By Harry Hagopian
21 Mar 2014
Gone are the days when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the sole political focus of attention for much of the world and its media. I do not remember the early days of this conflict: I was not born in 1917 when Lord Balfour initially floated the idea of a home for the Jewish people, nor was I around in 1948 when the State of Israel came into being.
Besides, I was a toddler in 1967 when the six-day war between Israel and the Arab countries resulted in another disaster - naksa - for the Arab forces with the loss of further territory. However, I have vivid and hands-on recollections of the finite period that started with the grudging Madrid conference and petered out with a failed Oslo chapter.
Around those two stations were a number of other initiatives and watering holes meant to forge the key that unlocked the door to this conflict.
But today, this existential conflict between the two competing narratives no longer commands the same measure of attention in the major capitals of the world or in the international media. We are far too engrossed with developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Syria to devote much of our purist - and limited - attention to the pursuit of what was known until the final years of the last decade as "a just and comprehensive" solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, in the absence of a political solution that is cradled by the principles of international law and legitimacy, the facts on the ground remain dauntingly stubborn with Israeli illegal settlements that are expanding over occupied territories and gobbling up more Palestinian lands, let alone with a separation wall between two peoples that is a sad reminder of collective failure.
Add to that the sporadic skirmishes with a separatist Gaza and the latest insistence by the Israeli prime minister that Palestinians should recognise the Jewish nature of Israel and in so doing question not only the Right of Return for refugees but - more practically for me - the future of the Palestinian community in Israel itself. However, the political magi in Jerusalem now insist that we cannot have peace minus such recognition.
Yet, despite those drawbacks and manmade obstacles, the solution for me is not only reachable but has been available for many years. In a nutshell, it is a blend of the Clinton Parameters - Mitveh Clinton - 2000 and the Arab Initiative 2002 as air-brushed by the Abbas-Olmert talks of 2008. However, what is sorely lacking is the political will to see through the painful compromises that could usher in peace.
Today, and following the meeting last week of Presidents Obama and Abbas as well as the embittered verbal exchanges between Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Dahlan who was ousted from Fatah, US Secretary of State John Kerry is still fine-tuning a framework agreement that incorporates some elements of American understanding for the way forward.
Mind you, I had always thought that the much-vaunted roadmap (alas a non-paper to nowhere) was meant to be this document. However, if such a new version re-incorporates some key facts about international law and legitimacy alongside good neighbourliness and security, it is perhaps worth another stab over the wording of a facilitating paper.
The Weaker Party
It is self-evident that Palestinians are the weaker party in this duality and the US Administration is once more leaning on them to be the more complacent party.
This is hard for Abbas and for the Palestinian people as a whole. But I would still opine that Palestinians today should go the extra mile and evince yet more good will by accepting the US request to extend negotiations until end-2014 in return to a freeze on all new tenders for illegal settlements as well as the release of Marwan Barghouti from jail since he is one of the very few charismatic hopes for Palestinian political aspirations today.
Moreover, the Palestinian leadership should make it clear that the end of 2014 is also the end of the road. This does not mean that the virtual State of Palestine will then rush to join the Treaty of Rome and take Israel to the ICC - more so since this is a long-term and quite uncertain move.
Rather, what it should do in case of another fiasco is to dismantle unilaterally the Palestinian Authority, revert back to the PLO as the sole legitimate body representing Palestinians and in so doing stop running the OPT as an agency for Israel.
Once the Authority disinvests itself of the dubious privilege of running those territorial patches in some form or other, and its coterie of managers throw in the towel, the Geneva IV Conventions kick in.
Simply put, Israel would then be coerced to assume its responsibilities as an occupying power and bear the financial, administrative and demographic burdens of running those areas it keeps under its occupation.
So could this lead to a breakthrough, especially once the EU stops being the banker of this conflict? I do not know frankly, but surely it is better than perpetuating a situation where the majority of the Palestinian people toil for their daily bread while a select group wheel and deal within the status quo.
But such a step is hugely counterintuitive and requires the pluck to dispossess oneself of the political frills for the sake of a larger good. I am not too sure that the Palestinian leadership are willing to go for the jugular.
Yet this needs doing in order to nudge the process forward by separating the political chaff from the financial wheat and placing Israel and its satellites in front of their international responsibilities.
Far too many countries - sadly as many in the Arab World as elsewhere - are quite eager to shelve the Palestinian conflict and overlook the suffering of this people in return for some spurious deal. After all, this conflict is a political zone of discomfort that has been festering for decades and still gnaws at many consciences.
So it is perhaps high time for the gatekeepers themselves to sit up and ensure that the world community no longer trolls their cause from pillar to post!
Dr Harry Hagopian is a London-based international lawyer, political advisor and ecumenical consultant on the MENA region. He is also a second-track negotiator and works closely with European institutions.