In the Middle East, prospects for a two state solution are growing ever more distant. Some say that if Israel proceeds with its plans for settlement construction in the E1 corridor of the West Bank, hopes for a meaningful settlement will be dashed. But this is just the latest in a long line of controversial actions by the Israeli government. An important question needs to be asked: is the Likud party really interested in peace?
First, let us be clear: without a just settlement, there will be no peace. And there is in fact an international consensus, dating back to UN resolution 242, on what a just settlement should look like. In last November's UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, 138 out of 193 states voted to recognise a Palestinian non-member state "on the basis of the pre-1967 borders" (including East Jerusalem). The Non Aligned Movement, which represents the governments of 120 countries, has also called for the creation of a Palestinian state along the same lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
To this day, no government in the world recognizes Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem as legitimate. From the UN to the EU, the international community is almost unanimous in its verdict - a just settlement would see the creation of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem divided between the two states or shared with Israel.
But such a state could never exist with Likud in power. Prime minister Netanyahu's position is that "an undivided Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital." East Jerusalem, quite simply, is not up for negotiation. Even the late Yitzhak Rabin, who probably came closer than any other Israeli prime minister to securing a permanent peace deal, once remarked that, "if ... peace is the price of giving up on a united Jerusalem ... let's do without peace."
As for the proposals for a return to the pre-1967 borders, Netanyahu has made clear time and time again that under no circumstances would he accept a state along those borders. The Israeli government refuses to even base talks on the pre-1967 lines - a precondition which goes against the position of every other government in the world. The message this sends to the Palestinian people is clear: no amount of negotiation or diplomacy will completely end the occupation. This is not the position of a government interested in peace, which begs the question: does Likud even want a two state solution?
Despite Netanyahu's professed support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, his party is far from united on the matter. Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely claims that Netanyahu's 2009 speech in which he declared his support for a two-state solution was "a tactical speech for the rest of the world." She claims that the Likud Party is in fact "opposed to a Palestinian state."
On paper, she's right. The Likud party charter clearly states that "the Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state." In late 2012, senior Likud members re-iterated their opposition to Palestinian statehood, calling for the omission of the two state declaration from the party platform. Some have even called for the annexation of the West Bank, a move which would preclude any just or reasonable solution to the conflict, thus ending all hopes for peace.
As for the settlements, which are illegal under international law, the Israeli government's support for expansion has been unwavering. The Peace Now Group recently accused Netanyahu of allowing a record level of settlement growth in the last two years. Nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied territories, with over half in the West Bank. Area C- the majority of which is closed to Palestinians- comprises 60% of the West Bank and is home to over 350,000 settlers dotted throughout the area. With this in mind, what hope is there for a Palestinian state in the same region? This would require either a mass evacuation of settlers, or the annexation of large parts of the West Bank.
The first option is surely unthinkable. Firstly, it would mean political suicide, and the loss of the important settler vote. But more importantly, it would mean the government of Israel, the Jewish state, forcing hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, for the benefit of the Arabs. This is frankly unimaginable. Part of the reason Israel was created was to stop the uprooting and mistreatment of Jews. The day an Israeli government feels this is the right thing to do is the day it abandons the Greater Israel project, making the brave choice of security over expansion. But with Mr. Netanyahu promising Israelis that he will not evacuate any settlements in his next term, the chances of this happening seem smaller than ever. So too do the chances of peace. A just solution does exist, but the Likud party, with its commitment to settlements, and it's refusal to negotiate over East Jerusalem and the pre-1967 borders, is frankly incapablev- and unwillingv- to deliver the peaceful settlement that both the Israeli and the Palestinian people want.