By Issa Kassissieh
Nobody could have expected the Palestinians to accept the U.S. decision on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a step toward peace. It is clear the decision was taken for domestic American consumption rather than for the cause of peace in our region. In fact, it contradicts President Trump’s commitment not to impose anything on the parties, and signals the end of an era for the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli process brokered by the U.S.
In Palestine, people talk with cynicism about the “peace process.” To many, the past 25 years have meant the closure of Jerusalem, the siege of Gaza and and the unexpected growth of Israeli settlements. The lack of any accountability has been used by Israel as a smokescreen to expand its settlement enterprise in occupied Palestine. Palestinians now wonder whether a two-state solution is still possible. To them, Trump’s announcement was a confirmation that the two-state solution was over.
There is no way to achieve the two-state solution without ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. The plan is clear-cut and it cannot be overturned to satisfy the irrational desires and the expansionist mindset of Netanyahu to continue the expansion of its illegal settlements in occupied territory.
A few weeks ago, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council convened and the conclusions proved once again that we are at the furthest point ever from reaching a two-state solution since the launching of the Middle East Peace Process. Revisiting the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Agreement) and suspending the recognition of Israel are the main flashpoints which came out after two days of thorny discussions among the members of the Central Council, a legislative body within the structure of the PLO.
If we look into this sui generis process of over two decades, this seems to be the moment where there is no hope to improve the situation. In other instances, even during the Second Intifada, there were attempts such as the Middle East Road Map that imposed clear obligations on Israel, including full cessation of settlement activities, dismantlement of the so-called settlement outposts and reopening of the closed Palestinian institutions in occupied East Jerusalem.
Then there were other efforts, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas’s shuttle diplomacy. The latter presented a territorial proposal, just as the Israeli prime minister outlined an Israeli proposal to President Abbas. The stakes were high but Olmert was pushed out of office.
During the talks between Olmert and Abbas, the Arab Peace Initiative (API) was the main shadow lingering in the back of minds. It is within the context and spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative that a regional and durable peace would prevail, provided that Israel pulls its colonial-settlement enterprise, including its military forces, from the Arab lands it occupied in 1967.
Opting between investing in settlements and investing in peace, Netanyahu opted for the expansion of settlements. Furthermore, the Obama administration understood very well the golden opportunity the API offered for a Middle East of justice and coexistence based on U.N. resolutions. But the administration was not willing to do what was needed in the face of an intransigent Israeli government. The last speech of Secretary of State John Kerry, focusing on the administration’s tireless efforts to make peace, proves the point.
The Trump administration claims it is trying to think outside of the box and be different than other presidents. Trump promised President Abbas that he would not suddenly impose any solution on either side, that his administration will work hard to reach the "ultimate deal" and that any peace agreement will be fair.
Since February 7 2017, there have been over thirty meetings with the Trump team, including at least 14 between Dr. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and the American envoys while Erekat was recovering from a major medical operation in Maryland State.
Within this spirit, papers were presented to the American envoys relating to the Palestinian position on the final status issues, as well as the different options. These included the implementation of interim agreements, with the aim of creating a conducive atmosphere for both leaderships to make the difficult decisions at the end of the process and to reach a lasting and comprehensive peace deal.
Regretfully, the Trump administration decided to deliver a deadly blow to the attempts at reviving the peace process by unilaterally declaring Jerusalem to be the capital for the state of Israel. He sent a clear message that the U.S. would reward those who violate international law, not those who call for its fulfillment.
The policy of blackmailing the Palestinians by cutting financial aid, including for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), will only add to the frustration and despair. Extremist forces in the region will recruit the angry youth. The ground will be fertile for such ideological ideas. President Trump should know that the dignity of the Palestinian people and their struggle for their national rights and freedom is unshakeable under any circumstances.
Perhaps an unintended consequence of President Trump’s steps is that Israel is coming to face its moment of truth. The latest events are taking us quickly toward a situation where a de facto apartheid of one-state and two different systems that currently exists, is turning into a de jure reality. And then Israel will be identified all over the world as what our South African friends have been referring to for several years now: an apartheid state.
Due to such miscalculated and ill-advised unilateral decisions, the president of the United States brought the political process to its lowest point, and planted the seeds of despair and frustration.
President Abbas is the father of the peace camp, and he has dedicated his whole life to peace. Listening to him in the Palestinian Central Council makes one realize what a gloomy situation the American administration has dragged us into. There is no doubt that both Ambassador David Friedman and Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt are celebrating with right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett about the president's Jerusalem decision. It is what they consider to be the dream of their lives, borne out of their ideological conviction. However, this short-sightedness will prove wrong.
The wake-up call moment will come for Israel no matter how much time it takes, but then I am afraid that the moderate voices will no longer be around. Israel will turn its apartheid from a de facto reality into a de jure policy, crushing our dreams of achieving two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border, living and coexisting side by side with each other.
Issa Kassissieh is the Ambassador of Palestine to the Holy See (Vatican City).