Jerusalem. If the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City is the center of a clock face, and with Maleh Adumim due east of the city, E-1 seals Jerusalem on its 12 o'clock-3 o'clock quadrant.

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The ramifications of this could hardly be starker. E-1 will cut East Jerusalem off from its environs in the West Bank, virtually ruling out the possibility of East Jerusalem ever becoming the national seat of Palestine. Given the topography, it will dismember the West Bank into two cantons, with no natural connection between them. If implemented, the plan will create a critical mass of facts on the ground that will render nearly impossible the creation of a sustainable Palestinian state with any semblance of geographical integrity. And denying the possibility of a sustainable Palestinian state leaves only one default option: the one-state, bi-national solution that signifies the end of Israel as the home of the Jewish people.

There is nothing new in the E-1 plan; it has been on the planning boards for a decade. Until now, each successive U.S. administration has made it clear that E-1 is the quintessential, unilateral act that predisposes the outcome of final status. As such, implementation will not be tolerated. The fate of E-1 is to be determined around a negotiating table, not by bulldozers.

Until now. The work on E-1's infrastructures has commenced, and the plans for building the neighborhoods proceed apace, only months from execution. And Jerusalem is interpreting the messages it is receiving from Washington, their style and substance, as a green light to proceed.

E-1 may be the most dangerous example of recent trends, but it is hardly alone. Schemes abound -- some embryonic, some well advanced -- to "line" the security fence being erected around Jerusalem and in its environs with new settlements. On its own, the fence is an eminently reversible defensive measure. Dovetailed with settlement activity, it threatens to create the critical mass of political fact that further undermines the feasibility of the two-state solution.

For the past 13 years, I have gotten up in the morning, scanned the horizon here and asked: "What the hell can go wrong today?" What can happen that will undermine the stability of this delicate ecosystem in Jerusalem? What facts created today will deprive us, or our children, of the possibility of arriving at a final status agreement in the future? Dealing with the most sensitive, primordial materials of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians has often been lonely work. But I have never been alone.

Throughout, three consecutive U.S. administrations have engaged Israel in "reality-principle diplomacy," closely monitoring these "facts on the ground" and discreetly applying the brakes. Diplomatic pressure? On rare occasions, yes, but more often just a pointed inquiry to the Israeli authorities has sufficed to prevent the more detrimental actions -- and at little or no political cost in Israel or in the United States. Discreet, nonpartisan diplomacy has contributed significantly to the stability of Jerusalem and kept the prospect of a political resolution of the conflict alive -- however remote that prospect may seem at the moment.

But now all that appears to have changed. It is not only that the current administration has disengaged from micromanagement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The Bush administration is turning a blind eye to Israel's disingenuous representations regarding settlement expansion, indicating to Ariel Sharon's government that so long as it proceeds with plans to withdraw from Gaza, Israel is at liberty to consolidate its hegemony over the public domain in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The discreet braking mechanism has all but disappeared -- and, silently, trends have been unleashed that will soon make the two-state solution impossible.

All this takes place under the auspices of an administration that professes unprecedented support for Israel. If that is the intent, it is hardly the result. Nothing undermines the feasibility of President Bush's two-state vision more than President Bush's abandonment of reality-principle diplomacy. As such, the president is neither friend nor supporter of the Jewish state -- because friends don't let friends drive drunk. And that is precisely what this administration is doing.

The next administration -- be it a second-term Bush or a first-term Kerry -- will in all likelihood reengage. Too much is at stake. The dynamic that has been created does not signal the emergence of a new equilibrium in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and vital U.S. interests are jeopardized. Whether this reengagement takes place in time to save the two-state solution remains to be seen.

The writer is a lawyer in Jerusalem and legal counsel to Ir Amim, an Israeli organization concerned with the future of that city.


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