September 26th, 2010 has come and gone; apparently, it was just another day! The so-called Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank expired and was not extended. Israeli bulldozers, construction equipment, and building materials have been moved into the West Bank to build and expand Jewish-only colonies (i.e. settlements) in the West Bank. Work already started, and today there are more buildings in those settlements than was yesterday, and tomorrow and every day thereafter there will be more Jewish-only settlements and Jewish settlers in the West Bank than the day before. That is the cold reality in Palestine today.
The Palestinian leadership, represented by Mahmoud Abbas, declared that it would be pointless to engage in negotiations while Israeli settlement activities continue to expand, and gave the Americans a few days to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze a few months until the two parties can at least agree on the borders between the potential two states. The Israeli leadership, represented by Benjamin Netanyahu, allowed building activities in the settlements to expand and called on the Palestinians to recognize the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people while continuing with the negotiations as the only means by which the two parties can achieve peace.
Listening to those two leaderships, one would conclude that there seems to be a massive disconnect between the two parties; each of them seems to be talking without listening to the other. The Palestinian delegation wants to discuss the borders between the two states and the Israeli delegation wants to discuss Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. We are not talking about agreeing; just discussing, for agreeing would take a lot more pain and suffering before it happens.
Even if the Americans and Europeans extract a few more months or days of “settlement freeze” from Netanyahu in order to give negotiations a chance, nothing of substance would be agreed upon. Process would prevail over substance throughout these negotiations. The first item to resolve would be the differences on which item to discuss first; borders, security, or Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. After they settle that near impossible task, process – rather than substance – would again take centre stage; they may differ on who would be facing east and who would be facing west when they sit at the table; or with what colour should the walls of the meeting room be painted; or any such nonsense that would have nothing to do with serious negotiations aiming to resolve any issue of substance in the conflict.
If the so-called Israeli settlement freeze is extended, there would be lots of theatrics, lots of pictures, lots of smiles, more Jewish-only settlements (that are excluded from the freeze), and next to nothing in agreement on any substantive issue. Then, what would Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas have achieved, and what would they do thereafter?
Obama would have the midterm congressional elections behind him, and would sometimes send Michel and other times Clinton to the region to renew the “American commitment” for peace and to call on the two parties to continue to negotiate. Netanyahu would have gained more Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, and would continue to encourage, finance, and facilitate more of those settlements that are excluded from the freeze to be built and expanded, while he would also continue to call upon the Palestinians – referring to Mahmoud Abbas using the more respectful title “Abu-Mazen” – to continue to be a partner for peace by going to the negotiations as the only mean to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian differences.
The remaining unknown is that if the Israeli “settlement freeze” is extended for a few more months, what would Abbas have achieved, and what would he do thereafter? He would probably claim to have exposed Netanyahu and his government to the world that they do not want peace. On the grounds, he would have gained no achievement for the Palestinian people, and would have amassed more Palestinian anger and rejection of his policies. More Palestinian land would be stolen; more Palestinians would be ethnically cleansed from their homes and land (especially in Jerusalem); more Palestinians would be killed or imprisoned; more Israeli oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people would be brought to bear; more Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation forces would materialise; and the conflict would become even more difficult to resolve.
What would Mahmoud Abbas do thereafter? Or, to put it more precisely, what could he do? The following is a partial list of what Mahmoud Abbas – and the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – can do:
1. Withdraw from the charade called “direct negotiations” and inform the entire world – including the Palestinian people – that he does not wish to be part of a process that would only lead to providing cover for the Israeli occupation, oppression, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people to continue.
2. Declare that the efforts to establish two states have permanently failed, due to the Israeli unwillingness to agree to the establishment of two fully independent states as demonstrated by the Israeli commitment for building and expanding Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, thereby rendering the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state impossible.
3. Dissolve the Palestinian Authority, and hand over its institutions to the occupying power (i.e. the state of Israel) and/or to the United Nations to assume responsibility for the wellbeing of the Palestinian population under occupation.
4. Inform the world that the Palestinian struggle for justice is a struggle for equal humanity of all Palestinians and Israelis to live as equal citizens in one bi-national-democratic state on the whole geographic area of historic Palestine.
5. Declare that the Palestinian struggle for achieving the objective of a bi-national-democratic state will be led by the PLO that has been recognized by the entire world as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
6. Coordinate with the maximum possible number of Arab, Islamic, and other countries in order to gather official, popular, diplomatic, and financial support for the Palestinian struggle.
7. Inform the Israeli leadership, the American administration, and the international community, that the PLO is willing to negotiate ways and means for the peaceful transformation of the state of Israel from a state that separates between Israelis and Palestinians into a bi-national-democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians alike. In that regard, the one bi-national-state must sincerely and truthfully be introduced as a promise for all; not as a threat to Israeli-Jews.
8. Concentrate the maximum efforts on finalizing the internal Palestinian reconciliation to bring to an end the Palestinian rift in the shortest possible time.
9. Work diligently with all Palestinian political parties to reform the PLO in order to make it more representative, more democratic, and more accountable.
10. Declare that while the Palestinian people reserve the right to resist injustice, occupation, oppression, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing by all legitimate means available, including armed struggle, the PLO will adopt non-violent resistance as its main strategy to regain equal humanity – in a one-bi-national-democratic state – for all Palestinians and Israelis alike.
If Mahmoud Abbas is unwilling or unable to lead the PLO in such a substantive change in direction of the Palestinian struggle, it would be more realistic for him to simply tell the truth; declare an end to his efforts to establish two independent states; inform the world that he is not interested in providing cover for Israeli policies and actions that are designed to continue the Zionist project of ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people from Palestine by dispossession, oppression, and occupation; resign his post; and allow the Palestinian people to choose a new leadership that would want to pursue the new direction of Palestinian struggle for equal humanity for all.
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!