No Palestinian statehood in sight for 2016
Beirut - Despite diplomatic achievements in 2015, such as Palestinians effectively joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) and being able to file complaints against Israel, the raising of the Palestinian flag at UN offices or the EU decision to label products made in Israeli settlements, it is unlikely that 2016 will be a decisive year for Palestinian statehood or that Palestinians will be freed from the Israeli occupation.
The peace process is moribund and some Palestinians blame the way negotiations have been engineered.
“Israel has a veto capacity for any step it opposes in the talks,” said Ambassador Afif Safieh, who served as head of Palestinian diplomatic missions in London, Washington and Moscow.
“Up to now, the Israelis have dictated the terms of the peace process, which reflects the self-inflicted impotence of the international community. World powers consider themselves to be facilitators, forgetting there are binding international resolutions calling for the Israeli withdrawal of the territories occupied in 1967,” said Safieh, who is currently a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, one of the main political bodies of the Palestinian ruling party.
“We have to negotiate alone with the Israelis hence the total stalemate in the peace process,” he said.
For the past year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to internationalise the Palestinian question and get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution setting a two-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967, lines, followed by an international peace conference.
However, hopes for a breakthrough in the coming months have been hindered by US President Barack Obama’s reluctance to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his remaining months in office.
“We thought we could have an Eisenhower moment like in 1956 when the US president in one phone call, during a US electoral year, forced (Israel’s first prime minister David) Ben Gurion to withdraw from Sinai after the Israeli, French and British tripartite attack on that part of the world,” said Safieh.
The absence of political prospects to end the 48-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the blockade on Gaza in addition to Palestinian perceived threats to al Aqsa mosque and the expansion of Jewish settlements on the very land where Palestinians hope to establish their state, has given rise to anger and despair in the Palestinian street.
This is reflected in the stabbings and car-ramming attacks targeting Israeli soldiers, Jewish settlers and civilians. The attacks have claimed the lives of at least 20 Israelis and more than 117 Palestinians, some of whom have been killed during clashes or demonstrations.
Palestinians say their cause has been dropped from the international agenda as world and Arab leaders are focused on fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq though some are raising concerns that jihadi Salafist extremism might be feeding on the occupation of Palestinian lands.
Another problem facing the Palestinians is “the absence of an inspiring leadership able to articulate our cry for freedom out of captivity”, said Safieh, adding that the Palestinians should try to fix their political apparatus.
“There are three main challenges awaiting the Palestinians,” he explained, referring first to the need to convening a general conference of Fatah “to refresh the legitimacy of our leadership”. The last time the Fatah conference convened was in 2009.
“Secondly, we have to hold the Palestinian National Council (PNC) that is the Palestinian parliament-in-exile whose members are from inside and outside the Palestinian territories with the participation this time of Hamas and Islamic jihad,” Safieh said.
The third challenge, he said, is to reconcile Fatah and Hamas “or, in other words, the political reunification of the West Bank and Gaza”.
Safieh emphasised that the Palestinians need unity and a clear strategy and called for a non-violent resistance, which “will make the occupation unmanageable for the Israelis”.
This is, however, easier said than done as the Israeli cabinet might react — as it did in the past — by ostracising the Palestinian Authority politically and financially should the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah take place.
Another danger looming is the risk of the Palestinian Authority collapsing altogether.
Though the picture seems bleak, there are some promising signs, and many pertain to the realm of public opinion.
In Europe and the United States, the anti-Israeli occupation Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement is gaining traction. European public opinion seems to be more advanced than European governments on what should be done to prevent the collapse of the two-state solution and the rise of a de facto Israeli apartheid state in pre-1948 British mandate Palestine.