By Fadi Elhusseini, Embassy of the State of Palestine
Since 1990, both Arabs and Palestinians from one side, and Israel from the other side, decided to go through a peace process—presumably aiming to bring about peace and stability in the region, and to put an end to a sixty-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 withering woes that appeared to be a Sisyphean ordeal; starting with the first Gulf war, to the second Gulf war, the second Intifada “Palestinian uprising II,” Lebanese and Palestinian internal clashes and assassinations, Israeli wars on Lebanon and Gaza Strip, bloodshed and atrocities in Iraq, and bombings in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria by Al-Qaida, and finally unrest in the whole Middle East region, causing more spilled blood. The two leaders (Rabin and 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 in the region turns to indulge everyone in anything but peace or stability.
Amid this complex environment, after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, Palestine and Israel could succeed in signing a number of agreements, reaching numerous understandings and attending countless peace conferences aiming to boost talks and negotiations. On every occasion when talks stumble, the Quartet tries to quench everyone and 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 nineteen years of talks and negotiations?
For the Palestinians, they could have a quasi-autonomous state called “the Palestinian National Authority—PNA,” controlling a tiny besieged Gaza Strip and scattered cities in the West Bank, surrounded by a separation wall from one side, settlements and Israeli checkpoints from 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. In the Gaza Strip, which has been under stringent siege, nothing can get in or out unless Israel approves it, including food and 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 the 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, facing humiliating practices and spending hours and hours aiming to reach areas controlled by their authorities. Despite the fact that the latter has a sort of control over area A, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) can patrol or storm this area whenever they wish, and even arrest Palestinian activists. Nevertheless, the Palestinian security forces 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 military groups in the West Bank, which lead 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 occupied territories of 1967 (West Bank and East Jerusalem) significantly multiplied, the confiscations of more of the Palestinian lands drastically increased, the number of Palestinian homes demolished by Israeli forces mounted and the deprivation of Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem of their IDs shockingly intensified. Israel continued controlling the sea, air, land, natural resources and borders, and its control over borders puts Israel in the driver’s seat when it comes to collecting the money of taxes and customs for the PNA, and also obstructing the entry of any goods that may be potential competitors to their national products.
Then why see a Palestinian state while you already have everything?
Let’s keep talking!
In a letter sent by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman on February 22, 2011, titled “The Palestinian Authority’s Political Offensive against the State of Palestine,” a dismayed Lieberman tried to convince his European counterparts that the Palestinians should not go to the U.N. “unilaterally” for the recognition of the State of Palestine, but rather underscore the need to go back to the negotiation table. In that letter, there was not even a single time reference or indication regarding the word “peace,” neither explicitly nor implicitly, while it mentioned the word “negotiations” thirteen times, the word “talks” once and the word “discussions” twice. The letter stated “a need to renew negotiations” clearly and willfully, but not to reach an agreement or to achieve peace. As a matter of fact, this letter has, without a doubt, reflected the real intention of the Israeli government, which is having a “piece” of this process; solely negotiations and talks. While adeptly gaining more time and continuing to talk and negotiate with the Palestinians, or blaming them for not negotiating, they keep on changing facts on the ground and eliminate more and more of the Palestinian identity in general, in the holy city of Jerusalem in particular.
It appears that finally this ploy does not work anymore on the Palestinian leadership, who decided not to go on with any further talks on decreasing land, eroded cities, and an obliterated identity until Israel halts its construction of settlements and sets up a time table for negotiations, this “piece” of the process otherwise remaining in limbo.