Encountering Peace: The Palestinian challenge

Something must be done, and quickly, to save the two-state solution.

Rawabi 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rawabi 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Something must be done, and quickly, to save the two-state solution. We are nearing the end of the road and soon there will be no one between the river and the sea who actually believes that it will be possible to partition the land into two states.
There is no peace process, and there has not been one for quite some time. There is no Road Map for peace. It is quite doubtful President George W. Bush ever really intended for his plan to be implemented. Israel did not implement its obligations under that document, and even though the Palestinians did, including reorganizing their security forces and combating terrorism, no one and nothing ever compelled the governments of Israel to follow suit.
Peace talks through the Annapolis process failed to reach final agreements, although they brought us closer than ever before. The Palestinian plan of creating the Palestinian state by building the institutions of the state had great success, but the second part of the era of Fayyad-ism, ending the Israeli control of Palestinian land, never happened.
Even though Fayyad and the successes of the Palestinian Authority in the past years captured the attention of the world, and even Israel cooperated by removing checkpoints, allowing Palestinian economic growth to begin, the Palestinians are no closer to statehood then they were before.
Prior to last year, the international community made the point that for Palestine to be recognized they had to first prove their capability to govern. After South Sudan achieved statehood and UN membership, the international community can no longer speak about demonstrating capacity prior to gaining recognition (well they can, and they probably will, but now no one can honestly say that there aren’t double standards).
President Barack Obama’s election created a great sense of hope for Palestinians and others that the peace process would become serious and fruitful, but his special envoy Senator George Mitchell spent most of his two years negotiating negotiations and never even touched the real substance of the conflict.
The Palestinian decision to go to the United Nations last September, against the will of the United States, was an act of desperation. It emanated from a real sense of entitlement and legal premises based firmly in international law, but nonetheless, it was a Palestinian call for help. The Palestinians wanted to change the status quo of no movement. They wanted to remove the question of statehood from the negotiations table as the two-state solution is the accepted end-game by the entire international community, including the government of Israel – so why negotiate it?
The borders must be negotiated, security arrangements, the future of Jerusalem, refugees, economic relations, water etc., but the final end-game of negotiations – namely two states for two peoples – had already been recognized.
The Palestinian leadership pleaded with Israel to understand that the UN move was not an act against Israel, but a clear step in favor of saving the two-state solution. That step was dismissed by Israel as a threat, and through Israeli diplomatic power the Palestinian plan was derailed.
The Palestinian people are now completely frustrated and lack a coherent strategy of where to go from here. We have entered a new era with no hope, no horizon, economic decline and possible financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Internal Palestinian reconciliation and unity is staggering along and offers little chance of success as well. With the US immersed in a presidential election, Europe focused on saving itself from a Eurozone crash, and the Arab world bogged down by the Muslim winter which is setting in around the region, the Palestinian arena is simmering with displeasure, pessimism and anger.
Palestinian intellectuals see the bi-national reality that Israel has created and call for relinquishing the two-state solution in favor of a new struggle for democracy and rights in a single democratic state from the river to the sea. Others call for non-violent national struggle seeking to recreate the energy of the first intifada which propelled the Palestinian national movement into the Oslo process.
I have serious doubts that Palestinian society (like Israeli society) has the energy to fight non-violently for peace. I and many others have real fears that a non-violent popular struggle against the occupation would rapidly drift into violence and a new militarized intifada, despite the reality that no one wants to go there again.
I believe the Netanyahu government is mainly interested in preserving the status quo for as long as possible while focusing its own attention, and everyone else’s, on Iran. From Netanyahu’s perspective there is nothing better than the status quo – the security situation is good, the Palestinians are behaving themselves, cooperating with our security forces, even arresting prisoners released in the Schalit exchange who violated their paroles.
The Israeli economy is still growing and the Palestinian economy enjoys some of that. There is no international pressure on Israel of importance; the international boycott movement (BDS) against Israel is insignificant in terms of real impact. Israel has always been criticized in the United Nations, so nothing is new under the sun. The longer these circumstances remain the same; every passing day is pure profit. But what then? What happens afterwards? The Palestinians initially are the party with the most to lose.
Eventually the losses will be shared by Israel as well, when there is no longer a two-state solution to talk about and hope for. I know it is not easy to ask the weaker side to take the initiative, but I am afraid there is simply no hope that Israel will do it.
This is why I call this the Palestinian challenge – PC – even though it may not be really politically correct. The essence of the challenge that I propose is for the Palestinians to create their state on the ground, not through declarations and UN decisions, but by changing the reality. The Palestinian Authority has received high grades for building the institutions of statehood, now it is time to take it to the next step.
The Palestinian challenge focuses on planning the physical reality of the future Palestinian state. I say to the Palestinian people and their leadership: take maps that you believe will be the final outcome of negotiations and plan your state. Israeli still controls 62 percent of the West Bank – so what – go ahead and plan for the state that you want to create.
Design the roads and transportation system. Plan the new cities that will absorb one million refugees. Design the economic development zones, the tourism infrastructure, the airports, hotels, and centers for culture and education. Plan your electricity network and your environment protection plan. Conduct all of this with the energy that you would invest if you were really in control of the land. Your creativity and energy will capture the imagination of the world and will refocus international attention on the Palestinian cause leading to its fruition. The international community will provide material support for this venture and your young people and civil society can refocus their attention on construction development.
You can’t beat Israel on the battlefield. You lost against Israel in the United Nations. You can only reach statehood and end Israeli control over your land when the Israeli people and the international community can see the reality of a peaceful, democratic and economically developing Palestinian emerging before their eyes. Create the reality that you want to live in.
The Palestinian challenge is a challenge to the Palestinian people and their leaders, but it is also a challenge of the Palestinian people to the people of Israel and to the whole world. The best way to predict the future is to create it!
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.