The frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged on almost since the day Israel achieved independence in 1948, further degrading the most destabilized region in the world.
Palestine lacks statehood status, precluding it from enforcing international law. Israel, despite decades of genocide and ethnic cleansing and an utter disregard of the Oslo Accords, which were intended to bring peace and financial stability to both sides, have been blatantly disregarded by Israel, which has received the ongoing support of a paradoxically Anti-Semitic American government. Political change is brewing on both sides, with a strong support for a two state solution both regionally and in the European Union, rendering the possibility of a two-state solution more feasible than in recent years.
In June 2009 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a speech that terminated all hope of a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine. Mr. Netanyahu stated conditions for a ‘two-state solution’ advocated by predecessor leaders and consistent with the Oslo Accords were no longer subject to negotiation. Mr. Netanyahu stated Israel endorsed Palestine existing as a neighboring but, demilitarized state. Under his ‘proposal’, freedom of movement would remain constricted, with displaced Palestinians forever barred from returning to their ancestral homelands. Ignoring the naturally occurring Palestinian population growth, an expansion of the limited lands beyond that which they had been relegated to since 1967 would not be considered. Jerusalem, which under the original United Nations plan was to be internationally governed, would remain under Israel’s sole governance. Most significantly, the Palestinians had to formally recognize Israel as the ‘Jewish’ national state; a proverbial slap in the face.
Paradoxically eight years later, Mr. Netanyahu’s position has not only remained static but he has stated that Israel is prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians only if they come to the table with no preconditions.
“Israel has chosen not to choose, hoping the conflict will resolve itself, or that the Arabs will disappear in some kind of cosmic miracle,” stated former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, when the reality is that the internal situation is a “ticking time bomb”.
“The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment,” stated Israeli President Rivlin in October 2014.
Fortunately Mr, Netanyahu’s stronghold on the Israeli position has weakened despite his reiterating the very same 2009 position during his 2017 meeting with the White House. Palestinian’s de facto, octogenarian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was last elected in 2006 and whose interests are limited to the West Bank, where his party, Fatah is based, is being pressured by the European Union and the Arab Quartet – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – to reconcile competing Palestinian factions and to name a successor. The other faction is Hamas which is the de facto and internationally unrecognized governing body in the Gaza Strip. Reputed as a terrorist organization, Hamas is issuing a new charter reflecting a sharp ideological shift.
A Threat to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Stronghold
Resembling England, Israel has a non-secular parliamentary government. It has an elected parliament –the 120 member Knesset – which elects a Prime Minister as its chief executive, making the office holder the most powerful political figure in the country. The Presidency is an honorific position. Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset can dissolve a government earlier. That has been the status quo with elections having been held on average every 2.8 years.
Mr. Netanyahu, a member of the right-wing party, the Likud, is currently Israel’s three-time Prime Minister. The Likud holds 30 parliamentary seats. In 2016 Mr. Netanyahu’s approval ratings plummeted to 33 percent signaling that Israel may be ready for change. In April Mr. Netanyahu had a falling out with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a key coalition partner. Mr. Netanyahu now faces possible criminal charges in two cases. By calling for an early election, Mr. Netanyahu may not only avoid criminal charges, as levelling charges during an election campaign could be seen as election interference, but it would also allow him to maintain his grip on power and delay diplomatic efforts.
However, there no longer exists the certainty that Mr. Netanyahu’s party would win enough seats in the Knesset or that the Knesset would elect him to a fourth term. A change in Prime Minister could breathe life into the two state solution.
The second strongest opposition party has been Zionist or Labor party, which holds 19 Knesset seats. The Labor Party is headed by Yitzhak “Isaac” Herzog, who was elected its leader on November 22, 2013. He immediately met with Mr. Abbas to pledge his support for the two-state solution. In June 2014, Mr. Herzog criticized Mr. Netanyahu for failing to present a proposal for peace with Palestinians.
Today, Mr. Herzog’s views have strengthened, “I believe that the internal reality of this coalition is in the midst of a crisis. The tensions are enormous and there is a basic lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. I believe that in the coming year we will go to elections.”
Mr. Herzog claimed, “The option of an alternative government is alive, kicking, breathing and waiting for the next opportunity that will come in the very near future. Netanyahu’s internal coalition has cracked significantly, and anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that it is about to be dismantled.”
However, an April poll showed that if elections were held today the third-ranking Yair Lapid‘s centrist Yesh Atid party would place second by just one Knesset seat, polling at 25, while the Zionist Union, would win only 10 seats. The outcome may differ if Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition were dismantled as Mr. Kahlon is predicted to join Mr. Herzog in a forming new coalition to be led by Mr. Herzog.
“According to the survey, if elections were to be held in the near future, some 70% of Jews would want either a right-wing or a center-right government to take office, while 57% of Arab Israelis would prefer to see a center-left or left-wing government. Almost 80% of the respondents as a whole thought that either a center-right or right-wing government had a greater chance of taking office if elections were held soon,” according to a Midgam Research Institute poll.
Another recent poll, commissioned by J Street, was carried out by Smith Consulting, a respected Israeli pollster, of a representative sample of 500 Jewish and Arabic Israelis, found that 68% Israelis support a two-state solution. Even more surprising was the result that 58% of Israelis said they would vote for a referendum for a permanent solution based on the following principles: returning to Israel’s 1967 borders with some land swaps, declaring Jerusalem the shared capital of both the Jewish and Palestinian states, and addressing the grievances of Palestinian refugees mainly through compensation payments. Eighty-three percent of those who voted for the Kulanu party, part of the ruling coalition, favor a two-state solution as do 81% of those who voted for Yesh Atid.
Most recently, Mr. Netanyahu has received harsh criticism by the U.N., the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the United States and the European Union for his push to build the first new settlements in over two decades in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including in East Jerusalem. The UNSC responded on December 23, 2016 by passing Resolution 2334 addressing Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem”. The resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demanded that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
It was the first Israeli UNSC resolution in recent times not to be vetoed by the United States, which abstained. Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump has trod gently by urging “restraint”.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the U.N. “…condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution.”
“This policy [of new settlements] will create the status quo of one state. Policies of the occupying power will not bring about peace in our region. Peace and stability can only be reached through the relations of good neighbors. This is precisely what we are ready to do, to be good neighbors,” averred Palestinian leader Mr. Abbas.
A one state solution is incapable of melding the divergent laws, religion and customs of the Palestinian and Israeli population.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah issued a statement that “…a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not based on a two-state solution will have dangerous consequences for the region.”
In an about face, Mr. Guterres, under pressure by the United States and Israel, unsuccessfully demanded that the U.N. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk”, which labeled Israel an “apartheid regime”, be removed from the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The findings by the Special Rapporteur were damning despite the fact that Israel denied him access to Gaza. That report is still available on-line. Thereafter, in defiance of the truth, the Trump administration stated it was boycotting the U.N. Human Rights Council for the reason that it is biased against Israel.
Problems on the Palestinian Side
“[P]olitical pluralism in both Gaza and the West Bank has all but disappeared. For instance, Fatah consolidated its hold over the Palestinian Authority shortly after the Oslo agreements and continues to use it as a mechanism for patronage and self-enrichment. More bewildering is that the international community knowingly abets this situation by taking humanitarian responsibility for the situation in Gaza and yet refusing to engage with Hamas – while sustaining a dismally performing and unpopular Palestinian Authority,” explained Erwin Van Veen, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute.
This has set the stage for rivalry between Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas; both of which are undergoing a shift.
Led by Mr. Abbas, the Fatah party, formerly the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, is a Palestinian nationalist political party representing the largest faction of the multi-party Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO was established by the Oslo Accords as the sole governing Palestinian body.
Mr. Abbas was last elected President in 2006, making this the 12th year of his illegitimate fourth term. While there have been municipal elections since that time, they have been limited to the West Bank where Mr. Abbas makes his home. No elections have transpired in Gaza, which has been under Hamas’ control. The reason is transparent: in 2006 Hamas prevailed over the Fatah party in legislative elections. Today, Gaza’s population is 1.816 mm compared to the West Bank’s population is only 1.715 mm guaranteeing success if new elections were held.
Mr. Abbas has been increasingly pressured by Egypt to introduce reforms to end internal division and create the cohesiveness necessary to resuming the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. In April 2014 the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement between Fatah and Hamas called for a Temporary Leadership Framework for the PLO within five weeks of the signing of the agreement. Under Mr. Abbas’ leadership the agreement was never implemented ostensibly because the United and Israel coerced compliance with Israel’s having once withheld Palestinian tax dollars it collects on the PA’s behalf, or by the US’s threatening to cut off aid to the PA. Since 1994 USAID’s assistance to Palestine has totaled more than $5.2 billion.
Hamas leader Yahya Moussa stated that Hamas has yet to join the PLO as “…the key to the organization is in the hands of Abbas, who does not want to include us in it because we are a major force. He wants to maintain his monopoly over the small powers inside the organization so he can have the last say. This explains why Abbas refuses to call for the establishment of the PLO’s Temporary Leadership Framework.”
Dissatisfied, Cairo is using its leverage to bypass Mr. Abbas to prepare for the rise of a new Palestinian leader who can ultimately break the Palestinian-Israeli deadlock. Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Mr. Abbas’ only deputy, accepts a one-state solution but only ‘under our conditions’ and is, therefore, an unacceptable replacement.
This has precipitated the Quartet insisting on the return of Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the Palestinian Authority’s security services in Gaza, who has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates since 2012, to Palestine. Mr. Abbas’ sentiments toward Mr. Dahlan are reflected in his recent dismissal of the PLO’s Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo over links to Mr. Dahlan.
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization. Since 2007, it has governed the Gaza Strip under the leadership of Mousa Abu Marzook and Khaled Mashal. As the PLO is the only internationally recognized governing body, Hamas’ leadership is not recognized.
Living conditions in Gaza are substandard, including a lack of clean water, when compared to the West Bank. “The closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts. It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” stated former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Violence has been the predictable outcome, in part, leading to Hamas being categorized as a terrorist organization. Even the threat of Palestinian violence can be – and is – used by Israel to maintain Gaza and, to a lesser degree, the West Bank’s, marginalisation and isolation.
Recently Hamas has wisely chosen to change its image and has warmed up to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
Hamas is replacing its 30 year old anti-Semitic charter with a comprehensively revised document modifying its more extreme positions. The new charter allegedly contains the following language:
“The Palestinian cause is at its core an issue of an occupied land and displaced people.”
“Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were evacuated, whether in areas occupied in 1948 or 1967 (in all of Palestine) is a natural right, individual and collective, affirmed by all divine laws and the basic principles of human rights and international law.”
“Hamas rejects oppressing human beings or taking away their rights based on ethnicity or religion.”
“Anti-Semitism and oppressing Jews is a phenomenon linked to European history and is not found in Arabs’ and Muslims’ history and heritage.”
The document also allegedly states that Hamas is not at war with Jews but the group is waging a battle against the “occupation and the Zionist project”.
Most importantly, the documents state that Hamas would accept a sovereign Palestinian state across the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, without recognising Israel.
Hamas’ goal is obvious – it is seeking the international legitimacy – most notably that of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
As if to challenge Hamas’ new resolve, in the last week of March, Mazen Fuqaha, a Hamas commander, was found having been shot four times in the head from close range. While having all the trappings of Mossad assassination, questions have been raised as to whether the Fatah was responsible. Both Israel and the Fatah would benefit from retaliatory action which, to date, has not transpired.
International Support for a Two-State Solution
A two state solution is necessary to create the normalcy contemplated by existing treaties. According to the CIA:
“Israel and Palestinian officials on 13 September 1993 signed a Declaration of Principles (also known as the “Oslo Accords”), enshrining the idea of a two-state solution to their conflict and guiding an interim period of Palestinian self-rule. The parties achieved six additional significant interim agreements between 1994 and 1999 aimed at creating the conditions for a two-state solution, but most were never fully realized. Progress toward a final status agreement with the Palestinians was undermined by Israeli-Palestinian violence…”
Under a series of agreements known as the Oslo accords signed between 1994 and 1999, Israel transferred to the newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank. Negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip stalled in 2001, after which the area witnessed a violent intifada or uprising.”
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, issued a March 27th statement that new settlement threatens “to further undermine prospects for a two state solution, which remains the only realistic way to fulfill the aspirations on both sides.”
“We support Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem, both in political and financial terms insisting that the Israel’s plan for additional settlements requires “strong coordination and unity” from both parties, the region and the international community, stated Ms. Mogherini. She cautioned that, “The European Union considers settlements to be illegal under international law and this also has not changed in our policy.”
“We remain committed to a negotiated two-state solution that remains for us the only viable way to end the conflict and all claims,” stated Mogherini after meeting with Mr. Abbas. That solution involves full implementation of the 1967 borders.
Even stronger words came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a meeting with Mr. Abbas. Referring to the two-state solution as the “only sensible alternative,” Ms. Merkel warned Israel that new West Bank settlements would not only erode the two-state solution but that they would jeopardize Israel’s future in the international community.
The Saudi-brokered 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League’s 22 members at its summit that year, outlined comprehensive steps to ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, consistent with the EU’s position. The Arab leaders offered Israel recognition, something Hamas is unwilling to do, and a normalisation of diplomatic ties in exchange for its complete withdrawal from Arab lands captured since 1967. The Arab Peace Initiative is based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 which called for Israeli withdrawal in exchange for peaceful ties with its Arab neighbours and the “respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries”.
The 28th Arab League Summit held in March continued to endorse the two-state solution, reiterating that the Arab world would reconcile with Israel if it withdrew from the land it conquered in the 1967 war. The closing statement reads, “We affirm that we will continue to work to relaunch serious Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations… that take place within a set period of time based on the two-state solution.”
“This framework for negotiations needs to be replaced with a real peace process, one which doesn’t reject the applicability of international law and isn’t fundamentally prejudiced against the rights of those who are living under an oppressive occupation regime—in which the oppressed aren’t forced to “negotiate” with their occupiers over the extent to which they can retain their own land,” opined political commentator Jeremy Hammond.
“On 60 percent of our territory we cannot move freely. We can’t even move a stone or plant a tree on these grounds,” stated Mr. Abbas.
The longevity of the conflict has sadly led to a poor internal perception of a peaceful solution as was made manifest in an April 2017 poll in which 51% of Israeli Jews, 48% of Israeli Arabs, and 68% of Palestinians agreed with the statement that, “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”
The United States: An Impediment to Peace
Since Mr. Trump was inaugurated, the U.S. risks becoming irrelevant in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a press conference following a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Trump sounded like a teenager trying to mediate two siblings who are indecisive on choosing only one kind of candy when he stated, “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.” There is an upcoming meeting with Mr. Abbas, as well as the restoration of the traditional Principals Committee, which may yield a stronger response, consistent with Mr. Trump’s foreign counterparts.
However, optimism needs to be tempered by the strong presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, both of whom are Orthodox Jews, at the highest echelons of the Trump administration. The Kushner family, as well as Mr. Trump, have donated to Israeli educational funds both in the United States and Israel. Even stranger is the presence of The Trump Foundation, not to be confused with the Donald J. Trump Foundation, in Israel. Founded in 2011, two years after the Kushners married, The Trump Foundation also focuses its efforts on education in Israel. Eli Hurwitz, director of The Trump Foundation, did not respond to an inquiry to confirm or deny that the president’s family was connected to this trust. What is most glaringly apparent is that Trump is neither a Jewish name nor a name common in Israel.
As Israel’s strongest ally, the U.S. has the means to push Israel into entering into a two-state solution. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, “Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.”
Here is the perfect opportunity to reduce the budget while conditioning future aid on peace being achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian frozen conflict. Money can melt the hearts of man, including that of Mr. Netanyahu.
Israel needs to return to the vision of its founders. Following the end of 1967 “Six-Day War”, fought by both Jews and Palestinians against Jordanian rule, A Declaration of Peace was proclaimed by then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, “[A]ll holy sites would be protected and that all faiths would be free to worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. He declared his intention to give the spiritual leaders of the various religions internal management of their own Holy Sites.”
Days later, at a reunification ceremony Israel’s now-deceased Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan reiterated Israel’s intention to preserve religious freedom for people of all faiths, “To our Arab neighbors we extend, especially at this hour, the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others.”
This vision is encapsulated in the Oslo Accords, the governing law in this frozen conflict. Until such time, Israel is contributing to regional destabilization, as well as violated the Fourth Geneva Conventions and international law as to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
It is time for the world to stop turning a blind eye to this massive injustice.
The author with former United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the inauguration of the new ICC complex on April 19, 2016
Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague. She is a contributor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.