The US has effectively removed any facade of its status as 'mediator' between Palestinians and Israelis. Will it be possible for any peace process to move forward in the face of US and Israeli belligerence?
The Palestinians are at a crossroad, as they commemorate the 51 anniversary of the Naksa (day of the setback) when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai desert - prospects for a peace treaty with Israel that would bring any form of justice appear further today than ever.
The intransigence of an extremist settler-led Israeli government has been strengthened by a US Administration that not only has Israel’s back, but is prepared to be isolated at the United Nations if it means protecting its ally.
If confirmation of this was needed, then the recent theatre at the UN Security Council should be sufficient.
The US vetoed a resolution that sought to bring protection for the Palestinian people from Israeli violence—in which at least 118 have been killed since March—mostly at the hands of Israeli snipers positioned high above the fence between Gaza and Israel, using lethal explosive bullets. If the bullets did not kill, the injuries they caused were devastating, resulting in many amputations.
Yes, the Security Council, which is mandated to ensure security, let the Palestinian people down at the behest of US UN envoy Nikki Haley’s raised hand. America’s isolation was compounded when Haley failed to secure a single vote for her resolution condemning Hamas for a volley of 70 rockets, which left the Gaza strip a few days earlier in response to Israel’s killings and frequent air raids on Gaza.
The US secured exactly one vote: that of the US itself.
The US had been isolated earlier in 2018 after US President Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and in record time moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, absent of any peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Nikki Haley again had to raise her hand to veto a resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, the US lost heavily when the same text was put to the UN General Assembly, where it has no veto. Haley resorted to threats to those that "disrespected" the US and indicated there would be consequences for doing so.
The Palestinian response to the US Embassy move, its subsequent defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and threats to close the Palestinian mission in Washington DC was to suspend all contact with the US administration.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has since refused to meet any American officials, specifically Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman. He even recently shunned a delegation of Democrats on a visit to the region.
The Americans claim to be close to releasing "the ultimate peace deal", which will apparently be presented for implementation after the holy month of Ramadan. With Trump declaring he has taken Jerusalem "off the table"; no prospects for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes; no plans to dismantle or evacuate any of the illegal settlements in East Jerusalem or the West Bank; it is likely to be a very thin document, which no Palestinian leader could sell to his people, whose sacrifices before and since Israel’s creation have been immeasurable.
There have also been major geopolitical changes in the region that weaken the Palestinian position. The threat of Iran has sent a number of Gulf States to seek US protection, which in turn has been used as leverage to cajole them into developing clandestine relationships with Israel and in some cases those relationships are out in the open. They even responded to Trump’s call to control the anger that his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital ignited, leaving Haley purring that the sky did not fall in after the announcement.
In the face of such monumental challenges, Abbas has developed his own peace plan, which he put to the UN Security Council and more recently to the Palestinian National Council. It is based on a “multilateral international mechanism”.
The plan would be based on the two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. In addition, it includes an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.
In essence, this plan is dead in the water unless the US approves it because it would have to eventually be put to a vote in the UN Security Council. It’s a safe bet to assume the Haley hand would be raised to veto.
In any case, there is no evidence that either the EU, Russia or China are willing or capable of holding a peace conference in mid 2018 as Abbas asks. We are already there and there is not a whisper of a possibility of this taking place.
It is therefore likely that the situation will revert to the status quo—which Israel can live with—but which the Palestinians have been unable to change.
Two options the Palestinians can pursue to raise the cost of the occupation to Israel are to continue to pursue criminal charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court, and to escalate the popular non-violent resistance, which caught Israel off-guard and struggled to deal with except through violence. The third strand is to adopt and escalate the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the Palestine National Council agreed at its recent meeting in Ramallah.
These are actions Palestinians can take themselves and with the help of supporters around the world, rather than relying on Arab or western governments to support them.
It is only once the cost of the occupation has risen to a level which troubles Israel that it will negotiate seriously for a just peace.
In his current mindset Abbas is unlikely to effectively develop an alternative strategy, along these lines. However, the 84 year old has health issues and may abruptly exit the political scene. That might just open the way for a new approach that delivers freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.
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