Jeri­cho fears its vi­sion for peace could soon be lost

In West Bank city where Is­raelis once flocked, Ne­tanyahu’s an­nex­a­tion plan stirs sad­ness and anger

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY RUTH EGLASH

jeri­cho, west bank — Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat built a glitzy casino 22 years ago in this dusty town on the edge of the desert. He named it Oa­sis, and Is­raelis flocked to take a gam­ble on peace.

The casino’s golden sign still shim­mers in the hot sun, but the build­ing sits empty, shut­tered since the out­break of the sec­ond in­tifada, the Pales­tinian up­ris­ing of the early 2000s. Weeds now wind through the paving stones at the once grand en­trance.

The vi­sion for peace cap­tured here, though briefly, could soon be en­tirely out of reach. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has promised to uni­lat­er­ally an­nex the area sur­round­ing Jeri­cho, as well as other parts of the oc­cu­pied West Bank, as soon as this week, and Pales­tini­ans are warn­ing of a re­turn to re­sis­tance, even vi­o­lence.

“What we are fac­ing here is the low­est point of Pales­tini­anIs­raeli re­la­tions in the past few decades,” said Saeb Erekat, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Pales­tine

Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. He was born in Jeri­cho, lo­cated in the Jor­dan Val­ley, and can trace his fam­ily’s his­tory in the bib­li­cal town back many gen­er­a­tions.

“If this hap­pens, then I am sure there will be some Pales­tini­ans who will de­mand one state with equal rights [for Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans], but this is some­thing Is­raelis will never ac­cept. So we will be left with one state with two po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, or apartheid,” he said.

It is still un­clear what Ne­tanyahu will do this week. He has set July 1 as the date for po­ten­tial ac­tion on an­nex­a­tion and has in­di­cated he will be­gin a process of ap­ply­ing Is­raeli sovereignt­y to all Jewish set­tle­ments, which he notes are lo­cated in part of the bib­li­cal home­land of the Jews and now home to sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand Is­raelis. He is also propos­ing the an­nex­a­tion of strate­gic ter­ri­tory in the West Bank, in­clud­ing the Jor­dan Val­ley.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s Mid­dle East plan per­mits Is­rael to an­nex up to 30 per­cent of the West Bank, which was cap­tured by Is­rael from Jor­dan in the 1967 Arab-is­raeli war, and leaves the rest for a pos­si­ble Pales­tinian state. Trump’s plan con­di­tions an­nex­a­tion on restart­ing the nowde­funct peace process.

Last week, the pres­i­dent met with se­nior ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. Am­bas­sador to Is­rael David Fried­man, to dis­cuss the po­ten­tial an­nex­a­tion but has yet to give Ne­tanyahu a green light to pro­ceed.

Some po­lit­i­cal ob­servers pre­dict full an­nex­a­tion will come im­me­di­ately, as Ne­tanyahu tries to take ad­van­tage of a sup­port­ive ad­min­is­tra­tion in Washington. Oth­ers spec­u­late he will carry out an­nex­a­tion in stages, try­ing to man­age wide­spread crit­i­cism in Is­rael and around the world.

In Jeri­cho, the most pop­u­lous town in the mainly agri­cul­tural Jor­dan Val­ley, there is con­cern among the 22,000 res­i­dents that ex­panded ar­eas of Is­raeli con­trol will make daily life un­bear­able.

“The Is­raelis are ar­ro­gant. They want to take ev­ery­thing from us and then they want us to make peace,” said Mo­ham­mad Al­wan, 49, a toyshop owner in the mod­est town cen­ter.

A pop­u­lar va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion for Pales­tini­ans, as well as gate­way to the wider world via the nearby bor­der cross­ing to

Jor­dan, Jeri­cho was empty of visi­tors last week. A line of yel­low Pales­tinian taxis stood idle in the cen­tral square, wait­ing for a fare or two.

“It will af­fect us deeply, es­pe­cially eco­nom­i­cally,” lamented Mah­moud In­joum, 30, one of the driv­ers. “As a driver, if I want to take peo­ple to Ra­mal­lah, I will have to take back roads to avoid new check­points, and that will con­sume much more gas. If I want to go to He­bron, it will mean tak­ing a much longer and te­dious way around Jerusalem.”

A map in­cluded in Trump’s Mid­dle East plan sug­gests that

Is­rael will take con­trol of the en­tire val­ley that runs along the bor­der with Jor­dan south­ward to the Dead Sea. If so, Is­raeli ter­ri­tory would en­cir­cle ar­eas des­ig­nated for the Pales­tini­ans and leave places like Jeri­cho iso­lated.

“Ne­tanyahu is pulling Is­rael into its big­gest, hard­est, blood­i­est am­bush ever,” said Bas­sam Abu Sharif, a for­mer key ad­viser to Arafat and also a res­i­dent of Jeri­cho. “I don’t want to boast, but Pales­tini­ans will re­sist this.”

The one­time mil­i­tant known for a string of air­plane hi­jack­ings in the 1970s, who was badly wounded by a let­ter bomb the Pales­tini­ans at­trib­uted to the Is­raelis, said in an in­ter­view that “se­cu­rity for Is­rael can­not be achieved by mil­i­tary power.”

“Only peace can give this to Is­rael and we, the Pales­tini­ans, hold the key to peace,” said Abu Sharif, whose 1988 pa­per on find­ing a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the con­flict is widely be­lieved to have paved the way for Pales­tinian par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Oslo ac­cords with Is­rael.

Eu­gene Kon­torovich, di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional law at the Ko­helet Pol­icy Fo­rum, a Jerusalem­based think tank that has been ad­vis­ing Ne­tanyahu, said the Is­raeli plan was tech­ni­cal, “chang­ing the le­gal sys­tem” for Is­raelis but “not chang­ing any­thing for Pales­tini­ans.”

“An­nex­a­tion is a loaded term,” he said. “Un­der in­ter­na­tional law, it means tak­ing ter­ri­tory by force from an­other coun­try and mak­ing it your own. This is not the case here.”

Oded Re­vivi, an of­fi­cial on the Ye­sha Coun­cil, an um­brella group for Is­raeli set­tlers, said the move would have lit­tle im­pact on daily Pales­tinian life. “The plan is to ap­ply Is­raeli law to Is­raeli com­mu­ni­ties, not an­nex­a­tion or sovereignt­y.”

But Erekat, a long­time peace ne­go­tia­tor whose nephew was shot dead last week by Is­raeli forces after his car rammed into a mil­i­tary check­point, said an­nex­a­tion would spell the end of his vi­sion for peace and destroy the Pales­tinian na­tional project he has worked on for the past three decades.

He pointed out that the Trump plan al­lows Is­rael to main­tain over­all se­cu­rity con­trol of the en­tire West Bank, which he said, in re­al­ity, “means 100 per­cent an­nex­a­tion.”

“It means that I, as a Pales­tinian, will not be able to do any­thing with­out their per­mis­sion,” Erekat said. “It means they will con­trol my move­ments, my plan­ning, my bor­ders and my ac­cess to ev­ery­thing. . . . They are try­ing to suf­fo­cate me, bury me, and they think I will stand for it?”

Erekat added that “in ab­sence of a po­lit­i­cal hori­zon, there will be blood­shed, and I have seen far too much blood this past week. It’s enough.”

Sharon Pul­wer For THE Washington POST

The Pales­tinian city of Jeri­cho, which un­der the an­nex­a­tion pro­posal could be­come sur­rounded and cut off by Is­raeli ter­ri­tory.

PHO­TOS BY SHARON PUL­WER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Jeri­cho’s Oa­sis casino, which was built in 1998 by Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat but has sat empty since the Pales­tinian up­ris­ing of the early 2000s. Bas­sam Abu Sharif, a for­mer key ad­viser to Arafat and a res­i­dent of Jeri­cho, says that “se­cu­rity for Is­rael can­not be achieved by mil­i­tary power.” Taxi driver Mah­moud In­joum wor­ries about the eco­nomic ef­fects of the an­nex­a­tion plan.

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