Sham Mideast Peace Talks: What It Really Means When They Say 'Contiguous'

This week the Israeli-Palestinian talks moved from Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai to Jerusalem, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell accompanying and participating.

Mitchell, asked in a press conference about the U.S. position on Israel’s calling on the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, replied:

We have said many times that our vision is for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish, democratic state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable, independent, sovereign, and contiguous state of Palestine. ... But of course, this is one of many sensitive issues that the parties will need to resolve themselves.

Apart from Mitchell’s refusal to take a stand on the issue -- after having stated quite unequivocally that Israel should cave to the Palestinians’ demand to extend Israel’s settlement moratorium after September 26 -- what stands out in the quote’s otherwise familiar verbiage is the word "contiguous."

Having started to crop up under the Bush administration, “contiguous” is taken to mean that the Palestinian state would have to be devoid of any Israeli civilian or military presence in its West Bank part. Also, the Palestinian state must be connected to its Gaza part with some sort of corridor that would crisscross Israel.

Note, then, that Mitchell’s platitude about the parties resolving the issues themselves does not jibe with the force of the word "contiguous." If he had said: “We believe Israel must maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank mountain ridge, but this is an issue for the parties to work out themselves,” the first rather than the latter part of the statement -- in this, unfortunately, wholly hypothetical case -- would have resonated much more loudly for the Palestinian side.

Mitchell, in other words, took a position inimical to Israel and disguised it in false neutrality.

Regarding the West Bank, “contiguous” implies the forced removal of tens of thousands of Israelis living there (for the Israeli public’s opposition to this, see here and here). It also implies the absence of any Israeli military or intelligence capabilities in the territory, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly emphasizes Israel’s crucial West Bank-related security concerns.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has released a report on Hamas’s summer camps for children. The report notes that this summer in Gaza, about 100,000 children and adolescents -- the same total as last year -- attended the camps:

[Hamas views the camps as] an important means for indoctrinating them with its radical Islamist ideology of jihad. ... In addition to indoctrination, Hamas operatives provided paramilitary training. Banners were hung on the walls with slogans extolling jihad and death for the sake of Allah. ... Other prominent motifs this year [included] manifestations of hatred for Israel and the Jews.