Salvaging Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Salvaging Israeli-Palestinian Peace
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Salvaging Israeli-Palestinian Peace

By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

For how long will peace between Palestinians and Israelis remain viable? For one thing, with the passage of time their leaders are not getting smarter.

The world is glad to see less of Netanyahu’s diplomacy, but ending his leadership is far from terminating Israel’s hegemony over the Palestinians. The new cabinet of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is inclined to maintain the status quo of the occupation of land slated to be a future Palestinian state.  Bennett is expected to focus on domestic issues of security and governance. He will also try to improve relations with Washington, which got worse during Netanyahu’s tenure.

The new cabinet is dominated by ministers who oppose Palestinian statehood. Bennett is against a “two-state” solution and would even push for annexing a large part of the West Bank, knowing well that his secular-minded partners in the cabinet would oppose rapid land-grabbing.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the State of Palestine at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 22, 2016

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the State of Palestine at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

Over the span of five decades, Israeli society has become accustomed to living with hegemony: suppressing a nation equal to its size. Within the borders controlled by Israel, there are about seven million Jews and seven million Palestinians. In addition, six to seven million Palestinians live as migrants or refugees outside the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This makes 13 million people dreaming daily of justice to be fulfilled.   

In the long run, friends of Israel do not serve its interests by defending it reflexively. When President Biden made his first public commentary on the eleven day war between Gaza’s resistance and Israeli forces, he blamed the victim: “Israel has the right to defend itself”. Biden knows well that the occupation of Palestinian Territories in 1967 is the underlying factor of a five-decade tumultuous conflict. And the White House is aware that the precipitating cause of the recent outbreak of war was the threat to displace more Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the assault on the Al – Aqsa Mosque by Israel’s security forces.

Washington’s policy on the most central Middle East issue has not changed significantly from that of the previous administration on matters of foreign aid and the disputed territorial question. The current US administration does not apply serious pressure on Tel-Aviv to negotiate for peace on reasonable terms. Instead, the US keeps augmenting its foreign aid to Tel- Aviv.

Expect the newly formed Israeli coalition cabinet to continue expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, perhaps at a slower rate than before. No lessons have been learned from the recent outbreak of war with Gaza, neither by Tel-Aviv nor by Washington.  

Washington is now focusing first on promoting the expansion of the Abraham Accords and, second, on ending Israel’s political dysfunction: effectively restoring the status quo of no peace and no war.

To give the impression of being fair toward the two sides, Washington promises to “improve relations” with the Palestinians and “encourage” the new Israeli government to “enhance the quality of life” in the West Bank, Gaza and in the Arab Israeli communities.    

Will the Abraham Accords serve the region without paying immediate attention to the future of Palestine? The simple answer is “no”.  No matter what the Arab or Israeli leaders dictate, and what Washington orchestrates, the Arab street will never offer real peace to Israel without witnessing tangible evidence of justice for Palestinians. To last or to expand, the Abraham Accords must have a popular base across borders. Currently it is a business and security deal at the top.

Will Israel return to domestic stability without offering Palestinian statehood or equal rights for all? This second dimension of US policy is also problematic. Israel’s stability will not improve with the continuation of the status quo. As the state shifts demographically and ideologically to the conservative Right, tension between Arabs and Jews will rise. In such a sectarian climate, Palestinian Islamist politics has also been growing; Hamas is gaining status in Gaza and beyond. As religion gains dominance over politics on both sides, stability weakens; consequently, the current Israeli cabinet may not last long.

As for the US goal to “improve the quality of life” of Palestinians, such a policy is unfair and unrealistic too. No amount of financial aid or of soft diplomacy would significantly alleviate the daily suffering of living under a brutal occupation. To ask a Palestinian to stay living under occupation until further notice, is like asking an inmate who has been in prison for 54 years (for no legitimate reason) to wait for parole for an indefinite time.  

Recent reports show a growing militancy among Israeli settlers. Settlers are gradually developing a Jihadi militia subculture. Their movement has nearly become a “Party of God”, even without a plausible cause. In its latest humanitarian report the United Nations revealed that in the first two weeks of June alone “perpetrators known, or believed to be Israeli settlers, injured 11 Palestinians including four children, damaged vehicles, and destroyed hundreds of olive trees, water systems and other Palestinian-owned property”. Click here

 In conclusion, postponing US attention to Palestine is unfair, if not cruel. “Right” conditions are not expected to “mature” with the mere passage of time; the chances for statehood are eroding day after day. Apparently, Israel has no interest in dealing with popular Palestinian leadership or in facing Palestinian unity. In the open Israeli politicians call for “better Palestinian partners for peace” while they covertly continue to assassinate or jail strong resistance leaders

If there is a suitable time for a radically innovative approach to resolving the Palestinian question it is now. It won’t be easy or guaranteed.  

Ghassan Rubeiz
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