The announcement by the right wing Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett that the prospect of a Palestinian state in the center of Israel is finished, following Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, may have sounded frightening to Palestinians at first. But they should see this step as an opportunity to change their strategy not only toward Israel but to the United States, European Union and United Nations as well.
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At the end of the month Fatah delegates from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and refugee camps are to gather in Ramallah for the Fatah convention. The delegates will have to decide where the movement that has led the Palestinian national struggle for generations and dictated the official Palestinian position is heading.
Fatah leaders admit the Oslo accords have turned from an interim arrangement to a permanent agreement based on the security coordination with Israel. American sponsorship for the peace process has collapsed and all the presidents from Bill Clinton to Obama failed to bring about an solution based on the international community’s principles, beginning with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel on the 1967 borders.
The Palestinians have been criticized for missing many opportunities to advance the peace process, while they say they have never been offered a real proposition that addresses the core issues. In fact, they say, if establishing a Palestinian state had been an American interest, the United States would have acted differently. The peace agreement between Israel and Egypt is an example that Israel’s right wing government can be pressured; the nuclear agreement with Iran is a more recent case showing that ultimately what counts is the American interest.
Since 2009 the Palestinians have been offered no respectable deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the West Bank as an extended civil administration run by an authority that pays wages and carries out security coordination and that mainly serves Israeli security. He isn’t thinking about the end of the occupation or Palestinian sovereignty.
The United States, Europe and a few other donor states are funneling money to build the future Palestinian state’s institutions. While this may have made sense once, it no longer serves the Palestinians’ interests. Rather, it removes the burden of occupation from the occupier. So Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, while the world pays for it. This situation could go on for generations and even get worse. There are signs that Israel intends to apply this policy to the Gaza Strip as well: Enable economic assistance to the Strip and put off any peace agreement indefinitely. There are always more important things to attend to – Iran, ISIS, etc. and the Palestinians must be patient.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership are pinning their hopes on the French peace initiative, the only one left. But it’s clear to all that this initiative won’t yield a formula that could pressure Netanyahu’s Israel and Trump’s America to discuss a real peace agreement. Again the two sides will be called to hold direct negotiations, or the convention delegates will draft a proposal which, without American backing, will go nowhere.
The Palestinian leadership can take advantage of the Fatah convention and the French initiative to make it clear to the world that the masquerade is over. If Netanyahu and his cabinet, backed by Trump and the United States, insist on continuing the occupation, then Israel must pay for its daily costs. Europe and the United Nations are not responsible for the West Bank and Gaza’s education, health and infrastructure.
If the prospect of a Palestinian state is really voided, as Bennett declared, then he and his cabinet must know that the Palestinians won’t agree to live forever under an apartheid regime in internment compounds in the West Bank. Abbas and the Palestinian leadership must state clearly what they have been saying in closed rooms and move to accomplish this goal. They must turn the one-state-for-two-nations solution into a strategy and a resolution. The world, including Trump and Netanyahu, will then have to decide where they’re heading.