Is a third intifada the only option left for the Palestinians?
Beirut - The little hope that Palestinians have been hanging on for establishing their own state has been dampened by US President Donald Trump’s confusing vision of settling the nearly 70-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Breaking with two decades of US commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by suggesting that he would be “happy” with whatever Israel and the Palestinians “like” in terms of one-state or two-state solutions, Trump would be throwing the Palestinians into the lion’s den.
By washing his hands of a stagnant peace process and dropping the US role as a broker, Trump would be opening the way for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to achieve his goal: Complete sovereignty, total security control over the area west of the Jordan River and recognition of the Jewish state.
It is not that the Palestinians were counting much on the peace process — dead for a long time — but the absence of such an internationally sponsored negotiations framework and taking away the two-state solution are leaving them in limbo, with no options but to create new ways to confront the Israeli occupation.
“With Trump dropping the two-state solution, the peace process is finished and when he leaves the Israelis and Palestinians on their own and says find a solution and [he] will not interfere, this means that he opened the way for the strongest party, which is the occupier, i.e. Israel, to do what it wants practically on the ground,” said Michel Nawfal, a researcher at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut.
Long-standing US policy was based on the two-state paradigm, stopping illegal Jewish settlement expansion and refraining from moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move promised by Trump during his election campaign.
Under the two-state solution — the fruit of decades of international efforts to end the conflict — the Palestinians would have their own independent state alongside the state of Israel, both coexisting peacefully. The Palestinian state would be established along the pre-1967 so-called Green Line that demarcates the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as their capital. Palestinians, as stated by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, have accepted the notion that a Palestinian state will account for just 22% of historic Palestine.
The one-state solution provides for merging Israel, the West Bank and Gaza but leaves Israel with concerns over demographic changes and its ability to preserve the country’s Jewish character. For the Palestinians, that would mean an apartheid state for Israelis are not willing to accept it to be a democratic, secular state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims live together.
With Trump in office and much influence from his team of staunch supporters of Israel and its settler-colonialism, Israel is the “strongest party in this equation and without an honest broker that leaves them on their own, the door is open for Israel to win,” Nawfal said.
He argued that Israelis do not want negotiations or a settlement based on international law that would allow the Palestinians to have a sovereign state. “Their real strategy is to manage the crisis… expand the Jewish settlements in a way there will be no base for establishing a Palestinian authority,” he said. “What could be left (of Palestinian territories) could make a Bantustan or be annexed to Jordan.”
Despite their differences, the Palestinians are holding on to their long-time demands to have their own state; the return of the refugees expelled from their land in 1948 and 1967 and the right of self-determination.
“The Palestinians’ national goal has not changed. This land needs to have an independent sovereignty and the people ruling themselves like any other people in the world,” said Suheil el-Natour, a Beirut-based Palestinian activist in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). “After Trump’s election, what changed is the blunt disclosure of the real goal of the Israelis, which is: No state, no sovereignty for the Palestinians and no right to return for the refugees.”
Israel is thus taking measures to “create a de facto situation”, emptying Palestinian areas through demolishing houses, forced expulsions and arming Jewish settlers, Natour explained. “Israelis will continue on creating new realities on the ground and the Palestinians will never recognise a Jewish state. Thus, no surrender,” he said.
That will leave no more room for negotiations and likely pave the way for a third intifada.
“We could be effectively on the road to a third intifada,” Nawfal said, expecting an “outburst of anger”, especially if the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem. “There is a situation ready to explode, probably lacking a spark that could be triggered by the interaction of Trump’s approach and the policies of the Israeli hardliners.”
The new uprising, he said, would be a “wide civil disobedience like the first intifada, which really exposed the ordeal and tragedy of the Palestinians in its ugliest images to the Western public opinion. I can’t see any other way out for the time being.”
To reach that point, the Palestinians should end their internal disputes and unite to face Israel, said Natour, who said he also expected a third intifada to let the Israelis feel how “exhausting it is for them to occupy our land”.
Armed action could be the last resort, he said, referring to “all kinds of allowed struggles,” including civil disobedience and economic boycott inside the Palestinian territories.
By warning Israel against annexing the West Bank as disclosed by Israeli Defence Minister Avidgor Lieberman on March 6th, Trump appears to be returning to more traditional US policy.
But let’s wait and see. As Natour concluded: “There is occupation and expulsion. Six million Palestinians living in the diaspora and 6 million inside the territories. Even Israel doesn’t know how to solve this problem.”