Palestine has not been part of any major discussion during the presidential election debates. That is surprising and dismaying, given the United States' role as a crucial player in the region and its unconditional financial and political support of Israel. Yet, the candidates appear to have actively avoided the issue.
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This tactic has also been adopted by Israeli politicians. Though they remain the leaders of a state that actively practices and encourages the colonial domination of another nation, Israeli politicians, from different parts of the political map, have decided to focus their attention mainly on issues such as domestic social policy and the encouragement of a new war in this region. Almost nothing has been said about the millions of people living under full Israeli control and the impossibility of peace while the occupation persists.
However, ignoring this vital issue does not mean that Palestine and its sacred right to freedom can be bypassed. In fact, the common future of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the rest of the region, depends on achieving peace and security for both Palestine and Israel. This is not a task that should be marginalized.
This harmful state of denial comes at a time when the possibility of realizing the two-state solution is rapidly diminishing due to Israel’s policies of colonization. Such policies have been denounced by Israel’s long-standing allies, such as Germany and France. But it seems these calls for peace have been muffled by election campaigning in Washington.
Successive American administrations have affirmed that the two-state solution based on the 1967 border is an American interest in the region. President Obama has also repeatedly stated his commitment to this issue. But in Israel, the current Prime Minister has unfortunately ensured that American efforts to resume meaningful negotiations between Israel and Palestine have failed, by taking actions on the ground, namely the unprecedented acceleration of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, that negate the spirit and purpose of those negotiations. The recently published Levy Report presents another clear example of this government's systematic efforts to derail all international efforts, as Israel threatens to effectively turn the occupation into full-fledged annexation.
But as Israeli actions are fading out the prospects of peace, the geopolitical map of the region is also changing rapidly, opening horizons of freedom and activism that were previously blocked. The Arab Spring has set a new context for the Middle East.
All world leaders who supported the Arab Spring, including the newly-elected American president, will have to explain to the Arab street why their support for freedom stops at Palestine's doorstep. Serious effort will be needed to explain why the world continues to insist on trying, again, formulas that have failed time again, including the demand for resumption of negotiations without any guarantees or clear terms of reference while guaranteeing Israel immunity from any accountability for ignoring previous agreements and its internationally recognized obligations.
We realize that the ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are solid. But it's important to remember that a friend has a responsibility to provide honest and even sobering advice to a friend who is committing a grave mistake. Entrenching the occupation and denying the Palestinian people their inalienable national rights to freedom and independence will not bring peace to Israel. On the contrary, it will guarantee perpetual conflict.
The next American president might very well be the last president of the “two-state solution” era. That is an historic responsibility whose far-reaching consequences cannot be understated.
In this context, the new American administration will have an opportunity to have, as one of its first actions, a real and effective push for peace by supporting Palestine's diplomatic initiative to achieve enhanced status at the United Nations, advance our national rights and save the two-state solution. This step will enhance the political process and bolster the chances of initiating a credible and effective political effort that would conclude with the realization of the two-state solution.
We have chosen negotiations as a means to reaching peace. Our commitment to this path is firm. Our political initiative at the United Nations is a sincere effort for the sake of peace that should enjoy the active support of all those brave enough to be true peace partners in Israel as well as Israel's friends who are committed to seeing it enjoy a future of peace.
Efforts to prevent the Palestinian people from exercising its inalienable and sovereign right to self-determination are contradictory to stated American positions regarding the struggle for freedom and democracy embodied by the Arab Spring. Undermining the mechanisms of the international system and obstructing the will of the majority of the international community is not only counterproductive but also undemocratic. This does not help Israel, as it only strengthens those within Israel who support an apartheid regime and the systematic denial of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Palestine is looking forward to working with the next American administration to achieve peace through freedom and justice, and in so doing, securing a future of democracy, security and prosperity for the whole region. That is why it is vitally important for the U.S. to have the political will to show that Palestine is not an exception to the international rule and that it also deserves to exercise its internationally-recognized inalienable rights. Let us work together towards this noble goal, because ignoring it will only drag the entire region further away from the peace we seek.
After almost a century of denied national rights and five decades of oppression, it is time for Palestine to enjoy the blanket international support it deserves for justice long overdue.
Dr. Saeb Erekat is a member of the PLO Executive Committee and chief Palestinian negotiator.