Every now and then it is useful to take a closer look at the nature of the ongoing struggle in Palestine, for it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. The general idea is simple. The Palestinians are fighting for a fully independent state on all the land occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and demanding recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile, Israel, which wants to create a system of apartheid and domination, is trying to get the Palestinians to accept a state with temporary borders, minus Jerusalem and other areas, and minus independence. Israel’s recent decision to build a new settlement in the Jordan Valley is a case in point.
Shall we have a comprehensive and final solution to the conflict, or a temporary and interim one similar to that of the Oslo Accords? This is the big question facing the Palestinians today. A long-term transitional deal is what Israel wants. The Israelis want to force the Palestinians to give up large segments of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and abandon refugee rights as part of an interim solution. But such a solution is likely to be permanent, not temporary.
Also, Israel wants the Palestinian Authority to remain ineffective and shorn of sovereignty. It wants the authority to act as Israel’s bodyguard while Israel maintains all economic, political and security power.
Israel is pushing for an interim solution because it doesn’t want the Palestinians to benefit from opportunities the US debacle in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East has created. With the Baker-Hamilton report calling for a solution to the Palestinian problem and with international community increasingly critical of Israel’s policies, the tide is turning. Who would have imagined that a former US president, Jimmy Carter, would conclude that apartheid is worse in Palestine than it ever was in South Africa? The pressure on Israel is mounting, as is evident in the Spanish-French-Italian call for an international conference and a final settlement of the conflict. Europe wants a lasting solution to the Palestinian issue, and Israel — fully cognizant — is buying time.
Israel is trying to weaken the drive for genuine peace in the Middle East. In particular, it is trying to stop US officials from altering their policy in a way that could be beneficial to the Palestinians. And the Israelis are yet again using the Palestinians to avoid the consequences of a just and comprehensive settlement to the 40-year-old conflict.
Here is what Israel is doing. First, Israel is trying to portray the Palestinian scene as part of a battle between good and evil, a battle between those who belong to the so-called “Axis of Evil” and those described as moderates.
Second, Israel is trying to portray the conflict between Fatah and Hamas as a power struggle over who controls the occupied territories. The debate has thus been shifted to the nature and composition of government and to the terms under which Israel and other international parties would approve of the Palestinian government. This mustn’t go on. The Palestinians need a unified national command, one that is capable of managing the conflict and breaking the siege.
Third, Israel is trying to get Fatah and Hamas to haggle, through international brokers, over partial and interim solutions. This also must stop. Fatah and Hamas should discuss their differences over the final peace settlement rather than waste their time on who is to negotiate a partial deal. It is essential for all Palestinian parties to denounce any partial deals and never accept a state with temporary borders.
The Palestinians need a unified position and strategy. They need a unified command, something that has been missing for almost three decades now. The last thing the Palestinians need is for domestic rivalries to distract them from managing the conflict. Let’s keep in mind that political plurality can be a blessing or a curse. It would be a blessing if the Palestinians insist on a comprehensive solution. And it would be a curse if divisions weaken our negotiating position.
We need a government of national unity and we need it soon. More importantly, we need a unified command that can organise and coordinate action among the three components of the Palestinian people: those living outside Palestine; those living in the occupied territories; and those living in Israel, who are currently 22 per cent of the Palestinian population.
Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Palestinians and Israelis want a comprehensive solution. But the so-called Israeli peace movement has become inactive since talks shifted to partial and interim solutions. Israel must come to the realisation that apartheid is a non-starter and that the only way ahead is that of comprehensive peace. We’ve tried Oslo once. Let’s not try it again.
The writer is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.