The end of a year is a time of reflection on the 12 months that have elapsed, and contemplation of what the coming year has in store. On the surface, it might be argued that 2015 was more of the same for Israelis and Palestinians, with no breakthrough in the peace process, and both political systems continuing to limp on with no major shocks or sense of direction.
Yet a closer look reveals growing rifts between and within the two peoples. Most Israelis and Palestinians seem to be going about their daily lives deliberately or inadvertently oblivious to the abnormality in which they live.
Idyllic scenes of endless greenery on both sides of the Green Line only conceal to the naked eye the growing tensions and danger posed by the Israeli occupation, which is approaching five decades. In the absence of a comprehensive peaceful solution in the offing, or at least a meaningful peace process, turmoil is always lurking around the corner.
One of the most obvious and visible manifestations of the entrenchment of the occupation are the hundreds of cranes in the scattered Israeli settlements on the hills of the West Bank. They serve as a reminder of the constant expansion of the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and the growing danger that this obstacle to peace is irreversible.
This constant expansion, together with the ‘security barrier’ and the presence of the Israeli military occupation, make the viability of a two-state solution appear to be a dwindling possibility.
The coming year is likely to see more of the same, and none of it promises a better future for either Israelis or Palestinians.Yossi Mekelberg
Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or under blockade in Gaza, can only strive to survive, and many of them have lost faith in any political solution. Some have resigned themselves to this reality, while others resist it. In contrast, the Israeli settlement movement and its supporters are upbeat, convinced that by their sheer presence they avert what they see as the danger of an independent Palestinian state.
The year that is ending was to a large extent the product of events that took place in 2014. The collapse of the peace initiative proposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the war in Gaza, the collapse of the previous government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the inability to sustain a reconciled Palestinian government left little hope for any positive change of direction.
Conventional wisdom is that without proactive U.S. involvement, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is mere fantasy. Until there is a new American president, it is hard to foresee any new peace initiative emerging out of Washington.
Both President Barack Obama and Kerry have given up on bringing peace to this part of the Middle East. They see their main priority until this administration’s term ends as no more than preventing the flare-up of another round of violence.
The Palestinians might take cautious encouragement from the European Union’s decision to label Israeli products originating from the occupied territories, the gradual recognition of Palestine as a member of international organizations, and the increasing legitimacy of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiative, especially in Europe. For Israel, these should be worrying signs of a gradual, though constant, erosion in its international standing.
In very different ways, both the Israeli and Palestinian political systems proved once more in 2015 to be divided, divisive and dysfunctional. Israeli elections produced the most hawkish and religious government in the country’s history. In less than a year in power, it has proved to have no interest in advancing peace, and it compromises the secular-democratic values on which the state was established.
On the Palestinian side, the division between Gaza and the West Bank, and the failure to agree on elections, erode further the authority and legitimacy of the Palestinian government and its President Mahmoud Abbas. Those are worrying signs for both societies and for the relations between them, and could lead to potentially disastrous consequences.
For most of the year, there was cautious fear that a third Palestinian uprising would break out. Clashes between young Palestinians and Israeli security forces, especially in and around Jerusalem, took place even before the war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. The wide devastation caused by the Israeli armed forces in Gaza during the summer of 2014 increased expectations for a full-blown Palestinian uprising.
This has not happened so far, but a stream of knife and car attacks has claimed the lives of 20 Israelis since mid-September. At the same time, nearly 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, among them 81claimed by Israel to be attackers. Though not organized or coordinated, this persistent armed struggle and terrorism always has the potential to lead to a wider violent escalation.
This was also a year that Jewish terrorism sank to new lows. Religious-nationalist fanatics have been harming Palestinian civilians, including the horrifying killing in an arson attack of three members of the Dawabsheh family, among them 18-month-old Ali Saad.
A recent video clip showing settlers celebrating this barbaric attack is further evidence that within the settler movement a group of murderous terrorists have emerged, and they undermine and defy Israeli society as a whole.
All this leads me to conclude that in a more unstable and complex regional environment, it is hard to see how the current situation can be addressed in a profound manner. The coming year is likely to see more of the same, and none of it promises a better future for either Israelis or Palestinians.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.