Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Is there a peace partner in Israel?

Time and again Israel has proven, in word and deed, that it has no interest in peace with the Palestinians, writes Fadi Elhusseini

Al-Ahram Weekly

The peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis has ground to a halt, with each party blaming the other for this unfortunate failure. Israeli officials say that there is no Palestinian peace partner.

They accuse President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA) of flexing their diplomatic muscles in an attempt to isolate Israel internationally, avoiding negotiations and seeking recognition of the State of Palestine. To fully comprehend this state of affairs, it is crucial to make an assessment of the positions and announcements of each party.

After becoming president of the PA in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas renounced violence and called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that would eventually lead to a Palestinian independent state. His vision complies perfectly with the widely accepted and supported two-state solution based on international law and UN resolutions.

The path Abbas opted to take was not an easy one, especially as it came in the aftermath of the second Intifada, which had caused large numbers of casualties and damaged Palestinian infrastructure, society and lives. Even though Palestinian domestic conditions were not ready for such an approach, Abbas stated his position clearly, displeasing many of his allies as well as political rivals.

“We don’t want to use force,” Abbas said. “We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.”

Abbas dared to criticise the launching of homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip. His criticism was made neither to please Israel nor to satisfy the Americans, but rather came out of his deep belief in a peaceful resolution to this conflict.

As part of the Palestinian commitment towards peace, and despite widespread criticism, Abbas dismantled all Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank and united the Palestinian security forces (mainly the policing service and not the regular army) under his direct command. Hitherto, not even a single violation was recorded from those forces.

When Israeli settlers carried out attacks on Palestinian private properties and lives, Palestinian forces handed the perpetrators over to the Israeli authorities unharmed, leading to still more criticism of Abbas and his forces by his political rivals.

Arafat, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership announced their acceptance of the two-state solution and the recognition of the State of Israel. Abbas’s last announcement came on 24 November, calling on the international community to compel Israel to comply with its legal obligations regarding international resolutions, saying he is ready to set up a Palestinian state on only 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

That said, half the population that lives in historic Palestine would live in the State of Israel on 78 per cent of the land, and the other half of the population would live in the State of Palestine on only 22 per cent.

Peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis began in 1991, during which period Israeli settlement activities quadrupled on Palestinian land. Considering this fact, the Palestinians have requested a timeframe for the negotiations. They cannot sit by forever and watch Israel change the facts on the ground, consuming Palestinian land day after day.

Because of Israel’s refusal to accept the timeframe and halt settlement activities, weary Palestinians started to seek justice through international forums and agencies — mainly the UN.

Although Israel accepted the two-state solution and signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, none of the consecutive Israeli governments has, thus far, recognised the State of Palestine. Israel recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people but still refuses to recognise the State of Palestine.

Many Israeli officials have openly expressed their rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state and the current campaign ahead of general elections in Israel manifested this approach when the various parties running for elections (including the Likud and Jewish Home) announced their opposition to any future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has never missed an opportunity to assert Israel’s “inherent” right to the whole of the biblical land of Israel, undermining any prospects of the establishment of a Palestinian state, at least in the minds of his audience.

It may be accepted that an activist or a politician can have an opinion and express his views openly, but once he is part of a government that supposedly accepts and is involved in peace talks, any opinion would eventually reflect the position of the government in general.

On 14 December 2014, Naftali Bennett, the economic minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, was asked in an interview with CNN if he does “not want a Palestinian state ever.” His answer was very clear: “That’s correct. The notion of injecting a state, dividing Jerusalem, dividing up the country and splitting and slicing it, is not sustainable.”

Another example is reflected in the position of Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, who attacked on 25 November 2014 European parliaments that have voted in favour of the recognition of Palestine. He rejected outright the idea of handing the Palestinians their independence, saying: “Imagine the type of state [Palestinian] society would produce. Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy? Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.”

There are plenty of similar and even more flagrant examples, yet the position and statements of the incumbent Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, constitute the starkest ones. For instance, Lieberman blows apart the real essence of the peace process when he says that the process is based on the false assumption that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.

To add insult to injury, Lieberman did not shy from expressing his intention and plans to legalise the transfer of Arab-Israeli citizens (both Christians and Muslims) out of Israel with the aim of making Israel a purely Jewish state.

At the time when Abbas stood firm in the face of domestic criticisms, Israeli leadership failed to give peace a glimmer of hope. Israeli governments continue with plans to build new settlements and expand existing ones, despite US and international criticism. When Israel complied with international pressure and halted settlement activities for nine months, the Israeli side added a precondition to any peace settlement: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Intriguingly, the inclusion of this condition as a prerequisite to peace (first raised in 2010 in Washington) confused many observers. Yair Rosenberg, in an article titled “Did Netanyahu Invent the Demand that Israel be Recognised as a Jewish State?,” argues that the Israeli prime minister’s insistence that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state in any future accord, knowing in advance that no Palestinian leader could accept it, was intended to ensure the failure of negotiations.

On the whole, in both theory and political experience, the credibility of Netanyahu’s government has been eroding. The international community, by and large, has begun to realise this, and the overdue “moral” recognition of the “occupied” State of Palestine by governments and parliaments in Europe represents a clear gap in positions between Europe and the US.

With the latter’s “hands-off” approach, Netanyahu has been arguably able to crack the whip over the US administration that limited its role in the peace process to calls, ideas and proposals, failing until now to pressure Israel to freeze illegal settlement activities, criticised worldwide, and maintaining a “pro-Israel” tilt concerning the recognition of the State of Palestine and peace talks in general.

In fact, it is neither illogical nor bizarre to see any country that accepts the two-state solution recognise the State of Palestine, because this equation clearly suggests two states: the State of Israel and the State of Palestine (the latter of which is under occupation). On the rocks of this conflict, any recognition by the US or Israel of the State of Palestine would eventually mean a sincere adherence to this vision and to peace at large.

One may argue that the actions of the current Israeli government are only worsening the clouds of doubt hanging over peace in general. In fact, serious political will is lacking in Israel. The Israeli government has failed in the basic tests of commitment to peace and ending its occupation of the land of Palestine.

A corollary of the Netanyahu government’s attitude — seemingly with no change in sight — posits that it would be hard to staunch the flow of international interaction. This may even develop to more advanced positions by governments who may not only recognise the State of Palestine, but could also boycott the Israeli government, similar to the case of Pretoria when the world boycotted South Africa in total rejection of that country’s apartheid policies.

 

The writer is a political and media commentator at the Palestine Embassy in Ankara.

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