October 1, 2015
Yesterday Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gave his annual speech before the UN General Assembly. It was rumored in advance that he would have a big announcement to make. What he said was that the Palestinians would no longer abide by the 1993 Oslo Accords since Israel was not living up to the agreement. It was ostensibly a major announcement since the agreement involved security cooperation, collection of taxes and other areas. However, he did not present any sort of plan to back up his statement. Immediately after his speech, the Palestinians saw their flag raised at the UN rose garden alongside the 193 other countries of the world. Since the PA was granted observer status by a UN resolution, it was entitled to have its flag flown. Also, since 2012 the PA had been working diligently to gain membership in various UN organizations such as the International Criminal Court. The Vatican has recognized a Palestinian state and several European parliaments have passed resolutions just short of this.
The reality, though, is different. The world has turned its attention to other conflicts in the Middle East such as Syria and Yemen and has pretty much forgotten the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some analysts even argue that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for example, has still come out of the Iranian nuclear deal with half of what he wanted – he is no longer under any pressure to resume negotiations with the Palestinians since he has created Iran as a huge threat for the world to concentrate on.
US Secretary of State said weakly yesterday that he still believes a two state solution was possible. An Israeli scholar Meron Benvenisti, back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s had an imaginary clock that he set to reflect the possibility of a two state solution. I don’t recall that he moved it to exactly midnight but certainly very close. This was at a time when Jerusalem was governed as a united city, admittedly by an Israeli mayor. Palestinians still held most of their land in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank although the settlements were expanding. Israel largely governed through Palestinian mayors of the various municipalities. Conditions were far from perfect and Israeli governance was onerous. But, in 1993 came the Oslo Accords. Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat shook hands in the Rose Garden of the White House with a beaming President Clinton looking on. The Accords would have made a viable, though not ideal, solution for a Palestinian state. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. No other Israeli prime minister since that time has had the will or the power to carry out the accords. Some steps have been taken in terms of security cooperation, but the Israelis have ignored even this whenever they chose to.
The Palestinians for their part have never gotten past the Arafat generation. Abbas learned his skills at the side of Arafat and those skills did not involve being the president of something like the PA which is supposed to become a country. His main focus is ensuring the continuation of his leadership regardless of the numerous ministries and organizations that have been created. Since he is 80 years old, there is talk of a successor. However, there is little hope of one emerging under current circumstances. There is a critical need for fresh ideas and new ways of governing, but without a chance to develop whether from civil society or charitable organizations (like the one founded by Salam Fayyad that Abbas shut down) or some other venue, there will be serious infighting and a continuation of the same style of leadership.
I believe that the clock is well past midnight in terms of allowing for a two state solution. The settlements are too large and too numerous. Infrastructure has been built that benefits only the settlers and the Palestinians are not even allowed to have access. Much Palestinian land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated and Israeli apartment buildings erected. The economy in the West Bank and Gaza has been nearly destroyed by the lack of ability to move goods and people across borders. Israel uses the tax revenues it collects to parcel out slowly, often for what it sees as good behavior and holds the PA responsible. The economy is seriously damaged.
So, the talk of negotiations for a two state solution simply allows Israel to create more “facts on the ground and the world stands by and doesn’t watch.