By Baria Alamuddin
23 January 2017
We are accustomed to peace conferences on Palestine that appear doomed before they even begin, yet the recent one in Paris took place in even more inauspicious circumstances than its predecessors. After decades of warnings that the window of opportunity for two states may be narrowing, perhaps last week we heard it finally close, not with a bang but a whimper. We are at the intersection of a number of factors that jointly threaten to kill the two-state solution:
• Under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government, the rate of settlement building is intensifying. His hard-line allies are pushing legislation through Parliament that would annex Palestinian land and retrospectively legalize illegal settlement outposts. Settlements were constructed with the objective of fragmenting Palestinian lands into tiny cantons. While they continue to exist, there can never be a Palestinian state worthy of the name.
• Trump’s threat to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and an intensification of Israeli “facts on the ground” in the east of the city, represent an attempt to impose a solution on Jerusalem.
• Trump’s and Netanyahu’s hostility to a two-state vision risk making efforts toward peace futile for the next four to eight years, particularly with so much of the Arab world preoccupied with other crises.
The enemies of the Palestinian cause would like us to be pessimistic and defeatist. However, it has never been more important for Palestinians and those who support their just cause to boldly, passionately and unitedly take a new path forward.
The attendance of 70 nations at the Paris conference (minus the Israelis and Palestinians themselves) was in itself a signal of how crucial this conflict remains. The issue remains central to our hearts, not just in the Arab world but among all those who care about justice and human rights.
For those who attended, one of the most enduring memories will be the remarkable manner in which the UK government sabotaged the occasion. Under Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, British policy has moved slavishly into the pro-Israel camp.
We recently saw an unusually savage attack against former US Secretary of State John Kerry when he spoke out against Israeli settlements. He warned that “the status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation.” May’s rebuke of Kerry’s comments was as bizarre as they were unnecessary. The UK was chiding the US for being too tough on Israel!
At the Paris conference, numerous world leaders were slated to attend. We could have understood if May refrained from attending and sent Johnson (36 foreign ministers did attend). We could have granted extenuating circumstances if he was busy with crises elsewhere and sent an ambassador. Instead, Britain snubbed the conference by sending a junior official, seeking to sabotage the event from the sidelines.
Britain pointedly refused to sign the final communiqué that mildly affirmed a commitment to the two-state solution. The UK also vetoed a joint European statement setting out a united approach for peace efforts.
European diplomats accused the UK of jettisoning 20 years of nuanced policies on Palestine to cozy up to Trump. With May announced as the first national leader to meet Trump following his inauguration, perhaps she will feel that this scorched-earth approach toward the peace process was worth it.
We could have applauded former President Barack Obama’s and Kerry’s toughened position if this had not come at the close of their administration. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the US allowed to pass by not using its veto, could have been seen as a watershed moment. In the current circumstances, it scarcely seems to matter.
In his statement explaining the US position on the resolution, Kerry said: “I don’t think most people in Israel, and certainly in the world, have any idea how broad and systematic the process has become, but the facts speak for themselves. The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone, not including East Jerusalem, has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo, including 100,000 just since 2009.” We can hear the frustration in these words, but if only they had been spoken sooner, and if only they had led to action.
Israel’s leaders can scarcely hide their jubilation at Trump’s inauguration. They believe they have a free pass to behave as they want for the foreseeable future. Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause… This is the position of the president-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple.”
Trump’s declaration to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem could be his greatest gift to the Palestinians. After 10 years of Palestine being at best a minor news story, Trump has finally provided a cause that the entire Muslim world can unite behind.
Muslims in Indonesia, West Africa and Malaysia may not understand the intimate details of the Palestinian conflict, but they all look to Jerusalem as one of the holiest cities with which our faith is intimately connected. Trump may have grown accustomed to saying offensive things about Islam and Muslims almost every time he opens his mouth, but Jerusalem is one issue where he will find 1.6 billion Muslims standing in his path.
The Israel Democracy Institute found that 62 percent of Israel’s Jewish public support settlement-building in the occupied territories. However, Israel’s public has failed to internalize the consequences of a continuation of the apartheid status quo and blocking a solution indefinitely.
Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and almost 5 million inhabit the entirety of Palestine. While the Jewish population of Israel is around 6.3 million, the Arab population has a significantly higher birth rate, meaning Jews become demographically weaker year on year.
With Arabs and other minorities approaching 50 percent of the population, we can see why Israeli right-wingers would never accept a one-state solution in which non-Jews enjoy full democratic rights.
As new Palestinian generations emerge, their passion and energy should be channeled into renewing and refocusing the Palestinian movement. The divisions sown between entities such as Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have weakened the entire Palestinian movement. The political will should long since have been found to heal these fractures.
The state of play has altered beyond recognition since the Oslo years, so there is a need for new blood and new thinking toward a national Palestinian strategy adapted to a radically new phase: A new vision for an uprising that brings all Palestinians together to assert their rights, rendering continuation of the occupation impossible.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas would be right to say that in the absence of a path toward peace, the PA cannot claim to be the precursor of a future Palestinian state. Rather, it has become a fig leaf for the occupation and should be abolished.
The PA allowed Israelis to buy into a fiction that a peace solution was unnecessary. It took the legal and practical responsibilities for the occupation off Israel’s shoulders. Israelis thus came to believe that if settlements continued expanding year on year, surely the Palestinians would eventually disappear.
The desperation that such policies cultivate in young dispossessed generations with nothing to lose is the greatest strategic threat facing both Tel Aviv and Ramallah today. Israelis only have to look across their northern borders to see the encroachment of brutal ideologies: Daesh, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. The abandonment of the civilized vision of two coexisting neighbors threatens to unleash hell.
Netanyahu’s extreme-right regime and US Republicans may feel complacent, having gleefully hacked the two-state solution to death. In reality, all they have done is trigger a demographic and political time bomb. In the absence of any credible initiative to decrease this perfect storm of pressures imposed on the Palestinians, they may not have too long to wait before the coming explosion.
Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.