‘The freedom of the city is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with those who say, “What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable”.’ (John F. Kennedy, Former US President)
A new international effort, led by the US, is taking place in order to resume final status negotiations. The Palestinian leadership has no doubt that Secretary Kerry’s intentions are genuine and have openly supported his efforts in this endeavor. Whether this new effort is able to produce a tangible plan, there are a series of questions which will need to be asked in order to ascertain whether real and meaningful negotiations can resume, with the eventual goal of two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border, living side by side in peace and security.
1. Does Secretary Kerry’s proposal allow for progress on the political track towards a just and lasting peace?
There has been discussion of economic proposals in order to improve the Palestinian economy. While economic development is always positive, the basic fact remains that any economic development will be stifled by, and will not end, the occupation. In fact, Secretary Kerry himself has repeatedly stated that the economic track cannot be made a substitute for the political track. Therefore, if Israel is only prepared to ease the occupation slightly, without offering anything that will lead to the end of its 46 year-old occupation, then this will not be sufficient to open a political horizon.
2. Has Israel shown any interest in the two-state solution?
An Israeli commitment to the two-state solution in line with the vision of Palestine and the rest of the international community would be a positive step. Unfortunately, recent statements made by prominent members of the Israeli government prove that there is a clear rift within the Israeli government on the issue of the peace process with Palestine. Many main figures of the ruling Israeli coalition are publicly opposing the two-state solution. At the same time, continued actions on the ground, many of which fall under the banner of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, demonstrate a clear intention to destroy the possibility of two states living side by side. Meanwhile, it has become clear that peace with Palestine is not a priority in Israeli politics; ending the occupation failed to feature in any of the main party platforms ahead of the January 2013 elections. Many commentators and decision makers are pointing to an overall apathy among the Israeli public and the feeling that the conflict can be managed rather than resolved. Such attitudes are dangerous and detrimental to any prospect for peace.
3. Is Israel willing to fulfill its prior obligations from previous agreements?
So far, Israel has failed to fulfill the vast majority of its obligations under previous agreements. Resumption of negotiations “without preconditions” is an oft-used Israeli line designed to portray a positive approach, that is to say a supposed willingness to resume negotiations. In reality, calling for a process with no meaning or sincere intention to reach peace merely acts as a useful smokescreen behind which Israel can continue its project of colonization within the occupied State of Palestine, in gross violation of international law and previous agreements.
4. Has Mr. Netanyahu provided a map of what a two-state solution could look like?
If Mr. Netanyahu were to produce a map, then this would show seriousness from his side, as it would demonstrate Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution and would provide a basis for meaningful negotiations. The PLO has provided a detailed map and clear negotiating positions based on UN resolutions and international law.
5. Is Israel willing to cease ALL of its settlement activities?
If Israel were willing to cease all of its settlement activities, then this would show sincere intention to reach a negotiated solution. The cessation of settlement activity is not a Palestinian precondition, but an imperative based on prior obligations and international law, under which transfer of one’s own civilian population into an occupied territory constitutes a war crime. It is, moreover, a simple logical truth that sincere negotiations cannot take place when one party is continuously prejudicing the outcome of those negotiations by colonizing the other party’s land. This truth is well known- the international community, including the US, has a very firm position on the illegality of settlements and the requirement for Israel to end its deeply damaging settlement enterprise. Unfortunately, when the resumption of negotiations is the topic of discussion, this fact is often forgotten.
6. What are the Palestinians offering from their side?
The Palestinians have made numerous concessions and good will gestures. Although the two-state solution is common discourse today, it must be remembered that this solution is based on the Palestinian historic compromise of 1988, whereby the PLO accepted a state on a mere 22% of historical Palestine, for the sake of peace. During the past twenty-plus years of peace process, the Palestinians have entered all negotiations in good faith and have acted in accordance with agreements made. Palestine has also joined other countries in the region in establishing the Arab Peace Initiative, which extends the offer of normalized relations for Israel with 57 Arab and Islamic countries following Israel’s full withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue in accordance with UNGA Resolution 194.