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The Facts on the Ground Deny any Practical Possibility for Establishing a Palestinian State

On Wednesday 25/4/2012, Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held, at its headquarters in Beirut, a panel discussion entitled “The West Bank: Between the State Project and Settlement Building.” The panel discussed the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state while Israel is still imposing facts on the ground in the West Bank (WB). These facts include settlement building, bypass roads, the Separation Wall and military checkpoints alongside the security control of large areas of the WB. The participants in the panel included a group of researchers and specialists in the Palestinian issue.

Throughout the two sessions of the panel discussion, the majority of participants considered the facts in the WB preclude the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state and that the Oslo peace process has reached a dead-end. At the same time, the participants stressed that the state of stagnation and crisis faced by the Palestinians nowadays weakens their ability to cope with this reality. They also emphasized that the resolution of this crisis is mainly through the agreement on a common ground and a unified national program that redefines the Palestinian national project while setting objectives and mechanisms for its implementation.

First Session

The first session began with Al-Zaytouna General-Manager, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, who welcomed the participants and delivered a presentation on the current situation of the WB, where maps showed the locations of settlements and their areas, the bypass roads linking them and the route of the Separation Wall, the Israeli-controlled Area C and the Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled Areas A and B. Dr. Saleh highlighted the track of the Separation Wall which isolates 12% of the WB and confiscates most water sources there, encircles the settlements and includes around 80-85% of the settler population to Israel, isolates Jerusalem and allows Israel to maintain control of around 87% of its eastern part. 

Dr. Saleh stated that while the number of settlers in the WB prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords amounted to 180 thousand, this number had increased to around 554 thousand by the end of 2011. He also revealed that the rate of population growth in the WB settlements has amounted to 8%, a rate higher than that in Israel where it stands at 1.7%, and perhaps one of the highest rates in the world.

He ended his presentation with questions open for research and discussion, most notably: what Palestinian state could be established in light of these facts? Was Oslo Agreement a trap? Is the PA a hopeless case or would it be more feasible to deal with it as a fait accompli and benefit from it? Can any Palestinian force, regardless its conditions, administer the issues of the Palestinians in light of the occupation’s control of all its inputs and outputs?

Hilmi Musa, the journalist and expert in the Israeli affairs, stressed that it is difficult to talk about the future of the WB without talking about Israel and its current situation. Musa mentioned that the current Israeli government is the most right-wing in the history of Israel which has become more Jewish than ever. Accordingly, he said, it feels it can further proceed with imposing facts on the ground motivated by a security, political and economic situation that makes it more at ease and encourages it to proceed with building settlements. 

For his part, Saqr Abu Fakhr, the researcher at the Institute of Palestine Studies, ruled out the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state or reaching a solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis due to the lack of any points of agreement between the two sides. He contended that the phase which started with the 1974 Ten Point Program has reached its end adding that Oslo’s outcome was limited to the establishment of the PA whose role was limited to administering employees’ issues and it has become more similar to a non-governmental organization raising funds from donors to cover employees’ salaries.

Muhammad Tayseer al-Khatib, the director of Isra’ Studies Center, believed that the facts on the ground and the lack of any signs heralding the possibility of a near change prove that negotiations have been a complete failure. He added that the resistance suffers a standstill in the WB and Gaza Strip (GS), stressing the need to put an end to the Palestinian confusion by agreeing on a unified Palestinian project, and determining whether the Palestinians support resistance or negotiations. Al-Khatib also confirmed that defining the Palestinian national project needs a real understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian conditions.

Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, the professor of educational sociology at the Lebanese University and an expert on the Islamic world’s affairs, stated that the maps displayed at the beginning of the session talk for themselves and answer the questions posed for discussion. He affirmed that the confusion caused by the Oslo Accords has come to an end as the Palestinians realize that the negotiations track did not bring them any closer to establishing the state. He asserted that negotiations have been transformed into an international institution meant to live on and wondered whether if there is any side daring to say “we do not want to proceed with negotiations any further.”

In the same context, Salah Salah, the member of the Palestinian National Council, said that there is a consensus on the fact that practically the establishment of Palestinian state is not possible and that the Oslo Accords have failed. However, he added that there may be disagreement on the alternative solutions. Salah expressed his support for the return to the pre-Oslo process, namely to the project of national liberation. He further wondered, “Why the Israelis would be allowed to claim all Palestine as theirs while such a claim by any Palestinian would sound unrealistic.”

Abu ‘Imad al-Refa‘i, the representative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, asserted that the facts on the ground and the Israeli conditions for the establishment of the Palestinian state show that the establishment of such a state is not likely. Thus, as the Palestinian negotiator moves a step towards the Israeli side, the latter shows further intransigence and clings to his policy of imposing facts on the ground. Israel’s insistence on proceeding with building settlements as a consensual issue among all political forces and successive governments rules out any possibility for changing this policy. Al-Refa‘i added that the Palestinians are left with one choice: putting a common strategy which maintains the national fundamentals. He reiterated his belief in the resistance option as the best strategy for facing Israel and its policies. 

For his part, ‘Ali Barakah, Hamas representative in Lebanon, supported Salah’s suggestion to return to the national liberation project. He said that it is urgent to determine the ways for liberating the land before thinking about the establishment of the state. He also said that the Palestinians who tried to establish a state before liberating the land have failed in doing so, whether in the 1988 Declaration of Independence or through the Oslo Accords or even the recent attempt to resort to the United Nations. Barakah seconded al-Refa‘i’s call to adopt the resistance project which needs a supporting environment expressing the possibility to resort to popular resistance as a first step that would provide a suitable environment for armed resistance.

Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel, the Palestinian researcher and writer, warned that the attempts at focusing on the post-Oslo stage do not reflect a sound strategy as the Oslo Accords were not the beginning of a stage but rather the result of the project which started in 1974. Accordingly, it is crucial to read and fathom the pre-Oslo stage while taking into account that Oslo is not only Fatah’s problem but the problem of all Palestinians. He stressed that the proper way for resolving the current Palestinian crisis lays in understanding what has happened and comprehending the Israeli policies.

Nafez Abu Hasna, the Palestinian journalist and TV presenter, asserted that focusing on settlement building following the stalled negotiations is much like reinventing the wheel. This is much because the progress of settlement building since the beginning of negotiations has already heralded the impossibility of establishing a Palestinian state. He further expressed his belief in the need to resolve the PA which is trying to spread the illusion of a state that only exists in the minds of those claiming that it exists. Abu Hasna blamed the PA for producing a dangerous phenomenon represented in talking about possible prosperity under the occupation.

In the same vein, Walid Muhammad ‘Ali, general manager of Baheth Center for Strategic and Palestinian Studies, stressed that the presence of the PA as an institution and the continuation of negotiations are now important for the forces seeking to consolidate the security-economic solution which is being imposed currently. The PA’s security coordination is fundamental to the success of this solution. In addition, sustaining PA institutions which pay salaries to the employees is vital for the success of the economic dimension. He added that perceiving the Western project as different from its Zionist counterpart and the resort to the West as a mediator to reach a solution are mere illusion.  

Mahmud Haidar, editor-in-chief of the Madarat Magazine, considered Oslo a trap for the Palestinians and the Israelis. However, he said, Oslo was not absolute evil for the Palestinians regardless its numerous disadvantages but it rather was an attempt to make a breakthrough in the Palestinian situation. He added that while the Palestinians are focusing on their internal flaws, it is also important to keep an eye on the situation of Israel which is deeply concerned because of the geo-strategic transformations in the region. To him, the Israeli impasse is as bad as the Palestinian plight. 

The first session was concluded with Rana Sa‘adah, the researcher at al-Zaytouna Centre, who stressed the need to look beyond the current map of the WB as there are many complications which might not be in Israel’s favor. These complications, she said, include the Arab uprisings and the increased isolation of Israel, the growing settlers’ violence and the demographic factor which is in favor of the Palestinian side. In this context, Sa‘adah pointed out to the plans and ideas discussed in Israel regarding the worst possible scenario including the return to the unilateral solution or recognizing the Palestinian state according to the Israeli conditions and criteria.

Second Session

The second session opened with a question posed by Wael Sa‘ad, the researcher at al-Zaytouna Centre, pertaining to the reasons which helped the Zionist project succeed in establishing its aspired state as compared to those reasons which undermined the establishment of the aspired Palestinian state. Sa‘ad focused on the need to work on improving the Palestinian individual as a basis for the advancement of the Palestinian situation. Wondering “whether we are facing a national project dilemma or a crisis in leading the national project,” he concluded that the latter is the problem which plagues the Palestinian arena.

While it is true that Israel is worried about external dangers, Saqr Abu Fakhr said, its existential concerns come from within Palestine where the borders are yet to be defined. He also added that the conflict in Palestine is, in contrast to other conflicts, not between a people and an occupying power but between two peoples and two historical narratives; it is a prolonged conflict whose end unpredictable. Abu Fakhr asserted the role of the resistance which has succeeded, albeit to a certain extent, in curbing the Israeli policies.

Regarding what should be done in the upcoming stage, Dr. Saleh attested that we should discuss the ways to make Israel suffer and pay rather than feel comfortable with its occupation of the Palestinian land. He also emphasized the need to break any dependence of the Palestinian decision making process on the Israeli conditions, where Israel lays its hands on the inputs and outputs of the institution running the Palestinian situation, namely the PA leadership which simultaneously presides over the PLO. Saleh further called for putting the Palestinian house in order through the PLO, away from the Israeli requirements and mechanisms which influence the Palestinian decision, as a step towards the improvement of the Palestinian situation.

For his part, Nafez Abu Hasna said that the most serious question facing the Palestinian national liberation movement is the lack of alternatives; thus, the problem is either in the supporting environment or in the movement itself. He opined that any talk about the future of the Palestinian liberation movement remains meaningless without an Arab supporting environment. This, accordingly, necessitates returning the Palestinian issue to the centre of concerns of all Arabs through resistance and clashing with the occupation, which would put Palestine at the forefront of all events.

Rana Sa‘adah, however, expressed an opposing view stressing that the process of change witnessed in the Arab region would keep every country occupied with its internal issues. Hence, the revitalization of resistance and clashing with the Israeli enemy would not make the Palestinian issue a priority in those countries before their domestic issues are settled and resolved.

In the same vein, Walid Muhammad ‘Ali called for restoring the Islamic and Arab dimension of the Palestinian issue where facing the international Zionist-Western project is not likely through an isolated project. He stressed the need for focusing research on the intellectual side instead of engaging in the political side which remains the ultimate role of political parties and forces.

‘Ali Barakah seconded the call for restoring the Arab and Islamic depth of the Palestinian issue. He also stressed the need to build on the Arab uprisings and turn the change into an opportunity for supporting the Palestinians rather than leaving them alone.

Salah Salah expressed his support for organizing national action within a clear and specific context yet without recognizing Israel or accepting the status quo. This context must be that of liberation and struggle, which witnessed a setback as a result of the Oslo Accords. Salah stressed the need to overcome the obstacles of this option and to find a way to achieve the reconciliation.

Yassir Qaddoura, the Palestinian writer and activist, said that the resistance and peace process are never the same as the first is the rule and the latter is only an exception. It is urgent to stick to the rule, he averred, even if the mechanism and timing might need some discussion. Qaddoura called for the pursuit of a moderate speech instead of throwing out blame and accusations on the Palestinian side which still believes in the feasibility of negotiations, in order to avoid its alienation and isolation. 

Concerning dissolving the PA, Hilmi Musa said that such an issue does not mean returning to a state of direct Israeli occupation. Israel has other alternatives which it can promote such as allowing the interference of a third party in the Palestinian daily issues (Egypt in GS and Jordan in the WB). He added that our ability to foresee the possible developments remains weak, if we did not consider these complications and understand the current situation.

In the context of discussing solutions, Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel said that we are first required to know what has happened and where we are standing. He called for establishing the criteria necessary to evaluate whether the Zionist project is in crisis or not.

At the end of the session, Dr. Saleh said that the depth of crises differ between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and consequently the extent to which each side is affected by its problems. He concluded that the Palestinian national project needs to be redefined while the changes generated by the Arab uprisings should be well invested to serve the Palestinian issue.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut 7/5/2012