By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that those Palestinians who were very enthusiastic for the peace process on the basis of the two-state solution have come to realize, nearly a quarter of a century after the Oslo Accords, that the prospects for its success have almost ceased to exist. Many are feeling that the peace process, in the form that had proceeded, was nothing more than a “trap” that transformed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) supposed revolutionary function into a nexus of interests now managing an ad-hoc entity called the “Palestinian Authority” (PA), in the hope of “one day” fulfilling the dream of Palestinian statehood.
At the same time, however, Israel continued to consolidate its hold over the West Bank (WB), in a relentless drive to Judaize the land and its demographics, alter the facts on the ground, and practically head off all the foundations needed for viable Palestinian statehood.
The time has come for all stakeholders in the Palestinian national project—especially those who endorse the peace process—to carry out a real reassessment of the catastrophic situation of the Palestinian issue. It’s time to, at least, end their consent to a process that first and foremost treats them as “fools,” or uses them as cover for the occupation and the expropriation of what is left of Palestine.
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Running after the “carrot” of “Palestinian statehood” has been going on for several decades. Palestinians have a right to have their own sovereign independent state on their land, but the problem is that those parties that have been promising this to them have simultaneously called on them to be “calm, patient, and peaceful” at a time when the touted statehood was little more than a “bait” or a “palliative,” while these same forces engaged in deception. They wanted to buy time and divert the attention and resources of the Palestinians away from resistance, growth, and development; to prevent uprisings and Intifadahs; appropriate Palestinian rights; and establish facts on the ground that serve the Zionist–Israeli agenda.
Historically, independence for the Levant and Arabia, including Palestine, promised by the British to Sherif Hussein bin ‘Ali during the First World War, was a “bait” to secure Arab leaders to ally themselves with the British against the Ottoman Turks, while providing cover for the occupation of Palestine and Syria as easy spoils.
The Mandate document, which gave the British international cover to colonize Palestine, officially meant in accordance with the charter of the League of Nations that the Palestinian people had to be prepared and assisted to obtain their independence and govern themselves. In practice, however, it was a “trap” to lay the ground in Palestine for the establishment of a Zionist Jewish state.
The independent Palestinian state promised by the British would come within ten years after the Palestinian Great Revolt (In MacDonald’s White Paper in May 1939) was discarded when circumstances changed in 1945.
The Palestinian state endorsed by UN resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine on 29/11/1947, 70 years ago, is another tragedy. The resolution was grossly unjust, unfairly giving the Jews a state on 54% of the surface area of Palestine, ignoring the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination enshrined in the UN charter, giving them a state on only 45% of historical Palestine. And despite the gross injustice, even this state was destined never to emerge, as subsequent events proved!!
Indeed, without going into much detail, the context of the war of 1948, the international support for the Zionist project, and the way the Arab countries dealt with the Palestinian leadership and people at the time, led to the expulsion of around 60% of the people of Palestine and the expansion of the Jews’ state into 77% of Palestine; while Jordan seized and annexed WB, and Egypt assumed control of the Gaza Strip (GS). The Palestinian leadership was prevented from exercising its duties on the ground, despite its declaration of independence and its convening of a National Council representing the Palestinian people in early October 1948, forming an all-Palestinian government. The leader of Palestine Haj Amin Husseini and the Palestinian government were forced to leave GS to Cairo, where the leadership found itself powerless and relegated to an apartment in the Egyptian capital.
The main concern for the Palestinians has since become the liberation of Palestine. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was accordingly created in 1964. After the Israelis seized the rest of Palestine in the war of 1967, the Palestinian leadership proposed in a press conference, in the words of a Fatah leader Salah Khalaf (aka Abu Iyad) on 10/10/1968, the idea of one democratic state. This meant that the leadership of the national movement implicitly accepted Jewish “settler-colonists” who came during the British occupation and remained throughout the establishment of Israel as part of the “people of Palestine,” or as one of the communities of the proposed “Palestinian state.” However, the one-state solution was and continues to be rejected by Israel, because it effectively abolishes the Zionist project and the idea of a “Jewish State.”
After the war of October 1973, in light of a climate in the Arab countries more favorable to a peaceful settlement and more focused on their local affairs, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in June 1974 adopted the ten-point program which for the first time opened the door to Palestinian political engagements as one of the instruments of “liberation,” and also opened the door to the possibility of compartmentalizing the liberation of Palestine. As a result, this paved the way for the Palestinian leadership to move towards the two-state solution in line with the orientations of the Arab regimes. Within months, the Palestinian leadership won the recognition of the Arab countries of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and membership of the UN as an observer.
With the escalation of pressure on the PLO and resistance groups over many years, their loss of influence and armed bases in the countries surrounding Israel, and the attempts to weaken and marginalize them, the PLO found an invaluable political opportunity in the Intifadah starting on 9/12/1987, which brought the Palestinian issue back to the forefront, imposing it on the Arab and international agenda once again.
The PLO wanted to be a US and Israeli approved party to a peace dialogue. Based on Arab and Soviet/Russian advice, a new Palestinian national program was adopted by the 19th PNC, on 12–15/11/1988, with the PLO for the first time recognizing all UN resolutions, including the resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine and the UN Security Council resolution 242, which deals with the Palestinian issue as a refugee issue. Regardless of the celebrations that surrounded this concession, with the declaration of “Palestinian independence,” the essence of the program was a Palestinian move towards US-Israeli terms.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership’s acceptance of a state with reduced land mass (around 23% of historic Palestine) opened the door to negotiations that led to self-rule with limited sovereignty on a limited part of WB and GS through the Oslo Accords of 1993. Going even by the best estimates regarding these Accords and their arrangements, the PA took over security and administrative powers in 2000 over only 18% of WB and GS (4.2% of historic Palestine), and administrative control over only 22% of the WB and GS (5.1% of historic Palestine).
The Oslo Accords were concluded in a fragmented and dismal Arab climate in the wake of the Second Gulf War, when the US led an Arab-international alliance to expel Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait (1990–1991), amid a dramatic decline in Arab support for the PLO, and amid an international climate that had seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Socialist Camp in Eastern Europe, ending the bipolar world order and ushering in a US-dominated unipolar world order.
The Oslo Accords threw a “fishing rod” to the Palestinian leadership, which once again took the “bait” of Palestinian statehood. Without going into the details of the Accords, final status issues which if resolved could lead to Palestinian statehood, were postponed to be decided in future negotiations, which were expected to conclude within five years of the Accords. Because the Palestinian side agreed to end resistance and “renounce terrorism,” and to only resort to peaceful methods, and because it relied on bilateral negotiations with Israel without an international reference frame or mechanism binding for the Israelis, realizing the dream of Palestinian statehood became in essence dependent upon Israeli “good will,” but in reality, on an infinite list of Israeli conditions meant to ascertain Palestinian “good conduct.”
Naturally, the “Israeli enemy” is not a “charity.” For this reason, at the time when it continued to offer the “carrot” of Palestinian statehood to keep the Palestinian chasing after it, it imposed its own equation by “managing’ the peace process without any timetable and fueling a mechanism of endless negotiations, while the Palestinian side had no real means to put any counter-pressure. Subsequently, no deadlines or commitments were sacred and 24 years, rather than five, have passed without any serious solution emerging in the horizon. While the Israeli side has been enjoying a “five-star” occupation, the Palestinian side (i.e., the PLO, PA, and Fatah leadership) was compelled to fulfill its obligations for the sake of the “dream of statehood”:
1. The Palestinian had to undertake all “dirty” exhausting work related to administrating the Palestinian population (municipality, police, taxation, and services, etc.).
2. The Palestinian side handled the repression of resistance forces, which it considers to be an obstacle to Palestinian statehood, and coordinated with Israel in security matters.
3. The Palestinian side provided the cover needed by Israel, who could claim that a peace process is proceeding and the Palestinian issue is on its way to being resolved.
Israel, on the other hand, proceeded to effectively end the dream of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution by:
1. Prosecuting an intensive Judaization, settlement building, and annexation program in WB, with the number of Jewish settlers increasing from around 280 thousand in 1993 to around 800 thousand in 2017.
2. Establishing the Separation Wall that consumes around 11% of WB landmass, isolates Jerusalem, and appropriates major water resources.
3. Dismembering the WB with settlements and bypass roads, while keeping administrative and security control over 60% of the WB, turning the remaining areas of the WB into “cantons” and isolated areas for the Palestinians, at a time when the blockade of GS remains in place.
4. Keeping a large and permanent gap in the negotiations where the maximum offered by the Israelis does not amount to the minimum acceptable to the PLO-led Palestinian side. Indeed, the Israeli conditions still speak of Palestinian recognition of the “Jewishness” of the State of Israel, the rejection of the return of Palestinian refugees, the refusal to withdraw from East Jerusalem, and of a Palestinian entity with no sovereignty or armed forces, etc.
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What matters to us here is that the two-state solution is no longer valid, judging from the current condition of the peace process, which is now little more than a cover for the Judaization of the remainder of Palestine and the deconstruction of the dream of Palestinian statehood as envisaged by the proponents of this path. In light also of the conditions established by the Israelis on the ground, the growing extremism in the Israeli society and polity, and the fact that the Unites States is concerned primarily with forcing the Palestinians to kowtow to Israeli dictates and terms.
The Palestinian side and its supporters in the Arab and international landscape must stop “fooling themselves,” and stop running after their “executioner” to appease him or offer “solutions” to him, as though the victim is the problem rather than the occupation. Therefore, the PLO and the PA leadership must:
1. Tell the truth to its people and conduct a thorough review of the entire peace process.
2. Lift the cover from the peace process and expose the ugliness of the occupation.
3. Putting the internal Palestinian house in order, especially with regard to the PLO, which must be opened to all sides in order to regroup the Palestinian forces at home and in the diaspora and enlist them in the national project, up to the resumption of the project of resistance and liberation.
4. Ceasing the persecution of Palestinian resistance, instead seeking an alliance with them as a source of strength that can serve the national project and put pressure against the occupation, and considering the achievements of the resistance in GS as a boon for national action rather than seeking to disarm it.
5. Ending the role of the PA as a “functional authority” that serves the purposes of the occupation, much more than serving its own people. The PA must either serve the national project or the occupation must alone tackle the Palestinian resistance as a result of its actions.
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Finally, I am not optimistic that the current leadership of the PLO and the PA would undertake such measures, given the nature of their mindset and calculations. But sooner or later, whether it liked it or not, it will have to deal with this issue or the Palestinian people will force it to.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 7/12/2017