By George Bisharat — The Mark News —
On April 23, delegations representing Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is dominated by the secular nationalist Fatah party, concluded a unity pact intended to mend the rift that has plagued Palestinian politics since 2007. The pact calls for the appointment – within five weeks – of a technocratic government, to be followed within six months by new parliamentary and presidential elections.
Most Palestinians, who correctly sensed that disunity only weakened the Palestinians as a whole (and thus served Israel’s interests), greeted the announcement with jubilation.
Israel immediately used Palestinian national reconciliation as a pretext to suspend peace talks, which were due, in any case, to expire several days later. In fact, it was perfectly evident that the negotiations had gone nowhere, and served, as they have for the past 20 years, as cover for Israel’s relentless colonization of the West Bank.
According to Nahum Barnea on Israel’s Ynetnews.com, even American diplomats were privately identifying Israeli settlements as the real cause of the breakdown in negotiations, as settlements clearly signal Israel’s fundamental rejection of genuine Palestinian sovereignty over any part of Israel/Palestine.
In the nine months of the latest round of negotiations, Israel authorized nearly 14,000 new housing starts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, demolished more than 300 Palestinian homes, and continued to expropriate Palestinian land for illegal Jewish settlement.
Indeed, no Israeli government has ever signed a document recognizing the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and Israel’s policies on the ground speak volumes as to its real intentions: perpetual control of Palestinian land and other natural resources, and perpetual subjugation of the Palestinian people – all justified, of course, by reference to Jewish historical claims to the land and an all-encompassing definition of Israeli “security.”
Three previous unity agreements among Palestinians were never implemented, and it remains to be seen whether this one will be. Both Fatah and Hamas were driven to reconciliation by weaknesses – Fatah by the impending failure of the peace negotiations, in which it invested all its political capital over the last two decades, and Hamas by the loss of its backing from Egypt, given the fall of Egypt’s civilian government in July 2013 and deteriorating conditions in the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip.
Both Fatah and Hamas also faced either intra- or inter-party domestic political challenges, stemming from their inability to deliver to their constituents tangible progress toward national goals.
One possibility, of course, is that Fatah leader and current PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is merely bolstering his legitimacy prior to resuming negotiations with Israel on strengthened footing. Equally possible, however, is that he has finally concluded that endless negotiations only provide the illusion that Israel’s nearly half-century of military rule over Palestinian lands is impermanent, and that the U.S. monopoly over the peace process has proved ruinous to the quest for a just peace.
The latter interpretation is supported by other developments, including the fact that the Palestinians joined 15 international treaties or United Nations bodies in April, and have plans to join another 40 in the coming weeks.
At the moment, however, Palestinian leaders are showing hesitancy over the most consequential of these organizations – the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Israel could face war crimes prosecutions for its West Bank settlement, not to mention its policies of torture, assassinations, banishments, and deliberate violence against Palestinian civilians.
Palestinian leaders, who live under the Israeli gun, clearly fear retaliation from Israel, not to mention financial punishment from the United States, should they invoke ICC jurisdiction.
While these options get sorted out, the international community must face an uncomfortable reality: Its assumption that the land west of the Jordan River could be divided into two states has been fatally undermined. No political force either internal or external to Israel has proved capable of slowing, let alone reversing, Israel’s colonizing juggernaut.
Very few of the 600,000 Israeli settlers will ever be resettled, and borders cannot be drawn to include them in Israel without dismembering the prospective Palestine. Yet Palestinians will never accept – and will, in fact, always resist by any means at their disposal – permanent subordination and lives with limited possibilities.
It is time to recognize the facts: Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs currently inhabit what amounts to a functional unitary state, in which only Israel exercises sovereignty, and in which only Jews enjoy full rights. As both peoples will continue to inhabit the space, one question remains: Will the current neo-apartheid principles, characterized by Jewish privilege and Palestinian deprivation, prevail, or will they be replaced by principles of equal rights for all? Palestinians are not, after all, lesser beings, and the trampling of their rights to freedom and dignity in their own land must come to an end.
George Bisharat is a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently on the Middle East. He has worked with the Palestinian Legislative Council to reform their judiciary.