The Palestinians and the ‘piece’ of the process by Fadi Elhusseini*
Since 1990, both Arabs and Palestinians from one side, and Israel from the other side, decided to go through a peace process, presumably, aimed at bringing peace and stability to the region, and putting an end to a 60-year-old conflict.
Now, it has been almost 21 years since that decision, and the result is an abject failure.
Alas, violence engulfed the region, and the Middle East appeared to be raven, suffering from wanderings, political polemics and woes that appeared to be a Sisyphean ordeal, starting with the first Gulf war, then the second Gulf war, the second Intifada “Palestinian uprising II,” the Lebanese and Palestinian internal clashes and assassinations, the Israeli wars in Lebanon and on the Gaza Strip, bloodshed and atrocities in Iraq, and bombings in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria by al-Qaeda, and finally unrest in the whole Middle East that caused the spilling of more blood.
The two leaders (Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat) who succeeded in signing the Oslo peace accords in 1993 were killed; the first was assassinated by an Israeli extremist and the second in mysterious circumstances. What a success: An ominous process which was designed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring about peace and stability to the region turns out to indulge everyone in anything but peace or stability.
Amid this complex environment, and for Palestine and Israel, and after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, they succeeded in signing a number of agreements, reaching numerous understandings and attending countless peace conferences aimed at boost talks and negotiations. On every occasion when talks stumble, the Quartet tries to quench everyone and to call on both sides to resume talks, and to eliminate any “preconditions” that may lead to a further delay in the peace process. But is there really a process?
What is the situation on the ground after 19 years of talks and negotiations?
The Palestinians could have a quasi-autonomous state called the “Palestinian National Authority [PNA],” which would control a tiny beleaguered Gaza Strip and scattered cities in the West Bank, and be surrounded by a separation wall on one side and settlements and Israeli checkpoints on the other side. No one can get from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank or vice versa, except those who are blessed with Israeli permits. Nothing can get in or out of the Gaza Strip, which has been under tight siege, unless Israel approves it, including food, humanitarian supplies, fuel, gas and construction materials. Blacklisted materials are countless and the sole and immediate Israeli explanation is: Hamas is there!!!
In the West Bank, the Palestinians are living under different but still severe conditions. Whilst the West Bank is divided into areas A, B and C, the clout of the Palestinian Authority is limited to area A. Its police forces cannot enter other areas without Israeli permission, which gives outlaws the opportunity to find shelter and escape off Palestinian shores. The PNA cannot provide any municipal or social services in areas B and C. People have to go through Israeli checkpoints on a daily basis and face humiliating practices while wasting away hours in an effort to reach areas controlled by the authority. Despite the fact that the latter has some control over area A, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) can patrol or storm these areas whenever they wish and even arrest Palestinian activists. Nevertheless, the Palestinian security forces have spent strenuous efforts and succeeded in enforcing law and order under such severe conditions.
On the other hand, and according to the agreements signed by the Palestinians and Israel, the PNA dismantled the infrastructure of Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank, which led to a drastic decline, if not disappearance, of attacks carried out by those groups on Israel. Accordingly, Israel could reap the advantage of stability and security, boost its economy, attract more investments and increase the numbers of tourists year after year, not to mention the profits Israeli companies and factories gain as the Palestinian market remains one of the biggest for Israeli products and goods.
The expansion and construction of settlements in the territories occupied in 1967 (West Bank and East Jerusalem) significantly amplified, the confiscation of Palestinian lands drastically increased with the number of Palestinian homes demolished by mounting Israeli forces and the confiscation of ID cards from Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem intensified shockingly. Israel continued controlling the sea, air, land, natural resources and borders, and its control over borders put Israel in the driver seat when it comes to collecting the taxes and customs for the PNA, and also obstructing the entry of any goods that may be a potential competitor to their national products.
Why then see a Palestinian state when you already have everything? Let’s continue!
In a letter sent by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Feb. 22, 2011, titled “The Palestinian Authority’s Political Offensive against the State of Palestine,” a dismayed Liberman tried to convince his European counterparts that the Palestinians should not go to the UN “unilaterally” for the recognition of the state of Palestine, but rather underscoring the need to go back to the negotiations table.
In that letter, there was not even a single time reference or indication of the word “peace,” neither explicitly nor implicitly, while it mentioned the word “negotiations” 13 times, “talks” once and “discussions” twice. The letter clearly and willfully stated: “A need to renew negotiations,” but not to reach an agreement or to achieve peace.
As a matter of fact, this letter, without a doubt, reflects the real intention of the Israeli government, which is to have a “piece” of this process: negotiations and talks only. While adeptly gaining more time and keeping on talking and negotiating with the Palestinians, or blaming them for not negotiating, they keep on changing the facts on the ground and eliminating more and more of the Palestinian identity in general and in the holy city of Jerusalem in particular.
It appears that this ploy has finally begun to no longer work on the Palestinian leadership, which has decided not to continue with further talks about decreasing land, eroded cities and the obliterated identity. Until Israel halts its construction of settlements and sets up a timetable for negotiations, this “piece” of the process will be in limbo.
*Fadi Elhusseini is a Palestinian diplomat and writer.