By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The year 2018 witnessed the escalation of the Palestinian national project crisis, the decline of the Palestinian reconciliation, the failure of the peace process. At the same time, it witnessed the creativity in return marches, and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their resistance in the face of Judaization and settlement building programs.
As for the year 2019, it doesn’t seem to bear much difference from its predecessor, the following are the projections of some tracks of the Palestine issue for this year:
First: The Escalation of the Palestinian National Project Crisis: Last year, internal Palestinian developments have further complicated the Palestinian national crisis, which is already overwhelmed by its own crises that are expected to worsen in 2019. For in addition to the chronic crises in leadership and in Palestinian representative institutions (the Palestine Liberation Organization—PLO and the Palestinian Authority—PA), and the contention between the peace process and resistance movements over priorities, it seems that President ‘Abbas and Fatah tend to further put a strain on the Palestinian arena by trying to dominate the Gaza Strip (GS) and subdue Hamas. This leadership has overridden previous consensus with other Palestinian factions and insisted on convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah under the occupation, refrained from lifting sanctions on GS, and unconstitutionally dissolved the PLC. It seems that as long as ‘Abbas is the head of the PLO, PA and Fatah, crises would continue and exacerbate, and he would keep betting on the support of regional and international environment that oppose “political Islam” and resistance movements.
Second: No Reconciliation on the Horizon…and No Chance for New Elections: The pro-crisis conduct of ‘Abbas, especially the PLC dissolution, which contradicted the reconciliation agreement that called for its activation, has added insult to injury and increased the schism. It deepened the confidence crisis, created a tense atmosphere that would prevent holding genuine, transparent and fair elections, and undermined the foundations on which national partnerships, pluralism and the transfer of power could be built under the umbrella of the PLO.
As for the elections that were called to be held in six months, their chances to be held are next to nil, since Fatah and the PA are not serious in holding them if there were a slight chance of a Hamas win. Furthermore, Israel itself has the power to disrupt them in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank (WB), since it cannot accept a new Hamas win. In addition, Hamas and a number of factions would boycott them, if there were no full guarantees of a healthy and free environment prior to the elections, along with ensuring their integrity and transparency. Hamas and a number of factions also are demanding that PLC elections be held in concurrence with the elections of the PA president and the PNC, which ‘Abbas did not call for.
Third: More Internal Isolation For Fatah: It seems Abbas and Fatah monopoly of power, and their policies that contradict Palestinian consensus and Palestinian public opinion—including sanctions on GS and security coordination with Israel—would further isolate Fatah. Especially after the factions and other PLO major forces boycotted the last session of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), which was initially boycotted by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ). As Fatah insists on the same conduct by dissolving the “PLC,” it is expected to remain a “solo player” in 2019, while those distancing themselves from Fatah would increase.
Fourth: Continuity of Resistance, With Increasing Challenges: As the occupation and siege continue, and as the peace process has reached a dead end, and the PA has failed politically and economically, the resistance will continue to enjoy an innovative rich environment… and we cannot rule out that the bases of a new Intifadah may develop in 2019. Furthermore, the continuous attempts to subdue GS and disarm resistance movements threaten escalation in GS and a new war with the Israeli occupation.
The regional and international environments opposing (or at least not supporting) resistance movements, indicate that the financial hardships faced by Hamas and the PIJ would continue and increase. The attempts to marginalize these movements, weaken them politically and publically, and force a media blackout on them would continue. However, the (internal, Israeli, Arab and international) crises suffered by rival or anti-resistance forces would enable the resistance, at the end, to pass through the bottleneck.
Fifth: The Likud Win, Escalation in Targeting Jerusalem and in Settlement Building: For the Israeli landscape has become more inclined to the right and religious extremist movements, which are expected to win in the coming elections. In addition, the US, under Trump’s administration, strongly supports these movements, the Palestine issue lacks the serious support of Arab and Muslim countries, and a number of Arab countries have normalized their relations with Israel. Consequently, Israel would be more encouraged to implement Judaization programs, especially in Jerusalem, and impose spatial and temporal division of al-Aqsa Mosque.
Sixth: Palestinian Initiatives and the Increase of Public Role: The escalation of the crisis of the Palestinian political system, the deterioration in the reconciliation process, the decline of the PLO and PA role in taking care of the Palestinian people, and the suffering of the resistance program, will all push Palestinian public figures and forces to make some initiatives. These may be to reconstruct the Palestinian political system, or to preserve Palestinian fundamentals and rights, or to activate the roles of independent and public forces in the Palestine issue.
In this context there were the public initiative that launched the return marches in GS, the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad, and the initiative of the Palestinian leftist forces to unify their efforts under “The Palestinian Democratic Gathering.” Due to the weak and worn-out Palestinian leadership, these initiatives may increase and widen, inside and outside Palestine, where the role of Palestinians in the diaspora have higher chances to evolve, as the PLO and the PA are practically absent regarding their representation, issues and concerns.
Seventh: A Weak and Unstable Arab Environment: For the next few months, no considerable change in the Arab environment is expected that would affect the Palestine issue. The year 2019 was loaded with the previous years crises, during which many Arab regimes were busy with their internal conflicts. The peoples are still paying the bills of their attempts to revolt, reform and change. Some regimes consider that their stability depends on the US consent, which must be acquired by normalizing relations with Israel, a matter that reflects negatively on the Palestine issue.
However, the steadfastness of the Palestinian people; the steadfastness of the resistance; the ugliness of the Israeli occupation and its continuous aggression on al-Aqsa mosque, the holy sites, the land and the people; and the existence of wide Arab and Islamic support for the Palestine issue, will keep a number of regimes reluctant to normalize ties with Israel. Furthermore, some pro-resistance regimes will find in the escalation of resistance, an opportunity to overcome the US-Western pressures, and raise the pace of their support for the resistance. Moreover, the Arab regimes that are frustrated by the poor US-performance may find a chance to look after their own interests that fall within their national agenda and security, and consequently may bolster their support of the Palestine issue.
Eighth: The Continuous US Support of the Israeli Right and the Unhinged “Deal of the Century”: It seems that the Trump administration will continue its support of the Israeli right and its vision of the peace process, and will seek an international cover to legitimize Israel’s hegemony over Jerusalem and to close the Palestinian refugees’ dossier. However, this administration may become more busy with its internal issues after the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, and in a weaker position regarding imposing its will on the international community, as more international powers are frustrated with its policies. The US administration will realize that the “Deal of the Century” is unimplementable, since there is Palestinian rejection, an Arab environment reluctant to support it or is even opposed to it (even if it has no wish to directly oppose the American “Cowboy”); in addition, the Israelis have no intention to pay any price for the peace settlement. Therefore, the peace prospects are dim.
As a result, most probably the Palestine issue will face in 2019 difficult times, however, it will be a year of labor passing by while the region lives in the midst of an interim phase. The regional environment will push the peace process and the “Oslo” experience to collapse, which would enhance the chances of strengthening the resistance trend despite the difficulties it faces.