Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trapped in a box with no apparent exit. Having been coerced into resuming direct negotiations “without preconditions” when many opposed such negotiations in the absence of a total settlement freeze, he has made a solemn pledge to his people. If Israel’s rather permeable “moratorium” on new settlement construction is not renewed and extended when it expires at the end of September, the Palestinians will withdraw from this new round of negotiations.
Yet every practical political consideration and every public pronouncement by leading members of the Israeli government suggests that a renewal or extension of the current “moratorium” is inconceivable.
If Abbas violates his pledge and continues to negotiate while Israel
expands settlements, he will forfeit his remaining credibility among his
own people. However, if he honors his pledge, the American government
will blame the Palestinians for collapsing the “peace process,” and
Abbas’s decades-long sole strategy for achieving peace – negotiations,
negotiations and more negotiations – will be dead in the water and
sinking fast, leaving his people with nothing to look forward to but an
open-ended continuation of the status quo.
Abbas clearly has an urgent need for a new strategy, one which would
both permit him to continue negotiating and compel the Israeli
government to negotiate with a genuine intention to actually achieve a
definitive peace agreement.
Fortunately, for Israelis as well as for Palestinians, the one-year time
limit for this new round of negotiations which Abbas had sought and
which has been agreed to by the American and Israeli governments makes
such a strategy readily available for immediate adoption.
Throughout the long years of the perpetual “peace process,” deadlines,
starting with the five-year deadline for reaching a permanent-status
agreement in the now 17-year-old Oslo Declaration of Principles, have
been consistently and predictably missed. Such failures have been
facilitated by the practical reality that, for Israel, “failure” has had
no consequences other than a continuation of the status quo – which,
for all Israeli governments, has been not only tolerable but preferable
to any realistic alternative. For Israel, “failure” has always
constituted “success,” permitting it to continue confiscating
Palestinian land, expanding its West Bank colonies, building Jews-only
bypass roads and generally making the occupation even more permanent.
In everyone’s interests, this must change. For there to be any chance of
success in this new round of negotiations, failure must have clear and
compelling consequences which Israelis would find unappealing.
IN A famous interview published in Haaretz on November 29, 2007, Ehud
Olmert declared, “If the day comes when the two-state solution
collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting
rights [also for the Palestinians in the territories], then, as soon as
that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
In a prior Haaretz article, published on March 13, 2003, Olmert had
expressed the same concern in the following terms: “More and more
Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated two-state solution,
because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian
paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation,’
in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of
course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and
ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of
the Jewish state.”
All that the Palestinian leadership needs to do to continue its
engagement in this new round of negotiations, and to do so from an
unaccustomed position of strength and with genuine hope for a
satisfactory conclusion, is to state that, if a definitive peace
agreement on a two-state basis has not been reached and signed by the
agreed deadline of September 2, 2011, the Palestinian people will have
no choice but to seek justice through democracy – through full rights of
citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any
discrimination based on race or religion, and with equal rights for all
who live there – and that they would pursue this goal through purely
Framing the choice with such clarity would ensure that the Israeli
leadership would, at last, be inspired – indeed, compelled – to make the
most attractive twostate offer which Israeli public opinion could
conceivably find acceptable, while rendering continued settlement
construction, which, in the current context, is a clear test of Israeli
sincerity in seeking peace, a matter of relatively minor importance and a
commercially high-risk enterprise during the coming year.
With half a million settlers already implanted throughout the West Bank
and east Jerusalem, it may now be too late to divide the land and
achieve a decent twostate solution (as opposed to an indecent,
less-than-a-Bantustan one), but a decent two-state solution would never
have a better chance of being achieved. If it is, indeed, too late, then
Israelis, Palestinians and the world would know and could thereafter
focus constructively on the only other decent alternative.
It is even possible that, if forced to focus during the coming year on
the prospect of living in a single democratic state with equal rights
for all its citizens – which, after all, is what the United States and
the European Union hold up as the ideal form of political life – many
Israelis might come to view this “threat” as less nightmarish than they
In this context, Jewish Israelis might wish to talk with some white
South Africans. The transformation of South Africa’s racial-supremicist
ideology and political system into a fully democratic one has
transformed them, personally, from pariahs into people welcomed
throughout the world. It has also ensured the permanence of a strong and
vital white presence in southern Africa in a way that prolonging the
flagrant injustice of a racial-supremicist ideology and political system
and imposing fragmented and dependent “independent states” on the
natives could never have achieved.
This latest one-year deadline for achieving an agreed settlement of the
Israeli- Palestinian conflict must not only provide an “outside-the-box”
solution to the bind in which Abbas finds himself. It must also have
clear and unambiguous consequences which focus all concerned minds on a
genuine effort to actually achieve peace with some measure of justice.
Whether the future of the Holy Land is to be based on partition into two
states or on full democracy in one state, a definitive choice must be
made in the coming year. A fraudulent “peace process” designed simply to
kill time can no longer be tolerated.
The writer, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team, is author of
The World According to Whitbeck.