The events of the last month need to be put into proper perspective. The immediate cause of the current wave of violence has been what the Palestinians see as the Israeli government’s repeated and unwise attempts to change the status quo on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in contravention of its own long-standing promises and obligations, and of the religious rulings of its most senior rabbinical authorities.
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But the latest round of violence has not only been about the Al-Aqsa Mosque or Muslim concerns about Jewish extremist ambitions against one of the holiest sites of Islam – the first direction of prayer before Mecca itself.
What we are seeing is the bitter fruit of 48 years of settlement expansion and occupation, and the endless failures and frustrations of the peace process.
Over and above all this has been the current Israeli government’s more general failure to respond to the peaceful policies of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the fact that even after 10 years of near-total calm and the Palestinian Authority’s unwavering dedication to the path of a negotiated settlement, nothing has changed on the ground.
The latest events clearly demonstrate that the Palestinian cause cannot be set aside and disregarded, and Israel’s continuous occupation of our lands cannot be sustained indefinitely. Israelis and others who may have believed that events elsewhere in the region would allow the Palestinian cause to dissolve or fade away of its own accord have been proven wrong. Those who believed that Israel can impose its will unilaterally on a population that seeks to be free have also been proven wrong: for all its talk of a “unified and eternal” capital in Jerusalem, the latest Israeli measures taken under the guise of security only prove what they seek to deny: the city is deeply and dangerously divided, and will remain so. The only solution is to agree on how this division may be done peacefully and in the interest of both sides as part of the conflict’s resolution.
We in the PA have made our position clear. We do not espouse or encourage violence or promote a violent confrontation with Israel. That should be crystal clear. But we cannot prevent our people from expressing their legitimate frustrations in peaceful protests against repressive Israeli actions, or from pursuing their right to object nonviolently to any attempt to encroach on their religious rights and holy sites.
The way out of the current impasse is not to adopt further repressive measures, allowing live ammunition to be used against peaceful protesters or to impose collective punishments or seek vengeance against their families, or to create an Arab ghetto in East Jerusalem, or to bar Muslim worshippers from accessing their holy places.
We fully understand Israeli fears for their security and have consistently been ready to address Israel’s genuine security concerns to the best of our ability. We have been ready to accept various forms of security guarantees and mechanisms, and continue to be open to any reasonable measures that will ensure a safe and secure future for both our peoples.
But events of the past month prove once again that neither Israelis nor Palestinians will find the security they aspire to as long as the occupation continues to poison our relations and block the path toward a better and more hopeful future for both peoples.
The danger today is twofold: First, that the violence will spiral out of control and extend further and deeper in all directions. This cannot be in anyone’s interest and is a threat to us all. Second, that the moment for a historic agreement may be passing us by. The alternative is not the delusion of a one-state solution that is only a recipe for continuous strife and conflict. Nor does it lie in the perpetuation of an unsustainable status quo, which ignores Palestinian rights and is leading Israel toward greater international approbation and isolation.
What we have learned over the long years of frustrated hopes and expectations is that what we fail to achieve today will not be any easier to achieve tomorrow. What seems hard today will only be more difficult tomorrow.
We have long committed ourselves to the path of peace, from which there is no turning back. We are not interested in any imaginary, unattainable or punitive formula for peace, but seek to find a way out that meets both sides’ needs via a two-state solution based on internationally and regionally accepted terms: One that is based on the 1967 lines, mutual security, a capital for both sides in Jerusalem, the safety and sanctity of all holy sites, and justice for the Palestinian refugees.
If we do not move in this direction soon, this moment will be lost and those responsible will have to bear the consequences.
The writer is a Palestinian politician and senior member of Fatah.