Part IV: The Palestinian Response to the Extension of Sovereignty

On 22 December 2014, a new non-partisan movement called Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) was founded. It represented more than 150 retired high-ranking security officials from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Mossad, Shin Bet and the National Police. CIS called upon the Israeli public to encourage Israel’s political leadership to embark on a regional effort in cooperation with the Arab Peace Initiative in order to advance a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the principle of “two states for two peoples.” Recently, this group seemed most concerned about the impact of the extension of sovereignty promise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the current cooperation between the Israeli and the Palestinian security services.

In 2014, former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo worried about “the threats against us on the one hand, and the government’s blindness and political and strategic paralysis on the other.” He continued: “Although the State of Israel is dependent upon the United States, the relationship between the two countries has reached an unprecedented low point. Europe, our biggest market, has grown tired of us and is heading toward imposing sanctions on us. For China, Israel is an attractive high-tech project, and we are selling them our national assets for the sake of profit. Russia is gradually turning against us and supporting and assisting our enemies.”

Five years later, how the situation has radically changed. The relationship between the USA and Israel has reached an unprecedented peak of cooperation at the same time as Israeli policy shifted further to the right and bolder right-wing initiatives were undertaken that were backed by the USA. In spite of that, there are no EU sanctions in the works. In fact, the EU is desperately seeking ways around enhanced American sanctions against Iran. Israeli cooperation with both China and Putin’s Russia has grown. 

Five years ago, Pardo added, “Our public diplomacy and public relations have failed dismally, while those of the Palestinians have garnered many important accomplishments in the world.” In fact, the reverse has turned out to be true. Israeli diplomacy has secured unprecedented successes with Egypt and the Gulf states. European voices have remained relatively muted. And Russia has served as a mediator between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Turkey. At the same time, the influence of Palestinian diplomacy has stalled in most places and declined precipitously in Washington. Although the Palestinian Authority achieved a number of breakthroughs in the United Nations and within international agencies, for the last few years progress on the Palestine project has stalled.

However, the voices of both the PLO and Hamas have grown on university campuses in the West, particularly in the U.S. “They are hothouses for the future leadership of their countries. We are losing the fight for support for Israel in the academic world. An increasing number of Jewish students are turning away from Israel. The global BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel, which works for Israel’s delegitimization, has grown, and quite a few Jews are members.” On the other side, in official political circles on both the state and federal level in America, efforts to advance the BDS agenda have been made illegal.

What is clear and less controversial is that the Oslo process, instead of moving both sides towards a resolution of the conflict based on two states for two peoples, has been undermined and inverted to serve as a cover for practices that disempower Palestinians in the West Bank. The Oslo Accord has more recently been interpreted as a “capitulation agreement” given the consequences that followed the signing. Israeli dominance has increased and the sovereignty accorded the Palestinians, though increased in some respects, has diminished overall.

The reason the Oslo Accords are now interpreted as a failed framework is because the steps taken on the ground have advanced Israeli sovereignty without penalty or consequences. Palestinians have become more politically vulnerable as the security situation in the Middle East has pushed greater cooperation between Israel and a number of Arab states. At the same time, both Europe and the international community have demonstrated the relative impotence of the members of these two groups. Distorted and mis-applied language, such as the French ambassador to the U.S. depicting Israel as an apartheid state, and denunciations that misdescribe and miss their target, such as the objections to Bibi’s policy of expanded sovereignty as annexation, are all signs of desperation rather than avenues for a more constructive approach.

Nothing recently has signified the impasse that has developed as much as the recent Bahrain conference ostensibly designed to push the parties towards an agreement, but revealed as an empty gesture, especially since neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority was in attendance. Under the cover of pseudo-diplomacy, Israeli efforts to extend sovereignty in areas of the West Bank have proceeded unimpeded. Ever since 1948 when a transactional approach was first proposed as the foundation for resolving the Palestinian refugee situation, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was created to use economic development initiatives to resettle the Palestinian refugees in Iraq, America continues to push unrealistic solutions for a problem that seems impervious to either a two state solution or a one state resolution with the recognition of two nations with equal rights as part of a single state. Disconnected dreams and possibilities disguise and cloud the reality of an unbreachable chasm. Americans once again dream of replacing political with economic leadership for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.  

It is a fantasy. Interests can never substitute for resolving questions of a collective good, especially when the good envisaged by one side is so out of synch with the good imagined by the other side. What happens then? Israelis out of ideological conviction or strategic exhaustion now continue their march towards enhanced sovereignty leading to annexation of Area C of the West Bank while protecting settlements outside Area C. Palestinians fight a rearguard action to resist accepting a state truncated in its geographic base and its sovereign range and that seems more akin to a reserve for indigenous people in North America than a true sovereign state based on the self-determination of its people.

Palestinians know the situation is getting worse and worse for them as they try different options for coaxing the genie out of its bottle. They can read the polls that show the right wing almost certainly destined to retain control of the Israeli polity in the next election. Even if Trump is defeated in 2020, advances will have gone too far for any significant reversal. And no one in the Israeli peace camp has anything but utopian visions to deal with a conflict deeply rooted in realpolitik. It does not help the Palestinian cause when Israeli breaches of human rights pale in comparison to the Palestinian Authority detaining 1,600 peaceful protesters during the last twelve months alone and Hamas arresting another 1,000 in just one month, March of 2019, in a context in which even a peaceful protest is virtually impossible.

The Palestinians in Israel cannot be left out of the analysis. At the same time as a Palestinian Israeli has become the head of one of Israel’s major banks, Arab Israeli members of the Knesset continue to demonstrate their absolute opposition to Israel as a Jewish state. Even Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, refused to sing the national anthem at the 2012 swearing-in of Justice Asher Grunis. Jewish Israelis will not recognize that they live in a bi-national state and Palestinians will not recognize the rights to a Jewish state while demanding absolute sovereignty for a Palestinian state. The contradictions are not just daunting. They seem insurmountable.

There is another factor serving as a propellant for the enhanced energy and determination of the Israeli right. The rise in antisemitism in Europe has not only pushed many French Jews into moving to Israel, it has strengthened the cause of ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state dedicated to providing a home for Jews fleeing insecurity elsewhere. American Jews continue to remain relatively immune to this fear, even though there has also been a rise in antisemitism in North America. 73% of Jewish Americans feel Jews have become less secure since Trump, a champion of Israel and a Bibi lackey, assumed office in these past two years. Antisemitic rhetoric and actual attacks on the ground have increased. The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on 27 October 2018 leaving 11 parishioners dead now serves as a symbolic signpost. Six months later this past March, an attack on a Chabad synagogue killed another Jewish worshipper.

These attacks and shouts of “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville, reinforced by many more incidents of antisemitic vandalism, may have increased Jewish support for Trump even though he has been an apologist for the far right. However, these vents have not as yet enhanced resettlement numbers in Israel from America. But it has clearly put Israel as a sanctuary in a new light, especially with the rise in radical rhetoric attacking Israel from the left.

How can Palestinians cope with the tactic of Israel expanding sovereignty by small installments? How have they responded to the offer in the new Kushner initiative of 22 June 2019 of $50 billion and presented as a formal offer in Manama, Bahrain on 25-6 June? The monies would be dedicated to Palestinian economic improvement with the bulk of the funds allocated to the Palestinian territories and much of the rest used by Jordan and Lebanon in return for offering citizenship to Palestinians who lack such recognition but live within those states. With only mid-level bureaucrats rather than Ministers of Finance from the European states, and even low-level ministers from Egypt and Jordan, the Bahrain meeting lacked gravitas to match its glossy promotional rhetoric.

In May, the Palestinians had already announced that they would boycott the workshop, a boycott with the unprecedented backing of virtually all sectors of Palestinian society, most importantly in this case, in addition to all political parties and civil society organizations, business and trade associations as well as unions. The Palestinians could have attended and placed strenuous conditions on accepting the monies and perhaps influenced the shape of the political part of the peace plan to be announced this fall. But they had lost faith in the good faith of the U.S. The Palestinian Working Group on Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon also rejected the offer. So did the Lebanese government which also refused to join the workshop. On 26 June, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced its rejection in Lebanon’s parliament. On 27 June before the Council of Ministers, Hariri declared, “Our constitution is clear and forbids resettlement and emphasizes the right of return.”

Why was Lebanon opposed? For the same reason it never offered the vast majority of Palestinian refugees citizenship over the past seventy years. Lebanon feared the political and social consequences of such a demographic shift and the threat to the sectoral balance among Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Further, implied offers to resettle some of the Palestinian refugees seem far vaguer than previous proposals and represent an even weaker base of burden sharing. The $6 billion offered was just not worth the risks to the fragile stability of Lebanon, even though the expenditures would improve Lebanon’s transportation infrastructure, trade network and tourism sector. Further, since $4.6 billion of that $6 billion came in the form of debt that would further escalate Lebanon’s ballooning indebtedness (currently 150% of GDP), the incentive seemed to be magical trickery rather than a genuine offer of aid. This was especially true since the rumour that had previously circulated was that Lebanon’s debts would be forgiven in return for offering most of the Palestinians citizenship. In any case, only 5 of the 179 economic projects proposed were for Lebanon.

The demographic fear seemed to be confirmed when Jared Kushner in a conference call with Arab media on 3 July said, “I also think that the Palestinian refugees who are in Lebanon, who are denied a lot of rights and don’t have the best conditions right now, would also like to see a situation where there is a pathway for them to have more rights and to live a better life.” The reality: the offer was far too meagre and too inconsequential and spread over too many years to offset the demographic risks. Kushner did not even seem to be able to make transactional diplomacy meaningful.

The Democrats do not have anything much better to offer. They simply seemed to be fixated on re-establishing the status quo ante. It is highly unlikely that they would reverse Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the cuts to the PA and UNRWA might be restored as well as special funds for East Jerusalem hospitals and Jewish-Palestinian co-existence programs. In the American Senate in April, the Senate Democrats introduced a resolution to restore humanitarian funding for Palestinians. Democratic and Republican members of Congress met with top Israeli officials to push the two-state solution based on a demilitarized Palestinian state and direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, events on the ground seem to have bypassed traditional rhetorical references and processes as well as Kushner’s fancy brochures.

The reality is that there cannot even be any economic progress for the Palestinians as an independent polity unless transportation, communication, fiscal and trade restrictions imposed by Israel are lifted. Further, the February 2019 Israeli government decision to deduct part of the Palestinians’ tax revenues that Israel collects on their behalf that is used to support the families of terrorists combined with the subsequent refusal of the PA to receive any tax money unless Israel reverses n trade. bankruptcy.  

Economic initiatives to promote peace appear as a mirage for Palestinians.

With the help of Alex Zisman

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