The moment of truth

Top PA negotiator calls on Israel to protect fast-closing window of opportunity for peace based on two states

By SAEB EREKAT
December 11, 2011 22:42
Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

The two-state solution on the 1967 borders has been the official Palestinian position for the past 23 years. Since then, we have engaged Israel and the international community and exerted sincere efforts to achieve our inalienable right to self-determination through the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state on the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

We continue to believe that this is the only viable formula for true peace, a conviction the majority of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the international community share.

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Twenty years of peace process have passed without a conclusion to the conflict. In fact, most Palestinians have witnessed their situation go from bad to worse in the past two decades, while Israel enjoys unprecedented economic growth and prosperity.

During these years, successive Israeli governments have actively pursued settlement construction and expansion in the Occupied Territory, including in East Jerusalem, in flagrant violation of international law and signed agreements. In fact, during the peace process years, the Israeli settler population more than doubled while the settlements, Wall, and related infrastructure now de facto control almost half of the West Bank.

Today, we are at a historic junction.

The moment of truth is upon us, Palestinians and Israelis. Do we want to realize the two-state solution? Is there enough political will to achieve peace?

If the answer is yes, implementing agreements, respecting international law and recognizing Palestine on the 1967 borders are the only logical outcome.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE current government coalition in Israel is undoing the very foundations of the peace agreed on 20 years ago. Today, the Palestinian Authority does not have any real authority. Real authority lies with Israel, with the exception of some municipal work.

Israel has denied Palestinians the attributes of sovereignty agreed on for the interim period and continues to carry out actions that carve out a new reality on the ground that makes a two-state solution increasingly unviable. Among other things, Israel controls the Population Registry and access to our natural resources, while the landscape continues to change with the expansion of illegal settlement. Areas within our country, such as East Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, are inaccessible to most of our people.

This bleak reality of walls, checkpoints and daily humiliation has driven expectations to an all-time low. The latest opinion polls show that a majority of Palestinian still believe in the two-state solution and reaching peace with Israel through negotiations. However, this majority also doubts that such a solution is possible. Polls of Arab public opinion bring similar results.

Our bid for UN membership in this context could be the last chance for a real and viable peaceful resolution to the conflict and we should not miss it. Our diplomatic strategy seeking international recognition for the State of Palestine and its overdue admission to the United Nations is a reaffirmation of the Palestinian decision to realize our internationally recognized right to self-determination, in accordance with international law and through nonviolent means.

Our diplomatic strategy seeking international recognition has been successful. Palestine’s just cause enjoys overwhelming international support. Already, 130 countries recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to establish their own sovereign state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. But this is not enough.

We know that the majority of Israelis support the two-state solution, and we invite them to join us in this positive campaign for peace. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories that began in 1967 is not recognized by any party in the international community. Promises from Israeli leaders that under any agreement the Jordan Valley will always be part of Israel or that East Jerusalem will remain under Israeli occupation are misleading and disingenuous. We will never agree to such an agreement, because it would not reflect the international consensus on the desired solution. More worrying, this kind of platform reflects the Israeli government’s unwillingness to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. This is a reckless position that runs counter the Israeli public’s stated priorities.

In 1988, the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, took a courageous and historic compromise for the sake of peace; we recognized Israel over 78 percent of historic Palestine. Our position remains steadfast: The 1967 borders must be the borders between Israel and Palestine. For the two-state solution to materialize, Israel must recognize the 1967 borders.

The Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem will not remain under Israeli occupation, just as Netanya and West Jerusalem will not be under Palestinian sovereignty. For peace to prevail, recognition is needed. Palestine recognized Israel more than 20 years ago; it is now time for Israel to reciprocate this recognition.

Justice is also needed, and Israel cannot claim to want peace while it continues to breach international law and signed agreements. So long as a Palestinian child in the Jordan Valley has to ask for Israel’s permission to have a school, or a Palestinian nun from Bethlehem is required to seek authorization to pray in the Holy Sepulchre, or a Jerusalemite is made homeless through demolition and expulsion, or a student from Gaza waits for a permit to join Bir Zeit University, peace shall remain elusive.

Israel must accept its responsibilities and adhere to the collective will of the international community. It must realize that to guarantee peace and security for its citizens, it must stop acting with belligerence and racism, and implement relevant UN resolutions, including those in relation to the International Court of Justice Advisory Ruling on the Wall.

For real and lasting peace to be realized, Israel must end its occupation and respect international law. We call on everyone in Israel who seeks a future of peace and security for both societies to protect the fast-closing window of opportunity for peace based on two states. Support the Palestinian bid for UN admission because it is a peaceful, positive and collective investment in peace. Together, let us realign the path to peace with international law and the universal values of human rights. This is how we can reflect what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians truly want: two sovereign, viable and democratic states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side, in peace and security.

The writer is chief Palestinian negotiator.


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