There is a growing recognition that the ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Hamas and Tel Aviv – and backed by the United States, Europe and the international community – should be the trigger to resume the long stalled peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
If no serious effort is exerted to restart peace talks, the latest truce will be just one more pause in the Palestinians’ seven-decade struggle to affirm their legitimate right to self determination and have their own independent state free of Israeli occupation.
Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories captured in 1967, and the racist nature of such occupation, is the mother of all Palestinian pain. Many had hoped that the signing of the 1993 Oslo peace accords between the two sides would end a long chapter of occupation, wars, blood and hate. However, such hopes quickly evaporated.
What actually started in 1993 was a new round of endless negotiations that only gave Israel the chance to tighten its control over occupied Palestinian territories and systematically build more illegal settlements, making the target of a Palestinian state impossible to achieve.
The political turmoil that rocked the region in 2011 following popular revolts in several Arab countries was not good news for Palestinians. Israel saw a golden opportunity in the civil wars that broke out in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, as well as the instability in Egypt, to argue that the Palestinian cause was not the central cause of conflict in the Middle East, as Arab countries have argued for years. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories was ignored, as well as Palestinian suffering, confiscation of land and daily humiliation passing through heavily fortified Israeli checkpoints.
At the same time, Israel, while physically absent from the Gaza Strip, continued to suffocate the overpopulated region where over two million Palestinians live in an open jail. Indeed, the world intervened in the last two wars Israel launched against Gaza in 2008 and 2014, but reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was not even an item on the international agenda.
Former US president Donald Trump’s extreme bias for Israel, and his total disregard of international law and Security Council resolutions affirming that all Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, were occupied territories, further dimmed any hope that Palestinians were close to restoring any of their legitimate rights.
With a new administration in the White House, staffed by senior officials who have a long experience in the Middle East, perhaps there is some hope that the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks could be back on track. The widespread protests in many Arab and world countries, including the United States and Europe, calling for an end to Israel’s latest aggression on Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank confirmed that international public opinion was more aware that Palestinians have legitimate rights that must be met.
Hardly hours after the ceasefire took effect early on Friday, clashes broke out again at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli occupation troops. Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, whom Israel attempted to forcibly evict from their homes, sparking the latest round of confrontation between Israel and Palestine, remain steadfast as ever in their refusal to leave. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank also clashed with the Israeli army stationed at the checkpoints and close to illegal settlements.
Meanwhile, Gaza not only needs a complete overhaul to restore the massive damage caused by the latest round of indiscriminate shelling of buildings, power and water stations and even hospitals, its people also need jobs and free movement, which they didn’t enjoy for many years.
All such Palestinian suffering is the key reason behind the repeated outbreak of wars between the two sides. After successfully reaching the ceasefire late last week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was quick to point out that what is needed now is even more difficult effort to restore peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The two phone conversations that took place between Al-Sisi and US President Joe Biden shortly after the announcement of the end of hostilities concentrated not just on the much needed rebuilding effort in Gaza, but also on the means to restart diplomatic efforts to reach the ultimate goal of a two-state solution: Palestine and Israel. During their second phone call on Monday, both Al-Sisi and Biden affirmed the “strategic ties” between the two countries, and agreed to work together on restoring stability, not just in Palestine, but also in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Biden also expressed understanding for Egypt’s concerns over the building of the Resurrection Dam in Ethiopia, and expressed willingness to mediate between the two sides.
Egypt did lead the Arab and international effort in starting the process of rebuilding Gaza by announcing that it would donate $500 million for this purpose. Yet it stressed that pouring money into Gaza and occupied Palestinian territories was not in itself enough, and that diplomatic and political efforts must start at the same moment to avoid a renewed cycle of the endless war caused mainly by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly