Difficult choices, few hopes for Palestinians

Sunday 08/05/2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow, on April 18th.

Amman - Observers are shifting at­tention to diplomatic activities related to the Palestinian cause and stalled talks with Israel, with a focus on three parallel but incomplete tracks.

The first is a French initiative call­ing for an international conference on the Palestinian cause before the summer break in the Western world and before the Obama administra­tion enters into a long pre-election lethargy.

The second is about a rumoured US movement to launch the Obama blueprint, which observers say like­ly will not differ much, and will be less fair for the Palestinians, from the plan that former president Bill Clinton proposed after the meet­ing between Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime min­ister Ehud Barak in July 2000.

The third track is what Israeli sources described as a “political bomb” Israeli Prime Minister Biny­amin Netanyahu is expected to drop in the coming months, prin­cipally related to the future of the occupied West Bank.

The French initiative and US blueprint share several key princi­ples: A two-state solution, implying recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” and establishment of a Pales­tinian state within the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Mideast war; exchange of territories; halting construction of Jewish settlements; dropping Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their land and security arrangements aimed at appeasing Israel’s security concerns.

The main difference between the two ideas is an international conference that Paris has proposed and Washington refused, in concert with Israel’s stance that rejects any role for the international commu­nity or the United Nations in the peace process.

Reviving the peace process does not raise optimism about a final set­tlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The various parties are in­creasingly convinced that chances of a two-state solution are extreme­ly dim. More than 700,000 Jewish settlers are living in settlements scattered across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, linked by circular roads that partition Palestinian ter­ritories into small isolated cantons, non-viable in an independent state.

According to a source close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the French initiative is “the last hope” for the Palestinians to get their cause back into the lime­light. The Palestinians have noth­ing to lose by accepting the French proposal.

If the international conference sees the light, it will inject life into the cause and free the Palestin­ians from the “grip of a dishonest mediator”. In case it fails, the Pal­estinians will grab the first recog­nition of their independent state from a Western power of the weight of France, as promised by French President François Hollande, in line with the French General Assem­bly’s decision in December 2014.

Israel, in the meantime, is follow­ing the new international moves with some concern. According to Is­raeli sources, Netanyahu’s govern­ment, which rejected the French initiative, seems wary of the Obama blueprint, which some in the Israeli right-wing camp see as a kind of “settling account” with Netanyahu, whose relations with US President Barack Obama worsened to unprec­edented levels in recent years.

The Israeli sources refer to de­bates “of strategic nature” being under way in security and military decision-making circles to avert at­tempts to impose on Israel “unde­sired solutions”.

Such debates reveal three main trends:

One, led by the religious extreme right-wing spearheaded by Naftali Bennett, calls for annexing “zone G” completely — that is 60% of the West Bank inhabited by 400,000 settlers and 70,000 Palestinians.

The second representing the centre-left camp, or the Yitzhak Herzog-Tzipi Livni alliance, calls for Israel’s unilateral pullout from Pal­estinian densely populated “zones A and B” pending a final settlement.

The third represents Netanyahu’s camp, which would consider the option of “a unilateral withdrawal” from highly populated centres, so as to avoid international criticism and isolation, without, however, giving up the policy of “land bite”, or gradual appropriation, of Pales­tinian territory.

While the two-state solution has become increasingly unacceptable to a majority of Israelis since the 1993 Oslo agreement, the Pales­tinians are left with four choices: accept a state of cantons in what remains from the land; revive the slogan of a single state with dual ethnicities; a confederation with Jordan; or develop a new national strategy based on national recon­ciliation, peaceful popular resist­ance, total boycott of Israel and diplomatic battle on all interna­tional platforms, until the cost of maintaining occupation outweighs that of ending it.

Only then, could the way for es­tablishing a viable independent Palestinian state be cleared.