The focus of the international community is not on Israel and Palestine, but that’s ok, it hasn’t been here for many years already. While the world rightfully focuses on the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Israel and Palestine our governments continue to try to hold onto the holy status quo.
For Israel, any engagement in the questions regarding the future of the occupied territories will swiftly lead to the breakup of the current Israeli government. As long as the Bennett-Lapid government exists, Israel will make great efforts to avoid dealing with the Palestinian issue.
Fortunately for the Israeli government, Netanyahu overwhelmingly succeeded in removing the Palestinian issue from the local, regional and global agenda. Netanyahu contributed to the complicity of the Palestinian Authority in the increasing illegitimacy of the PA in the eyes of its own people and most of the world. Trump and Netanyahu proved that there are large parts of the Arab world that are willing to engage with Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue.
The PA and Hamas are both complicit in sanctifying their own status quo of disunity and no progress on the Palestinian issue, due to their own behavior and decision making, which aims to keep themselves in power above everything else. While the international community and parts of the government of Israel continue to parrot the mantra “Two states for two peoples”, the solution to the conflict, which was thought some years back to be a fait accompli, is becoming less and less viable with each passing day.
It is doubtful if a viable two-state solution is still possible and the foreign diplomats that I meet with say so in private, while their governments still repeat the two-state mantra at every given opportunity. They comment that there is no peace process, there have not been negotiations between the parties since 2009 and there is no political horizon of a peace process at any time in the near future.
They know that the current Israeli government is not going to open negotiations with the Palestinians and they know that the Palestinian polity is far from being able to negotiate with the Israelis while they are divided between the West Bank and Gaza.
As well, both regimes have serious problems of legitimacy on the Palestinian street. For the international community it seems that the status quo situation is the best they can hope for. They all speak about preventing harm and it seems that they depend on the Biden administration to fulfill that role.
According to what I have heard, the Biden administration is credited with blocking a settlement in Atarot, blocking the E1 construction plans between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumin, postponing the removal of families from Sheikh Jarrah, blocking more settlements plans for the area near Beit Safafa in Jerusalem and more.
At the same time, the US seems to have given Israel carte blanche to take security affairs into their own hands entirely, giving Israel impunity even when it executes targeted assassinations in broad daylight in the middle of Nablus. Europe has protested Israeli decisions to shut down well-known and respected Palestinian NGOs and protests Israeli settlement policies, but Europe continues to fund the PA, which looks more and more like funding the occupation.
In my view, it is time to shut up or put up, or as I said to a European ambassador, “It is time to put your mouth where your money is.” If there is any chance of saving the two-state solution then at least two things need to happen: Elections in Palestine and recognition of the State of Palestine. Quite frankly, I cannot understand the logic of continuing to support the two-state solution, while only recognizing one of the states.
Nine years ago, Sweden unilaterally recognized the State of Palestine and Israel punished Sweden for that by outcasting them and virtually boycotting the Swedish government. But recently, Sweden has been brought back out of the cold without being required to undo its recognition of Palestine. Now is the time for additional European countries to step forward and recognize Palestine.
THERE ARE some countries in the EU who will not agree to an EU recognition of Palestine and so it is left to the individual members states to do it. Ireland, France, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Greece and others, especially Germany, should now recognize Palestine. Norway and Switzerland, which are not EU members, should also recognize Palestine.
So should the UK, which has a special responsibility and based on the Balfour declaration, can declare that while Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian people.
But my proposal goes beyond this. Those countries and others listed above should tell the PA that their recognition of Palestine is conditioned on the Palestinians conducting open, free and fair elections for their parliament and the presidency.
The Palestinian should not ask Israel for permission to allow east Jerusalemites to participate in the elections, they should, together with their European allies, draw up all kinds of contingencies should Israel block the right of Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote. The Palestinians and the Europeans (and Americans) should not back down from the demand for Palestinian elections because Israeli security experts project that Hamas would win the elections.
While Hamas is likely to gain more seats than the Fatah list of Mahmoud Abbas, the plurality of other non-Hamas and non-Abbas lists would win the elections together. There were 36 lists formed for the elections that did not take place in May 2021. It would be wise for everyone to work on reducing that number significantly by creating coalitions. It would also be wise for all of the main stream lists to agree prior to elections that they will form a government of unity together following the elections.
It would also be wise for Israel to be in dialogue with Marwan Barghouti, who is in an Israeli prison. Marwan will run for president and he will most probably win those elections. He is the only Palestinian politician who decisively beats Hamas in all of the polls. Barghouti is also the person who can bring about Palestinian unity. Barghouti, through his wife and lawyer, is in contact with several of the other leading Palestinian politicians, such as Jibril Rajoub, Nasser al-Kidwa, Salam Fayyad and Mohammed Dahlan.
Dahlan is in contact with Yahya Sinwar in Gaza, who will agree to accept the outcome of elections and unite the Palestinian polity with the acceptance of principles that were in the so-called Prisoners Document from May 2006, which accepted the Arab Peace Initiative – meaning recognizing and making peace with Israel on the condition of Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories. This was even agreed to by Hamas, which essentially means the acceptance of the two-state solution.
So, here’s the deal: Palestinian elections, European countries recognition of Palestine, working to consolidate Palestinian political parties into fewer lists, plans for the eventual probable election of Marwan Barghouti as president of Palestine – a recognized state – who is sitting in Israeli prison. Israel and Palestine will eventually enter into state-to-state negotiations, where the playing field is much more level than negotiations between a strong state and a non-state entity. Then there may be some hope for the possible viability of a two-state solution.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.