By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
There are ten points worth highlighting from the Palestine Strategic Report 2016–2017 and its 2018–2019 projections.
A summary of the comprehensive scientific 400-page report was published by the al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations on its website. This is the tenth volume of the report, in which 14 experts and specialists participated, containing information, analyses, comparison, and foresight.
First: The peace process, in its current form, and in keeping with the Oslo Accords, will not lead to a “two-state solution,” and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has no prospects of developing into an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over the West Bank (WB) and the Gaza Strip (GS).
The peace process on the basis of the Oslo Accords has been a kind of Israeli-American deception, through which the Palestinian side has been dragged into a “trap”; Israel has been “managing” the process without ever seeking to reach any serious solution. It has taken the “process” as a cover to implement a comprehensive, systematic program to Judaize Jerusalem and the rest of WB, and to create realities on the ground (settlements, the Separation Wall, bypass roads…) to make it impossible to establish a real Palestinian state. It has also benefited from the peace process cover to create an influential Palestinian party, which is committed at the international level, and who is ready to play a functional role in WB and GS, undertaking to suppress resistance and opposition forces with its own hands. Practically, this party contributes (whether it likes it or not) in reshaping the Israeli occupation into “clean” or “five-star” colonization.
In this climate, and following Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, the peace process is on the brink of collapse. There are no prospects for changing the current status of the PA as a “tool” which serves the purposes of the Occupation more than it serves the goals of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for freedom and independence. It is therefore imperative that the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and PA conduct a comprehensive review which is not limited to Fatah alone, and in which all Palestinians should take part, so as to advance the national project once again.
Second: The Palestinian reconciliation is not expected to be achieved if it continues to be managed in the same way. The official Palestinian leadership, which leads the PLO and PA, have been “managing” the reconciliation, using various means of pressure and influence to subdue other parties under their ceiling, dominance, and political program. They have not seriously sought to achieve a real, effective partnership, which reflects the true weights of the Palestinian parties at home and abroad. This leadership have benefited from the current Arab and international circumstances, which are hostile to “political Islam” movements and the armed resistance front, to impose their agenda on Hamas and the resistance forces. It did not see a problem with the exaggeration of the PA leadership’s role, giving it broad powers, at a time when it has disrupted the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the body authorized to approve the government, follow up with it, as well as holding it accountable and dismissing it. This government has turned to be a government of the “PA President”; one which does not care about the legislative authority. Furthermore, its security forces prosecute and oppress the major force, which represents the overwhelming parliamentary majority in the Council, with its supporters deprived of working in ministries and institutions and are attacked by the government’s media.
However, it should be understood that it is difficult for the leaders of the PLO and PA to implement the reconciliation program even if they wished to. Government formation, PLC elections, and the responsibility to reform the services in WB are all processes, which the Israeli side has the ability to disrupt or disable. Thus, Hamas should not expect the Israeli side to allow the implementation of a reconciliation, which would strengthen the resistance front, or allow a movement that does not recognize it and considers it an enemy to manage (or participate in the management of) WB, which is under its occupation, and whose management is linked to the commitments under the Oslo Accords.
Therefore, the most appropriate approach to the implementation of the reconciliation remains the PLO reconstruction and reform, where “independent” Palestinian decision-making becomes far from Israeli hegemony. Such an approach is not currently welcomed by the PLO and PA leadership, because they consider that having Hamas and the resistance forces as partners in the executive leadership or the legislative institution is a danger that may weaken the international (or even Arabic) status of the PLO and might lead to the withdrawal of the organization’s recognition, because of the current position that is hostile to the resistance and “political Islam” fronts. The PLO leadership still avoids this, unless it would decide to turn its back on the Oslo Accords and end the peace process in its current form; however, this is still unlikely.
Third: The Palestinian people are holding their ground at home, and according to official Israeli and Palestinian statistical centres, the number of Palestinians has exceeded (or will soon exceed) the number of Jews in historic Palestine (the 1948 occupied Palestinian territories, WB and GS). It is estimated that the number of Palestinians in early 2018 has amounted to six million and 587 thousand against six million and 558 thousand Jews; the number of Palestinians will exceed the number of Jews by 300 thousand by 2022.
This scientific reading, as much as it shows the admirable steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of the occupation, it raises the Zionist project’s concern, which, after more than 120 years since its inception, and after 70 years since the establishment of Israel, has failed to portray the land of Palestine as “Judaic.” However, this might run the risk that the Israeli extreme trends, who are very influential in the Israeli politics, might carry out programs or fabricate crises that lead to the displacement of large numbers of Palestinian people. This places a huge responsibility on the Palestinian leadership, Arab and Muslim countries, and all supporters of Palestinian rights to protect the Palestinian people, support their steadfastness, and thwart the Israeli extremist’s possible plans.
Fourth: The downturn of the Palestinian economy in WB and GS will continue, as long as it remains under the Israeli occupation and siege, and as long as it remains under the commitments of the Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocol. Israel controls land, sea, and air border crossings, in addition to imports and exports, and assumes the responsibility for collecting the taxes from the PA’s foreign trade, and these amount to two-thirds of the PA’s revenues. It can deprive the PA of them at any time, and can use them as an instrument of pressure and political, security, and economic extortion.
Therefore, the Palestinian economy, according to 2016 statistics, is struggling due to the fact that 83% of its exports goes to Israel, and 58% of imports comes from it. The Israeli Gross Domestic Product (GDP) tops its Palestinian counterpart about 24-fold (about $348 billion compared to $14 billion and $360 million). Israeli GDP per capita is 13 times higher than its Palestinian counterpart (three thousand dollars compared to forty thousand dollars) despite the fact that the Israelis and Palestinians live on the same territory, meaning that one of the parties is extensively exploiting the other and consuming its riches. Sadly, however, the PA itself has created a consumer-generated economy that is solely based on generating revenue, causing unemployment. They are not taking effective measures to build a real national economy that is detached from the Israeli one.
Fifth: The GS siege is not expected to be lifted as long as the Palestinian resistance maintains its forces and infrastructure.
Some aspects of the siege may be alleviated as the Ramallah government assumes the GS administration, but it is not the party that decides to lift the siege. Israel will ease the siege in proportion to the Ramallah government’s ability to control the situation and implement the Oslo Accords’ requirements and commitments currently implemented in WB. These requirements are intrinsically linked to the functional role of the PA, and above all its security obligations towards the Israeli side… These obligations will only be fulfilled, according to the Israeli standards, when security and the weapons of the resistance are under control (above ground and underground). The resistance forces should not expect any good results from the Oslo system, which will continue to press, albeit gradually, for the implementation of the commitments required of the resistance forces.
The Egyptian side, which is committed to the peace process, is expected to maintain pressure on Hamas to “empower” the Ramallah government to implement its programme … albeit in a “soft” and gradual manner.
Sixth: Israeli aggressions, as well as settlement expansion and Judaization projects will continue, especially in Jerusalem and the rest of WB. Israel will try to achieve maximum gains and build new realities on the ground, amidst a weak and disintegrated Arab and Islamic environment. However, the Palestinian resistance in its various forms will persistently continue. It has, to varying degrees, carried on with the Jerusalem Intifadah, and it was very effective in the Lions’ Gate uprising (Habbat al-Asbat), during both which 134 were killed in 2016 and 94 in 2017, in addition to 3,230 injured in 2016, and 8,300 injured in 2017. The Israel Security Agency—ISA (Shabak) recorded 1,415 resistance operations in 2016 and 1,516 operations in 2017, reflecting the strong flame of resistance in the hearts of the Palestinian people. Resistance operations are expected to continue, and chances are their rate will increase in WB, concurrent with a feeling of despair towards the peace process and the collapse or decline of the “two-state solution.” Furthermore, the resistance has the opportunity to strengthen its qualitative capabilities in the coming phase.
Seventh: The Jewish-Zionist community is heading towards more right-wing and religious extremism, while left-wing movements are becoming weaker and more degenerated. The Zionist environment is witnessing further measures towards the “Jewishness of the State,” in addition to further legitimization of racist actions against the people of Palestine, the expansion of settlements, and the Judaization of Jerusalem and the holy sites; the battle for the al-Aqsa Mosque and its environs will continue. Israel will benefit from its state of stability and economic prosperity, which is at the same level with Western countries, while enjoying an equitable high-quality military force… Amidst an Arab environment that is busy with internal conflicts.
However, Israel will continue to face serious crises in light of the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and the development of their resistance. In light of its failure to transform into a legitimate entity in the region, as the broader popular environment rejects normalization with the Israel; and in light of an unstable strategic surrounding environment.
Eighth: The Arab countries, which have official relations with Israel, specifically Egypt and Jordan, are expected to maintain these relations. Israel may try to achieve a breakthrough in its relations with some of the Gulf states, based on the so-called alliance against Iran and the fight against “terrorism.” However, such a breakthrough will not be easy; some Arab parties may prefer to work “under the counter” because of the widespread popular opposition to normalization with Israel.
Ninth: Looking at the Muslim world, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is not expected to improve its weak and insignificant performance towards Palestine. There is an opportunity for increasing popular Islamic interaction with the question of Palestine, especially with the threats to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.
As for the two countries studied in the Strategic Report, it is expected that Turkey, under Erdoğan’s leadership, will pursue its active political support for Palestine. At the same time, it will maintain “cold” political relations with Israel, while pursuing its active trade relations with it, which exceeded $4 billion in 2017.
Iran will pursue its political and military support for the Palestinian resistance and will maintain its open hostility to Israel; however, it will avoid areas of direct conflict, as it will focus on the implementation of its regional agenda.
Tenth: The international environment will continue to show large-majority support (at a rate of more than 140 countries) for the question of Palestine in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and several other international institutions. However, the United States and the major Powers system that control the UN Security Council, and that dominate international politics, will not allow any resolutions that force the Israeli side to take steps it rejects. On the other hand, there is a chance of an increase, albeit slow, in the negative popular world view towards Israel. There is also an opportunity for boosting the success of the BDS movement, and this is a cause for growing Israeli concern.
Finally, although several conclusions give rise to “despair” amongst Palestinians, knowing the facts, flaws, risks, and vulnerabilities, as they are, is essential for any serious effort to move forward with the Palestine issue. However, there are many elements that inspire hope. Israel has its crises; the Palestinian people are holding their ground at home, and their numbers have surpassed the number of Jews; the Palestinian resistance has its relatively strong moments; the Arab environment is still developing and changing, and the mid-term future holds strong opportunities for a revival in the region, and for new efforts for Palestine.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 5/3/2018