Window closing on two-state solution and US involvement in peace process
By Saeb Erekat – On November 29, 2012, a resolution enhancing the status of Palestine to Observer State passed with an overwhelming majority in the United Nations General Assembly. For the 138 countries who voted ‘yes,’ this resolution not only accorded the Palestinians the long overdue recognition of their right to self-determination, but also took a vital step towards salvaging the internationally endorsed two-state solution. Unfortunately, despite professing support for the two-state solution, the U.S. and Israel were not among this majority.
More than simply opposing this resolution, it is acknowledged that the U.S. has considered a number of punitive measures in response to the enhancement of Palestine’s status. The concept of punishing the Palestinians for a peaceful diplomatic step, aimed at injecting life back into the peace process, is illogical and unreasonable. Meanwhile, not holding Israel accountable for its numerous unilateral, provocative and illegal actions, including its settlement enterprise, annexation of East Jerusalem and siege of Gaza is equally damaging for the prospects of a just and lasting peace.
Some of the measures discussed recently would not only punish the Palestinians but any state or body supporting Palestine, including the UN system itself. This would constitute a dangerous game which cannot be in the United States’ interests. Having a special relationship with Israel is naturally the U.S.’s prerogative, but this relationship should not be allowed to jeopardize the U.S.’s own interests and its standing as an international actor.
The State of Palestine should also be no exception to the rule of international law and has no desire to be. President Mahmoud Abbas has always firmly maintained that direct negotiations are vital and that the State of Palestine would be a responsible and positive international actor. Today he remains committed to this promise, and the Palestinian government is now taking time to consider all options carefully and act according to the best interests of its people. The best interest of the Palestinian people is a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, so that Palestine and Israel can live side by side in peace and security.
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of understanding concerning the issue of negotiations in the Palestinian-Israeli context. The intrinsic purpose of negotiations is that they reach a final agreement. Without this prospect, sitting at a table talking amounts to nothing more than an empty process which can be used to provide a smokescreen for an ulterior agenda. Sadly, this is what Israeli governments have been doing for the past 20 years.
Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully is more than evident from its construction of illegal settlements and associated policies throughout the occupied State of Palestine, which successive U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have strongly condemned. During 20 years of ‘peace process,’ the number of settlers in Palestine has nearly tripled. Indeed, Israel responded to the UNGA vote by announcing further settlement construction in particularly sensitive areas, which would sever the West Bank into pieces and put a final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. How could any party or state attempt to negotiate meaningfully while the deafening actions on the ground speak so much louder than the words spoken over the table? And yet, we have attempted to negotiate time and time again in good faith.
Over the course of the past year, there has been a lot of talk in Palestinian circles about the ‘Day After.’ Now that day is here and, as promised, President Abbas is set to play a positive and constructive role on the international stage. The State of Palestine recognizes the investment in peace made by 138 members of the international community and we are taking this investment very seriously.
The real challenge of the day after is what the international community, and the U.S. in particular, is now going to do. As regional and global shifts take place, the window of opportunity is not only closing on the two-state solution, but on the U.S.’s central involvement in the peace process. Punishing the Palestinians or anyone expressing support for the Palestinians, for taking peaceful diplomatic steps, is counterproductive and dangerous. Such measures threaten the future of Palestinians and Israelis, and an increasing number of observers believe the stance undermines the U.S.’s own interests and standing as an international actor. The two-state solution is the best result for all concerned. The current Israeli government does not see that. It is hoped that their long-term ally, the U.S., will.
Saeb Erekat is a member of the PLO Executive Committee and is chief Palestinian negotiator.