Israel must choose between settlements and peace

2011 showed the world that creating positive momentum in support of Palestinian self-determination is possible.

Mahmoud Abbas 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The year 2011 showed Palestinians and the rest of the world that creating positive momentum in support of Palestinian self-determination and statehood is possible. After years of trying to make Palestine disappear from the world map, Israel witnessed an unstoppable wave of recognition for the state of Palestine on the 1967 border, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Today Palestine is a member of UNESCO, and the international community now has a clear mandate to protect our national and cultural heritage in addition to its responsibility and obligation to support Palestinian state-building. This international support for Palestine is an investment in peace that does not contradict the fact that a two-state solution is predicated on negotiations.
On the contrary, it strengthens and preserves the prospects for a two-state solution on the 1967 border – a resolution to the conflict that the entire international community supports.
What has Israel’s response been to our UN bid? An aggressive, pull-no-punches diplomatic campaign opposing the initiative, which has so far proved unsuccessful. To console itself and to save face with its constituency, the Israeli government is continuing to change the facts on the ground with an escalation of Israel’s settlement program.
These Israeli actions over the past year, which defy Israel’s obligations under the Quartet’s Roadmap for Middle East peace – not to mention international law including the Fourth Geneva Convention – did not bring us any closer to an agreement; rather, they have shown that Israel’s chief aim is to dictate the terms of a final “agreement.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s modus operandi is not new. His ideological inclination to favor settlements over peace has been clear during his two terms as prime minister. His great feats of oratorical gymnastics in which he attempts to criminalize Palestine’s resort to international law and UN mechanisms to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while legitimating Israel’s population transfer and settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory are legendary. His public relations campaign and finger pointing will not detract from our national effort.
During the period between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech before the UN General Assembly this last September and now, Israel has announced plans for the construction of thousands of new settlement housing units that will have the effect of putting the final nails in the coffin of a negotiated two-state solution.
How does Israel expect a viable, sovereign Palestinian state to exist without the Jordan Valley, or with the northern West Bank completely cut off from the southern West Bank as will be the case if Israel’s settlement ring around Jerusalem is completed? How will a Palestinian state will be born while its capital, east Jerusalem, is being severely punished by Israeli policies meant to change the demographic make-up of the holy city, policies which include home demolitions, Jewish-only settlement construction, and arbitrary ID revocations which result in the creation of new displaced Palestinians?
We will resist this injustice and oppression by taking our case to the international community and to international fora; submitting to Israel’s plan to isolate and marginalize us as a people is something that we will never accept. The two-state solution has been a part of the PLO’s political platform since 1988 when we recognized Israel’s right to exist on over 78 percent of historic Palestine.
This was reaffirmed in 1993 with the PLO’s signing of the Declaration of Principles, and this year with its UN bid calling upon the international community to admit the State of Palestine as a UN member on the 1967 border. However, Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion on Palestinian land is making many rethink whether the two-state solution is even viable anymore.
The Palestinian people are not just the last people to live under military occupation; they are a people nonviolently resisting an aggressive colonial settlement policy that is aimed at grabbing as much land outside of Palestinian urban areas as possible.
Unfortunately, there is no state – largely because of the influence of the US – willing to take clear action. As Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon confidently said a few days ago, “we convinced the American administration that there is no way to solve the conflict in one or two years... the US is trying to manage the conflict now, rather than solve it.”
While 2012 does not seem to be a promising year for those who aspire to achieve a just peace, Palestine will continue its peaceful efforts to achieve our overdue independence. It will continue its campaign to obtain international recognition, including admission to the United Nations.
As was the case in 2011, in this new year, Palestine will stand ready to negotiate a final status agreement with Israel. To have meaningful negotiations, however, Israel must be willing to implement its obligations under previous agreements. Negotiating peace with Israel while it takes our occupied homeland would be nonsensical.
As the Quartet recognized in its September 23, 2011 proposal for the resumption of negotiations, there must be a conducive environment for direct talks to bear fruit. Continued settlement expansion is the antithesis of a conducive environment. The Quartet Roadmap is clear: Israel must completely freeze settlement construction, including the so called “natural growth,”on occupied Palestinian land.
As Abbas stated in his address to the United Nations: We are facing a “moment of truth.” If the resolution to the conflict the international community seeks is two sovereign, viable and democratic states framed by the 1967 border, we all know what has to be done. If, on the contrary, the goal is to facilitate Israel’s confiscation of as much of Palestinian land as possible and to consolidate Israel’s settlement enterprise, then it would make no sense to waste our people’s trust and patience by participating in such a failed exercise.
Israel’s response to our diplomatic actions and civil society campaigns has shown political blindness. Israel will never be able to negate the existence of Palestine or its people, just as we cannot negate the existence of Israel. This new year, Israel ought to resolve to answer this moment of truth by choosing to work with Palestine towards a prosperous future of peace, justice and democracy for the sake of both countries’ citizens, not by continuing to choose settlements over peace. The dreams of millions and the future of our younger generations call upon Israel and the international community to make the right choice.
The writer is an adviser to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department.