It is time to get real about the Palestinians’ predicament

Though it might be painful to say it out loud, the bitter reality is that the Israeli occupation is only one layer of oppression that Palestinians are suffering from.
Sunday 09/02/2020
A Palestinian protester cuts through the wire along Israel’s security barrier during a demonstration against a US-brokered peace proposal, near Ramallah, February 7.(AFP)
Catch 22. A Palestinian protester cuts through the wire along Israel’s security barrier during a demonstration against a US-brokered peace proposal, near Ramallah, February 7.(AFP)

Between reality and chimerical dreams lies complexity and between our hopes for peace and the Palestinians’ state of affairs lies a persistent state of denial — denial of facts on the ground, denial of the need for negotiations and, most important, denial of the other’s right to exist.

While many people around the world, especially in the Arab region, hold the Palestinian cause dear to their hearts, they have sometimes failed to concede defeats, think sensibly or deal with facts on the ground.

By responding emotionally to the Palestinian plight, the movement has grown disconnected from reality and failed to act pragmatically.

Ultimately, every defeat the Palestinians have suffered has led to another. This vicious cycle has brought us from talk about the Arab Peace Initiative based on 1967 borders to US President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century or, as some critics have called it, “steal of the century.”

But we are where we are and, as matters stand, there is concern that Palestinian leaders’ blunt rejection of the US plan could lead to Palestinians getting even less tomorrow or perhaps nothing at all.

That said, there is good reason that Palestinians are not taking the deal seriously. Its conditions carry dire consequences for Palestinians living in Israel or under settler colonialism. For them, it is a geopolitical non-starter.

It is also clear that the deal is being used as a political ploy in Israel and the United States. In addition to helping Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bolster his popularity, the deal is also part of Trump’s efforts to secure votes before the US presidential election this year.

While all of this is true, it is also the case that the US proposition gives Palestinians an opportunity to return to the negotiation table. Refusing to engage with it — and instead resorting to age-old denials and fiery rhetoric, as Palestinian leaders have done — could be a big mistake that hinders them from achieving future gains.

The shortcomings of the Deal of the Century are clear. It cynically conditions eventual Palestinian statehood on its full demilitarisation and compensates Palestinians’ lost territories in the West Bank with remote areas near the Egyptian border. Even more regrettably, the proposal gives Israel the green light to annex both West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as well as recognises full Israeli sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem.

Still, much of what the plan offers to Israel, Israel already has and will never give up. The Jewish state has been in control of the Jordan Valley since 1967. It has occupied and maintained an unbreakable headlock on life in Jerusalem for 53 years.

The only pushback to Israel’s expansion since 1948 has been several failed wars, coupled with a fiery campaign of empty rhetoric, with which Arabs across the region and Palestinians themselves have grown disenchanted.

A stark reminder of the unfortunate realities that Palestinians will have to deal with in the future came February 5, when the Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien defended the US president’s Middle East peace plan during a meeting with diplomats in Washington.

While conceding that Trump’s plan is not perfect, O’Brien defended it as a good deal for the Palestinians, warning that Israeli expansion into Palestinian territory would be inevitable.

“The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold, if this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution,” O’Brien said.

Though perhaps exaggerated, O’Brien’s words remind us that every year the situation only gets worse for Palestinians — and that trend is not expected to change.

A recent UN report stated that there was a 45% increase in demolitions and confiscation of Palestinian structures in the West Bank in 2019 from 2018. At the same time, the Israeli government approved the construction of housing units and illegal outposts, strengthening its grip on the disputed land.

To contend with these realities, empty rhetoric, emotional reactions and flat-out rejections will do no good.

This has proven to be the case given Palestinian officials’ reactions. The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) threats, including to once again sever ties with Israel’s security agencies and calls for mass protests against the proposed deal, have been completely ineffective.

If anything, the PA has only shown its inability to produce a powerful reaction to any infringement on Palestinian rights or even to mobilise its own people.

While it might be difficult for all of us who believe in a just solution to the conflict to admit the bitter realities at hand, it is high time that we face them and deal with them.

It must also be noted that the Palestinian leadership, whether in Ramallah or Gaza, is no longer representative of its own people. In fact, since its establishment in 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA has actively participated in the repression of Palestinians, while maintaining close ties with the Israeli security apparatus.

Besides, the PA’s and Hamas’s policies have always been more aimed at ensuring their own power than protecting Palestinians. To secure this power, they engaged in all forms of condemnable practices, including postponing elections, delaying reconciliation between various factions, torturing dissidents, suppressing some protests and instrumentalising mass mobilisation for short-sighted political goals.

The problem is that such inadmissible practices, along with years of suppressing dissent, have left Palestinians disenchanted with their so-called leaders and unable to effectively mobilise for their own struggle.

Though it might be painful to say it out loud, the bitter reality is that the Israeli occupation is only one layer of oppression that Palestinians are suffering from. This, coupled with Arab countries’ waning commitment to the cause as they struggle with their own issues, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, is worsening the Palestinians’ predicament.

We must admit to what we have avoided for decades: The Palestinian cause is not and has never been “the first Arab cause,” as many populist leaders in the region tried to brand it, either to appeal to the masses to strengthen their grip on power or to divert attention away from their undemocratic and sometimes dictatorial practices.

The question is: How should the Palestinians deal with the situation?

For a reasonable solution to be reached, Palestinians should first let go of the decades-long state of denial and look beyond what their so-called leaders in the West Bank and Gaza are proposing and suggesting. They should take their fate into their own hands and push for real negotiations and practical solutions.

Hopefully, the Trump plan is not a final plan. After all, none of the previous plans or initiatives were final, either. True, the time for rosy dreams is long gone but there is still hope for Palestinians if they engage with the international community and Arab countries and secure real concessions from Israel through serious and direct negotiations.