More than 25 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); setting the parameters for the resolution of the decades-old conflict, the US stepped in to alter the fundamentals of the conflict completely.
President Donald Trump’s much touted peace vision/plan, released last month, has been described as “asymmetrical” and “one-sided”.
It embraces almost to the letter Israel’s right-wing dogma that deconstructs the main elements of the Palestine Question; self-determination, land-for-peace, occupied Jerusalem, right of return, statehood, among others, while legitimising occupation, annexation, building of colonies, forced transfer of people and ethnic cleansing.
The plan was rejected overwhelmingly by the Palestinian leadership, as well as Arab and Muslim states. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz have welcomed it, especially the part that allows Israel to unilaterally annex tens of illegal colonies in addition to the Jordan Valley.
While the deal gives the go-ahead for Israel to carry out its annexation almost immediately, it puts the Palestinians under a four-year conditional probation before recognising a cluster of territories or isolated islands that they can call their state. The fate of occupied Jerusalem is non-negotiable and Israel will have full control over borders, skies and seaports in the future Palestinian state. One clause suggests the possibility of transferring more than 350,000 Arab Israeli citizens to the new state; if this is not ethnic cleansing then what is?
But rejection of the plan, even by permanent members of the UN Security Council, does not mean that it will not go ahead. Washington has asked Netanyahu to hold on to any unilateral move until after the Israeli elections early next month. Once the elections are over, and regardless of their outcome, the new government will seek to implement the annexation part. That would mean the official death of the two-state solution, which most of the world, including the US until the arrival of Trump, had supported.
Hanging on to the two-state solution, based on the Arab Peace Initiative (API), would be suicidal for the Palestinians. The new facts on the ground, which would be irreversible, require that President Mahmoud Abbas adopts a new and radical approach to the conflict.
He had threatened to withdraw from the Oslo Accords, suspend security coordination with Israel, disband the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and declare the entire West Bank occupied territory under Geneva conventions and UN resolutions. So far he had failed to carry out any of his threats.
The US will put pressure on Abbas and Arab states to engage with the plan or parts of it. Geopolitical shifts in the region have reprioritised national and regional security issues. The Palestinians will soon find themselves alone in their resistance of the plan. Aside from presenting their case to the world, as Abbas did at the UN Security Council this week, the Palestinians can go to various international institutions to make a legal argument on the many breaches that plan proposes.
But more importantly, Abbas must adopt a new approach to resolving the conflict. He must press with the argument that since the two-state solution is no longer viable; the Palestinians should now demand that they become full citizens in a single or bi-national state in all of historical Palestine. The alternative for Israel is to become an apartheid state ruling indefinitely over millions of Palestinians who will eventually find themselves confined to Bantustans.
That approach can only be adopted by the Palestinians themselves before it can gain traction. The Trump plan has polarised Israelis as well. Many now see its final and eventual outcome as leading to either a non-Jewish but democratic state, or to a rogue apartheid nation in breach of basic international laws.
A new Palestinian approach would force Israel to debate the issue of its future as a Jewish state. It could change the current political dynamics and produce a new existential discourse. Abbas would be wrong to let this opportunity pass without making his case not only to the world but directly to the Israeli public.
By changing the approach, Abbas would not be abandoning his people’s national cause but changing the rules of the game. The Palestinians have shown their resolve and steadfastness against the most ruthless of occupations. Their cause has gained followers and supporters across the globe.
But now they face the most daunting of challenges; succumb to the partitioning of the West Bank and the loss of occupied East Jerusalem or demand that they share historical Palestine as full citizens in a bi-national or single state. The latter issue should become the centre of the next Israeli elections; that is the only way to see if the two-state solution can still be saved!
The article first appeared in Gulf News
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