Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has landed in Washington. U.S. President Trump invited him to visit the White House to discuss ways to resume the political process between Palestine and Israel. President Abbas welcomed this initiative and said that he is looking forward to a constructive meeting. The magnitude of this task, however, must not be underestimated.
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I do not wish to be the voice of pessimism. On the contrary, even after the Palestinian people have gone through 70 years of exile provoked by the Nakba and 50 years of occupation, and even having the most extremist government in the State of Israel’s short history, I still believe peace is possible. At the same time, as someone who knows the Israeli and the Palestinian camps well, I have to be realistic: Restarting a meaningful and substantial peace process will require a great deal of political will from the international community, including the U.S. administration, and the strength to make tough decisions for the long term benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis.
For Trump to achieve his goal of doing the “ultimate deal,” there are two options he can put to Netanyahu. The first is that Netanyahu show a genuine and concrete commitment to the two-state solution on the 1967 borders. This would mean an immediate halt to settlement activities, which, aside from being a violation of international law and contradiction of international consensus, buries the two-state solution with every brick that is laid. It would also require Netanyahu’s government, if they were to choose the two-state option, to present a map of their proposal for how they envisage such a solution. This could lay the groundwork for a meaningful process leading to two sovereign states living side by side, which, to my mind, is still the preferred option for all involved.
The second possibility, if Netanyahu’s government continues to reject the two-state option, would be to seek ideas from the Israeli premier about how one secular democratic state could work. The State of Israel cannot be democratic as long as it continues to wield its military occupation over the lives of millions, while denying them their rights.
In either case, ending the occupation must be the starting point. It is illogical to imagine that any peace can be reached in such a situation of deep asymmetry, where the relationship between the two parties is one of occupier and occupied.
In a two-state scenario, this means that Netanyahu will have to give up the notion that Israel will continue to retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley, and this absurd and unprecedented notion of recognizing the specific character of Israel as a Jewish state. The former is an issue on which a number of proactive solutions have been put forward by the Palestinian side and repeatedly rejected by Israel, although supported by past U.S. administrations and their military experts. As for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, 1.7 million Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel are not going to accept being the “collateral damage” of a peace agreement, thus legitimizing the institutionalized discrimination of the state, including over 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. At the same time, the PLO recognized the State of Israel back in 1993 (a recognition which is yet to be reciprocated).
In a one-state scenario, this means a state that ensures equal rights for all of its citizens, not one that privileges Jewish citizens while discriminating against those of other races or faiths.
The Palestinian people, whether in occupied Palestine, the diaspora or Israel, are ready to hear about either option outlined above; Netanyahu appears to like neither. Recent events suggest that Trump’s task – to convince the current Israeli government to become a partner for peace – will be an especially difficult one. The U.S. administration will already be aware of this, given their latest meetings with the Israeli side and their discussions on settlement construction, which is up by 40 percent in the past year compared to the year before. Together with the recent Israeli “Regularization Law,” retroactively legalizing settlements which even the Israeli government previously considered illegal, and the appointment of an active supporter of the settlements and of racist Zionist supremacist ideology as U.S. ambassador to Israel, this task becomes even more problematic.
Netanyahu’s government will not voluntarily give up its occupation of Palestine. Therefore, the right conditions for peace also require international accountability and consequences to change this behavior. As long as international resolutions are not enforced (two recent examples being UN Security Council resolution SCR 2334 and the UN Human Rights Council decision to create a database of companies involved in the settlement enterprise), and as long as the truth of the situation on the ground is swept under the carpet because one doesn’t want to accept a reality of “apartheid,” peace will remain as elusive as ever.
As the occupied party,the Palestinians will remain open to any solution that guarantees the rights of their people. But one thing is certain: If we fall into the same old pattern of Israel dictating and the U.S. administration acting on Israel’s behalf – rather than in Israel’s interest, which in the long term is the same as Palestine’s interest – then there can be no deal. As a businessman, Trump has himself acknowledged that any deal has to work for both sides. We hope that he can be the man for the job.
Dr. Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) is deputy speaker of the Knesset.