Israel is killing the peace process with Hamas’ help

Beyond a ceasefire in Gaza, Israel is killing the internationally-backed two-state solution with help from Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hamas has always avoided making an unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution, and has been keen to engage in one-upmanship against the Palestinian Authority, which is dedicated to achieving two states.

The United States has made such a solution the cornerstone of its policy and diplomacy, not just under President Obama, but also with the successive administrations before him. The U.N. Security Council's two-state solution was pushed by the administration of George W. Bush in 2002. Then the Arab initiative for peace with and recognition of Israel was also based primarily on the two-state solution. The so-called Quarter, which consists of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States, was established to implement the two-state solution.

So, as international consensus is on the verge of collapse, what are the available options, and are they being considered by the Quarter or the Palestinian Arab leaders, or is everyone burying their heads in the sand? What if the policy in place is to pretend the two-state solution is still viable while everyone knows it is not?

The events in Gaza have created new realities that serve Israel’s position against the two-state solution.

Raghida Dergham

More than anything, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants his rigorous efforts and shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians to bring about a radical solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of the two-state solution. Kerry reached an impasse in the last period prior to the events in Gaza, and reduced his involvement in the effort to push the peace process forward after sensing the intransigence of the Israeli side in particular. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has offered the maximum possible concessions, and had to save face by forming a national reconciliation government with Hamas that is more symbolic than authentic, and John Kerry knows this very well.

Kerry has resumed his efforts in the Palestinian-Israeli question not only for the sake of de-escalation and a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but also in the hope of reviving the peace process and to attempt to save it from total collapse.

The events in Gaza have created new realities that serve Israel’s position against the two-state solution. The narrative now focuses on “offensive tunnels,” as the Israeli army calls them, to justify its aerial, naval and ground offensive. The current rhetoric is about ceasefire conditions, including lifting the blockade on Gaza. No one is talking about the two-state solution or how to revive the peace process and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A fait accompli has been produced by Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Palestinian Authority is trying to catch its breath as it tries to make sense of the events in Gaza. Israeli and Palestinian moderates are on the retreat. The showdown between the forces of Israeli extremism and Palestinian extremism reigns supreme. The casualty figures include more than 1,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and more than 40 Israelis, some of them civilians.

The Israeli public has retreated into supporting the actions of its government and encouraging it to do more, despite international protests against the methods and outcome of Israeli military operations in Gaza.

The rift between the Israeli and international public opinions has frightening implications for what the Israelis really want when it comes to the Palestinians. The international public opinion did not support Hamas' rocket launching but condemned it. It did not praise the tunnels, but denounced them. It did not sympathize with the use of UNRWA schools to stash rockets, but decried this. But the international public opinion did not endorse Israel's murder of Palestinian civilians who live in the places that the Israeli military machine decides to destroy.

American comedian Jon Stewart summed it up succinctly: Where do civilians that Israel orders to evacuate hours before striking in a besieged, populated and cordoned-off Gaza, go? In another sketch, he showed how it's impossible to even mention Israel without its apologists pouncing on all those who dare criticize it, and how defenders of Palestine pounce on anyone who dares criticize Hamas for allegedly using human shields.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Bloomberg criticized the decision of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban U.S. airlines from flying to Israel after rockets fired by Hamas landed near the airport in Tel Aviv. The extent of Bloomberg's hostility to Blitzer was astonishing. He objected to every obvious question, and accused the anchor of inciting Americans against Israel.

This is just one example of the American backlash against anyone who criticizes Israel, and how any dialogue or discussion about Israel is contentious in the United States. Despite this, according to polls, automatic support for Israel among the American public has dropped, especially among younger Americans, with many protesting against the Israeli justifications for the killing of Palestinian civilians.

This will not translate into a radical shift in U.S. public opinion in favor of Palestine at the expense of Israel. It is a temporary outcry. The organic American-Israeli relationship is here to stay, and in the coming days, the Israeli war machine will be able to shift the blame to the Palestinian side. Hamas will be the primary recipient of this blame because it, in the eyes of U.S. officials, is a terrorist group. However, the ultimate casualty will be the weak Palestinian Authority, and with it the peace process and the two-state solution, which requires ending the Israeli occupation. The term “occupation” will be removed from the American lexicon, as Israel is planning.

Hamas’ achievements

What has Hamas achieved in the near and long term for Palestine? It may boast of having forced international airlines to suspend flights to Israel as a result of rocket-fire. It may hunker down and reject ceasefire initiatives. It may chortle at having forced Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to try to meet some of its ceasefire demands. Hamas may boast of having become the representative of the Palestinian people at the expense of the PA, and may find that events in Gaza have helped its domestic and regional positions. Hamas may also believe that the international public opinion is sympathizing with the Palestinians thanks to its rockets and their role in reviving the Palestinian question in the world's conscience.

While Hamas may think it has won a battle, the main war is supposed to be to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state - these are now up in the air.

Raghida Dergham

However, all this is precarious, and its cost may well be the death of thousands of Palestinian civilians and the displacement of thousands more. The focus will turn to dismantling Hamas’ military capabilities, including demolishing tunnels and preventing it from restocking its rocket arsenal. While Hamas may think it has won a battle, the main war is supposed to be to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state - these are now up in the air.

Hamas is well aware it is required to be the face of extremism and terrorism so that the Israeli right can justify its alternative to the two-state solution, namely, the demographic solution that requires the forcible deportation of Palestinians from Israel, rendering Israel an exclusive Jewish state free of Palestinians. In other words, through its rockets and cavalier attitude, Hamas has given Israel the impetus to implement the demographic solution as an alternative to the two-state solution.

No one dares recognize the demise of the two-state solution.

Raghida Dergham

In his press conference last Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu said explicitly that he now ruled out completely giving Palestinians the kind of sovereignty required by the two-state solution. The Times of Israel reported in detail on what Netanyahu said in Hebrew. I believe his speech revealed how the Israeli prime minister pretended for nine months that he was engaged in earnest in the talks brokered by John Kerry, while deep down he was always planning to thwart the two-state solution and moving ahead with the settlement project. Netanyahu said, "I think the Israeli people understand now what I have always been saying," which is that there is no way for any treaty to lead to Israel ceding military control of the territory west of the Jordan River.

This means that Israel will not give up its security grip in a manner that would allow the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories that are supposed to make it up. This is precisely what Benjamin Netanyahu has stated, and in this he has the support of the Israeli establishment and the Israeli people as recent indications suggest.

What is behind Israel's clear rejection of the establishment of the Palestinian state dictated by the two-state solution? And is there anyone who dares recognize the demise of the two-state solution, internationally, regionally, and at the Arab and Palestinian levels? The short answer is no. Everyone is hiding, pretending that there is a little glimmer of hope.

Three options

The first challenge is for the Palestinians themselves. They have the option of the political process, even if they are convinced that the peace process is only a temporary sedative, and that it has become an empty process without purpose or real prospects for success. But those who cling to the political solution say that there is no real military solution that would be in the interests of the Palestinians, and that any military solution would be at their expense. Therefore, the "process" remains a safety valve that prevents the Palestinians from being crushed militarily and denies the Israelis the ability to implement their demographic solution, at least until further notice.

The other option is the military solution, which many Palestinians see as a suicidal solution, bearing in mind that the war would be exclusively fought by the Palestinian side and will not be fought by Arab states, Iran, or any of the parties that claim to be wedded to the Palestinian cause.

The third option is a war of attrition, something that Hamas seems intent to engage in through intermittent battles punctuated by sporadic negotiations and temporary deals to prevent the spread of terrorism by the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into Gaza, which would then be able to attack Israel.

Israel does not care about international reactions if it decides to implement the demographic solution that would create a pure Jewish state free of Palestinians, and impose Jordan as an alternative homeland for the latter. What Israel has always said about Jordan as an alternative homeland, as a radical solution, often falls into a spiral of denial by others. Today, from the Gaza Strip, elements of the original Israeli plan are being revived.

The least people can do is to stop burying their heads in the sand. Israel now explicitly speaks its mind and reveals its true intentions. It is time to acknowledge this reality, and for Arab and international parties to begin making contingency plans and long-term strategies after they mourn the two-state solution. 

This article was first published in al-Hayat on July 25, 2014 and was translated by Karim Traboulsi. 

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Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005. She tweets @RaghidaDergham.

 

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