Till last January, the United Nations and the international community had a roadmap to settle the question of Palestine according to various UN resolutions inspired by and based on Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967. The Oslo Accords of 13 September 1993 (signed at the White House under the Clinton administration) were reached with this resolution in mind.
The two-state solution adopted by the Security Council in 2003 became an objective that commanded international support as well as wide Arab and Palestinian backing. From 2003 onwards, various US administrations — under two Democrats and one Republican — had lent their backing to this political plan to resolve the Palestinian question.
With the present US administration, the international legal framework for the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict faded, at least temporarily, and was replaced by a political blueprint that is based on Israeli long-term expansionism at the expense of occupied West Bank territories, thus scuttling the prospects of implementing the two-state solution.
The US administration in the last four years has systematically, and in cahoots with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, made sure that all final status issues that should be settled in the framework of a final peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question have been dealt with unilaterally by the United States, and in a blatant violation of international law, on the one hand, and in utter disregard for previous official positions adopted and defended by all US administrations since 1967, on the other.
On 28 January, the administration of President Donald Trump revealed a peace plan that ignores all Security Council resolutions that have governed American and international efforts to come to grips with the basic issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In essence, these resolutions have meant, if implemented, the final and fair resolution of a conflict that has remained unsolved for more than 70 years. The Trump plan will not put an end to this conflict if not revised to take into account the national aspirations of the Palestinians.
The problem with the Trump deal is not only its complete disregard for UN resolutions but it is inspired by the destabilising Israeli formula of “peace for peace”. In fact, this what happened on Tuesday, 15 September, at the White House, when two Gulf countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — signed “normalisation” accords with Israel. The signatories spoke of peace between the Arabs and the Jewish State, decoupling this imaginary “peace” from the question of Palestine, which has been the primary cause of instability between the Arabs and the Israelis since 1948, spurring five wars.
According to the Trump administration, more “normalisation” agreements are on their way between other Arab countries and Israel. The odds are that Sudan and the Sultanate of Oman could be next. The president of the Interim Presidential Council of Sudan flew to the United Arab Emirates 10 days ago to hold talks with American officials on the steps to be taken to sweeten such a decision before Sudanese public opinion.
For all practical purposes, the Arab Peace Plan of 2002, which was based on the principle of land for peace, has been shelved, despite the lip service by some Arab states and the Arab League to this plan.
Never before in the annals of the Arab-Israeli conflict has the Palestinian question has been challenged so strongly. The Palestinians today are in very delicate situation. Either they go along with the Trump peace plan and their destiny becomes a question mark, or they reject it with all its consequences on the ground, and find themselves without necessary Arab cover and necessary support.
Furthermore, the Palestinians, under all circumstances, cannot deal with the latest developments in Arab-Israeli relations if they do not put their own house in order. The regrettable split between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas should come to an end. Moreover, the present political leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been in power for more than a decade without holding either presidential or legislative elections.
I believe the time has come for paving the way for new younger leaders to take the reins of power in the framework of a united Palestinian political authority and one legitimate government for both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
These steps, with a more flexible approach to the new winds blowing in the Middle East, would consolidate the negotiating position of the Palestinians and give great impetus to international support for the “Question of Palestine” — much-needed to confront present uncertainties, especially if President Trump is re-elected for another four years. This eventuality should be uppermost on the minds of Palestinian leaders and, accordingly, they should be prepared to deal with such an outcome on 3 November.
Last week, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, met at the Palestinian consulate in Istanbul and agreed to hold elections in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza) in the next six months as a prelude to ending the split between the two. They even talked about bringing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
In this respect, a joint committee set up by Palestinian factions should finish a report on inter-Palestinian reconciliation and political partnership five weeks from now. The largest Palestinian organisation wants to hold elections as soon as possible, with common understanding with Hamas that whoever carries the elections would govern in both the West Bank and Gaza.
The next logical step is for this elected-Palestinian government to announce that it is ready to resume negotiations with Israel on the basis of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (commonly known as the Oslo Accords). As a reminder, these accords stipulate that Palestinian rule was to last for a five-year interim period, effective after the signing of the accords, during which “permanent status negotiations” would commence no later than May 1996, in order to reach a final settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Both sides missed their rendez-vous with history by 24 years.
If this understanding materialises on the ground, I believe the Palestinians would be in a strong position, relatively speaking, to deal with what comes next in the Middle East. And most importantly, to keep the “Question of Palestine” alive, and relevant to peace and security issues in the Middle East.
You cannot ostracise more than seven million Palestinians for good and still speak of peace in the region. It is like squaring the circle.
*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.