Gridlock on the road to September

All sides seem comfortable standing still.

By ADAM SHAY
August 28, 2011 04:40
The United Nations headquarters in New York.

United Nations 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Palestinian Authority is currently soliciting UN recognition of Palestinian statehood. The main purpose of this move is creating the appearance of a dynamic and a move toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, a broader look at the interests and political realities of the relevant parties shows that an actual move forward is not in any of the parties’ interests at present.

For Fatah, the formation of a Palestinian state would mean cutting off the branch on which it sits. The PA was constructed on the framework of the PLO, its parent organization. Fatah’s relation to the PA is an inherently institutional one, rather than one based on popular support. The constant decline in the faction’s support has seen many low points, including losing the 2006 election to Hamas; losing the framework of the PA would dislodge Fatah from its West Bank power base and could be the last nail in its coffin.

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This explains the leading principle of Fatah’s attitude toward the overall topic of negotiations – that of Tatbiya (normalization). Under this principle, dialogue and ventures promoting coexistence are banned, and Palestinians may not take part in any such activities. Dialogue, therefore, can’t be used as a tool for resolution, and normalization between Israelis and Palestinians will only be possible after Israel unilaterally withdraws from the territories. Seeing as Israel seeks to conduct negotiations on precisely this matter, the result is a classic catch-22.

It could easily be argued that the Tatbiya principle is not aimed at achieving goals within the context of the conflict, but rather in the context of local Palestinian politics – prolonging the rule of Fatah.

Being an Islamist religious organization, Hamas supports a global agenda, not a national one.

Hamas does not see the formation of a Palestinian homeland as its ultimate goal; rather, it aims for the creation of a global caliphate, as stated in its charter. This goal is also supported by Hamas’s sponsor – Iran.

There have been several voices in Israel suggesting that Israel should negotiate with Hamas. However, the current government, like all those that preceded it, refuses any such negotiations until Hamas abandons terrorism as a tactic and abolishes the article in its charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. The Israeli consensus seems to accept this demand, as there have been very few challenges to it.

Unfortunately there is no parallel debate taking place within Hamas, which has declared time and again that it is not interested in achieving a resolution of the conflict via a twostate solution, but rather via the eradication of the State of Israel.

THERE IS currently little agreement among the Israeli public regarding the feasibility of a resolution. Shifting paradigms have left the public in disarray. The Oslo Accords, which founded the PA and laid down the foundations for future negotiations and progress, were based on the “land for peace” paradigm, which collapsed with the second intifada. Recently governments have returned to the traditional “defensible borders” paradigm.

The efforts of Palestinian unilateralism, as demonstrated by the attempt to achieve statehood through the UN rather than by negotiation with Israel, as well as the Arab Spring, have left the Israeli public in an atmosphere of uncertainty, which is infertile ground for any peace process, let alone one that includes territorial concessions.

The lack of progress in the negotiations grants Israel a deferral in any further territorial concessions it might be required to make if and when a resolution is negotiated.

Preconditions for negotiations are another element blocking progress.

The Palestinian insistence on recognition of the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for the future border, as well as an immediate cessation of settlement-building, is met by the Israeli demand for recognition of the Jewish state – a demand the Palestinians are unable or unwilling to answer, as it contradicts the Palestinian claim for a “right of return.”

Recently Israelis have taken to the streets in unprecedented mass demonstrations on internal social issues. Some 300,000 people called for a reevaluation of the national priorities.

Housing, education and reduced taxation seem to be the main topics on the agenda these days, with little to no public interest in jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

IT IS highly unlikely that the United States will be willing to spend any more political capital on such negotiations. The administration has lost credit among Middle Eastern countries due to an inability to bring about a significant change in overall US-Arab relations, as declared by President Barack Obama in his 2009 speech in Cairo. The continued American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown no such major shift in US policy.

The Arab Spring also dealt a blow to American foreign policy, as the first Arab regime with which the Obama administration associated itself – that of Hosni Mubarak – disintegrated in the Tahrir Square riots. The US reluctance to support the popular uprisings in Libya and Syria has further damaged America’s status as a global power and as a fighting force for freedom. As the Obama administration gears up for election year under the shadow of renewed economic crisis and endless debt debates, it is unlikely it will be willing to invest any more credit in the Middle Eastern quagmire.

THE CURRENT state of Israeli- Palestinian affairs is thereby defined by a tragic lack of willingness, ability, interest and incentives. All the principals involved have come to the conclusion that the current status quo is the optimal situation. This reality contradicts the Palestinian claim that the peace process is gridlocked due to Israeli demands, and sheds a new light on this current unilateral attempt to achieve statehood via the UN.

Undoubtedly a significant change must occur before negotiations – which are the only path leading to peace – are resumed. However, the UN General Assembly does not have the ability to bring about this change.

The writer holds a BA in international affairs and an MA in political science, both from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a senior program coordinator and a researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.


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