A Palestinian View: More of the same

The incoming Israeli government has already received a frosty reception from almost all concerned parties, including close friends of Israel…

by Ghassan Khatib

US President Barack Obama said the new government is not going to be helpful to the peace process. The EU has said that the upgrading of relations with Israel will depend on the new government’s commitment to a two-state solution and later added that if Netanyahu did not commit to such a solution it could have negative consequences for EU-Israel relations.

The main Arab states with relations with Israel have also expressed concern. Egypt, for example, decided to cancel a celebration marking the signing of the Camp David peace treaty. Finally, the Palestinian Authority, which since the Israeli elections has suspended negotiations with Israel, has declared that the resumption of negotiations will require an Israeli commitment to the two-state solution and a cessation of all settlement expansion in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

The previous government, rhetoric aside, was not committed to the two-state solution, Its policy of expanding settlements made that clear. But the fact that the prime minister-elect of the new government, Binyamin Netanyahu, is refusing to even commit to the framework of two states may provide a possible point of pressure on Israel, especially from the United States and Europe.

And even with the Labor party, the new government is going to be characterized by the policies of the political right in Israel, not only politically but also in terms of its domestic social and economic policies. Taken together, it is likely that the new government, like all Israeli governments in the past two decades, will be short-lived. This trend indicates hesitation in Israeli public opinion as far as the peace process is concerned, since most Israeli government have fallen on issues relating to the peace process.

In the meantime, however, Netanyahu has been talking about „economic peace“. From the little detail he has given, it seems that he will in fact continue, more or less, the same policy of unilateralism that Ariel Sharon started and Ehud Olmert continued. This approach is based on avoiding serious political negotiations while proceeding with changing the reality on the ground in the form of settlement building and expansion, construction of the separation wall and other practices that arise from the consolidation of a military occupation.

In any case, in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the economic problems that Netanyahu says he wants to address are mostly byproducts of the political conflict. Reports and assessments by international organizations, including the World Bank, which deal with economic development have all concluded more than once that settlement expansion, the presence of a dedicated settler road network, the erection of walls and confiscation of land, in addition to other practices of a military occupation such as depriving Palestinians the use of their land and natural resources, are the main impediments to economic recovery and development.

In other words, the economic issue cannot be addressed in isolation of the political issue. A political solution is a precondition for developing the Palestinian economy.

The consequence of continuing the unilateral approach is a continuation of the trends we have witnessed in the past years. Israeli unilateralism leads to greater Palestinian radicalization and more support for groups that oppose any kind of peaceful relations or negotiations with Israel. It will also frustrate the peace camp in Palestine and further weaken the positions of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who have been trying, with little success, to convince the Palestinian public that a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation is possible.

As much as the victory of the right in Israel is a result of the failure of the peace process, it is the responsibility of the international community to try to deal with the complicated situation resulting from the radicalization in both Israel and Palestine. The international community has to go beyond demanding that the new Israeli government simply commit itself to a two state solution, and call for practical steps from the Israeli government to behave in accordance with that vision. In particular, this means an immediate end to settlement expansion and the consolidation of the occupation, or, in other words, a practical commitment to a two-state solution.– Published 30/3/2009 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.