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The Palestinian problem

  • Published at 05:51 pm October 13th, 2018
A long-standing issue REUTERS

Hope cannot be trampled under the boots of opportunism

In 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine leader Yasser Arafat. 

It outlined a timeframe for a lasting Middle Eastern peace process related to Palestine and Israel. Subsequently, on September 13, 1993, Yasser Arafat and then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the lawn of the White House, overlooked by a congratulatory US President Bill Clinton. It also resulted in Arafat, Rabin, and Peres being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

The Oslo Accord established the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) -- a self-governing interim administration in the Palestinian territories.

However, since then, there has not been a two-state solution. Thanks to a partial White House, Israel has managed to transform the situation to a new phase, where Palestinian demands over the decades now stand totally marginalized. The Oslo Accord had created a paradigm with potential but that process now appears to be remote and the possibility of Palestinian self-governance bleak.

The situation on the ground has not been helped with the present US administration deciding last month to cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). There has also been another controversial decision from the US State Department regarding the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington Mission.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Member of the PLO’s Executive Committee has criticized the Trump Administration for being “vindictive.” This measure has generally been seen as an attempt to directly apply more pressure on the Palestinians into accepting US demands. The Palestinian leadership is feeling that, contrary to the spirit of constructive engagement, they are being slowly pushed further to the edge.

They already have to bear with Donald Trump’s controversial decision of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy to there from Tel Aviv -- reversing decades of US policy. Observers are pointing out that the US president is trying to force the Palestinians to the negotiating table as the White House is supposedly preparing a plan for peace in the Middle East -- which is being called the “ultimate deal.”

Trump’s latest actions will have multi-dimensional impacts on the regional security structure of the Middle East in general and outstanding issues related to the continuing differences between Israeli and Palestinian positions.

It has already led to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally declaring that Palestinians will no longer accept the US as a moderator. 

The Palestinian authorities are also considering bringing the situation to the attention of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken in harsh and unflinching terms about Israel and the US at the UNGA in New York on September 27. Abbas began his address by stating that “Jerusalem is not for sale” and then turned to denouncing in turn Israel’s “racist” nation-state law, the Trump administration’s uncritical support of Israel, and both states’ refusal to abide by international agreements and UN resolutions.

In his first speech to the UN since the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abbas said Palestinians now see the US “with new eyes” and no longer as a fair mediator in the peace process.

Such an evolving view is indeed unfortunate, as the US over the years had grown a reputation as an important player who could be trusted as a mediator.

We have seen this in the role that they played in finalizing the nuclear deal with Iran. We also need to remember that dealing with the PLO as a controversial organization and not as the representative of the Palestinian people is likely to reset Palestinian-Israeli relations for the worse. We need to remember that 25 years ago, Israel and Palestine both recognized each other’s rights to self-determination.

The US needs to understand that peace can only be furthered through suitable pro-active engagement, where the rough edges within long-standing issues can be ironed out satisfactorily. In this context, we need to keep in mind the recent observations made by Saeb Erekat that the Trump administration was siding with Israel on the core issues, and burying all chances for peace in the Middle East.

One can only hope that another round of negotiations between the relevant parties (which fell apart in 2014 and have since remained in a state of suspended animation) will restart.

This has to happen. Hope cannot be trampled under the boots of opportunism. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]