The long stagnation in the peace process, where years have passed now since any real breakthrough, and the growing tension in Palestinian-Israeli relations invite analysts and politicians to examine why this has happened, and to suggest fresh ideas and ways forward.
One of the most significant trends impacting this stagnation is the rising radicalization in Israeli public opinion. Each Israeli cabinet and Knesset over the last 20 years has been more hardline than the last, save some small fluctuations. This has led to a situation where most Israelis, including the prime minister, believe that the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem – i.e. the future Palestinian state, along with cast-aside Gaza – is part of their country. There is no longer a critical mass of the Israeli public or the Israeli political elite that accepts the premise that the Israeli occupation must be dismantled in order to allow for a two-state solution.
Through a deceitful companionship of force and negotiations, Israel has imposed a status quo that is prohibited in international law and incompatible with the two-state solution.Dr. Ghassan Khatib
Moreover, all indicators are that trends of radicalization and the shift to a hardline position is likely to continue, since the factors feeding this radicalization remain in effect.
The second significant trend is that irrespective of President Abbas’ warning at the U.N. last week that the status quo is unsustainable, Israel is actually succeeding in maintaining a status quo that it created over the last 20 years. Through a deceitful companionship of force and negotiations, Israel has imposed a status quo that is prohibited in international law and incompatible with the two-state solution.
Needless to say, that status quo – felt on the ground through the construction of settlements, the confiscation of land, the hand of the military, the sealing of Gaza – is comfortable for Israel while quietly ravaging Palestinians.
The main outlines of this status quo are, first, a functional division between a weak Palestinian Authority and Israel, whereby Israel is in charge of security, borders and land (including resources under land and movement over it), while the Palestinian Authority delivers services to the population. And second is the separation of Gaza from the West Bank, with each territory managed by a different Palestinian administration.
Many of us argued for years that such a status quo was not sustainable, that it was in reality not attainable. But apparently Israel, which maintains certain safety valves for regulating any building pressure, is indeed succeeding at maintaining it.
Regionally, the ongoing turmoil is shifting attention away from the problem of the occupation, (the conflict was entirely ignored by U.S. President Barack Obama when he spoke at the U.N.) thus playing into the hands of Israel, the stronger party. Instability and uncertainty is making Israel appear more indispensable to its western allies. The Palestinians’ long experience tells them that the only country that has real leverage with Israel (the U.S.) is not likely to use it in the foreseeable future.
The only way to make a difference is to encourage and stimulate external dynamics by encouraging multilateral efforts.Dr. Ghassan Khatib
The first and foremost conclusion to draw from all this is that we cannot rely on internal dynamics or the bilateral framework to alter the situation; the impact of both is in fact negative. The only way to make a difference is to encourage and stimulate external dynamics by encouraging multilateral efforts. The countries that have been responsible for the survival of the Palestinian Authority alongside the superiority of Israel can and must bring about this transformation. While the political solution of establishing two states on the land of historic Palestine is no longer clearly visible on the horizon, we must work to maintain its viability by protecting the lands of the future Palestinian state from Israeli expansionism.
The only way to do this is for countries that have significant relationships with Israel to introduce elements of accountability into those relationships. The disconnect between increasing verbal criticism of Israeli settlement expansion and business-as-usual regarding real cooperation and support only leaves Israelis with the impression that these criticisms are merely lip service.
While governments that can make a difference seem as yet indifferent, we Palestinians need to encourage more awareness at the grassroots and through people-to-people efforts. The growing movements, especially in Europe, that are using domestic and international laws to boycott, divest from, and impose sanctions on Israel in response to its illegal occupation need to be encouraged. They are sending the right signal to Israel and, when effective enough, will generate the healthy debate Israel needs. The European Union regulations that differentiate between Israel and its illegal occupation and settlements are also steps in the right direction and send the correct message.
In sum, the bilateral approach that Israel and the United States insisted on has led to chronic stagnation; it must be abandoned and replaced with a multilateral methodology, a new approach that has regard for international law. It is indicative that other international conflicts were solved through the multilateral approach, the most recent example being the international community’s approach to the Iranian nuclear problem. Only those international players who created this conflict and maintained it can help end it.
Until then, we have two tasks: keep the door open to two states, and protect the rights of Palestinians under occupation.
Ghassan Khatib is Vice President for Development and Communications and lecturer of Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University. Previously, he served as director of the Palestinian Authority Government Media Center (2009-2012), Minister of Labor in 2002 and Minister of Planning (2005-2006), founded and directed the Jerusalem Media and Communication center. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation for the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference in 1991 and the subsequent bilateral negotiations in Washington from 1991-93. Khatib holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham in UK, and is author of Palestinian Politics and the Middle East Peace Process: Consensus and Competition in the Palestinian Negotiation Team.
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