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On The Sidelines of Blinken’s Tour... Transition from Conflict Management to Resolution

On The Sidelines of Blinken’s Tour... Transition from Conflict Management to Resolution

Wednesday, 26 May, 2021 - 11:00
Ahmed Abul Gheit
Ahmed Abul Gheit is the Secretary General of the Arab League.

The ongoing tour of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the region represents a timely move and reflects the administration’s awareness of the seriousness of the situation and the pivotal role of the US on peace and security in this part of the world.

On this occasion, I decided to review some conclusions and ideas as the guns were silenced, the shells stopped, and violence that prevailed in the occupied territories this month has subsided.

These are conclusions that I wish the current administration would consider, as it approaches the Middle East for the first time since President Joe Biden took office.

The recent crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories reveals, blatantly and painfully, two important facts:

The first is that the only alternative that the Israeli government offers to the Palestinians is a system of apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and an inhumane blockade in the Gaza Strip. It is a system that appeared to the world in its true form in the tragedy of families subject to expulsion in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, bearing in mind that this tragedy is only a small example of the “catastrophe” that Palestinians experience daily, at checkpoints, crossings and in the face of extremist settlers, threats of expropriation, and even annexation of entire parts of the West Bank.

Despite Israel’s media success in masking this cruel and shameful reality, recent events have made the world see again what is happening in the occupied territories, and call it by the only name it deserves: an occupation regime based on the principle of apartheid. For the Palestinians, the Nakba is not a historical event that occurred in 1948, but rather a condition that they undergo day after day.

As for the second fact, it is that the Palestinians - regardless of the size of internal problems they suffer from and the division that rips their unity - will not accept at any time, today or in the future, and under any conditions, to live under such a racist occupation regime.

I believe that if we carefully consider these two facts, we would reach a conclusion that the status quo in the occupied territories is impossible to maintain. No matter how much Israel tries to claim the opposite, reality speaks for itself. An apparent and temporary calm cannot be relied upon. No one knows when the next explosion will take place, the form it will take, or the extent it will reach in a region where problems are intertwined.

It is also important to note that the recent confrontations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and mixed cities inside Israel, have revealed a new generation of Palestinian youth who reject the occupation and its discriminatory manifestations on the grounds of human rights. Over the past weeks, we have heard a new language and a different discourse, reminiscent of slogans and principles that have become familiar on a global level, some of which stemmed from the “Black Lives Matter” that started in the United States, and other slogans of the human struggle.

The aspirations of this new generation, who - like other young people across the world – are aware of their right to empowerment and equality, should not be underestimated or suppressed. These are legitimate aspirations of young people, who struggle according to a universal human rights language, and who only wish to live with equality and dignity in an independent homeland.

We have seen this generation express their rejection of the current situation, even within Israel itself, reflecting a unity that the Palestinians have long lost.

The Palestinian cause has witnessed a frightening and dangerous state of political stagnation for more than a decade, at a time when the right-wing tide in Israel has developed in an unprecedented way, so that its representatives are no longer on the sidelines of the mainstream, but at the heart of it.

In fact, it has become extremely difficult to distinguish between the Israeli government’s program and the far-right’s agenda. In a situation like this, I cannot imagine that Israel would change its policy without a significant amount of international pressure.

I am not one of those who like to blame the United States for all the problems of our region; but I am convinced that Washington has an important responsibility and a historic role in the settlement of the oldest conflict in the Middle East. I say frankly that the two parties to the conflict are unable, on their own, to sit at a negotiating table, as the gap between them has widened more than ever.

In the absence of an effective role for the United States, we must expect nothing but more cycles of violence and the shedding of innocent blood, in light of the sharp turn of the national and religious right in Israel, and also in light of the growing feeling of disappointment among a new generation of Palestinians, and their need to challenge the status quo by various means.

We must not wait for the next round of bloody violence. It is time to restore the political process. Today we have something to build on. The truce in Gaza must be consolidated and extended in order to quickly engage in reconstruction efforts. Donor countries will not accept reconstruction assistance without a political horizon that ensures that a new round of violence does not break out anytime soon.

Today, the Palestinians need a political future horizon and a light at the end of the long tunnel of occupation.

I have seen disturbing signs of the continuing erosion of the two-state solution, which the Israeli government seems not interested in discussing or recognizing as the only possible way to settle this conflict in a way that fulfills the national aspirations of Arabs and Jews, in two independent states, where citizens live side by side in dignity and peace.

The reality of the status quo in the West Bank is that Israel controls 60 percent of its area (Area C), in a way that prevents any growth or development in Palestine. Moreover, ongoing plans for settlement expansion in all areas, including East Jerusalem, make the establishment of a Palestinian state over 22 percent of the area of historic Palestine almost impossible.

Therefore, confidence-building measures are required in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. At the forefront of these measures is the cessation of settlement activity that is destructive to the two-state solution.

In the last days of the Obama administration, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which calls on Israel to immediately cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

The continuation of unrestrained settlements, especially in extremely sensitive areas of East Jerusalem, threatens to eliminate what remains of the slight chance for a future two-state solution.

In addition, the expansion of settlements pushes the Palestinians to rightly question the intentions of the Israeli side and the government’s complicity with the most extreme elements in society. Just as the world is quick to condemn some Palestinian factions because of their actions and the ideology they adopt, so the international community is required - and by the same logic - to condemn extremist Jewish organizations that practice violence against the Palestinian population and seek to expel them from their homes and burn their fields.

Protection and support that such extremist and racist organizations receive from the Israeli government encourage them to persist in committing serious crimes against the population, which carries a real risk of escalation as we saw in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan.

The US administration and European governments must define a clear position towards these criminal organizations and groups, otherwise, their moderation will be highly questionable and the integrity of their political standards will be seriously examined.

The Palestinians must feel that there is a partner on the other side, especially after they have unilaterally extended their hands for years - under the name of the Arab Peace Initiative and other formulas of the settlement. Rather, the Israeli leadership has such arrogance as to claim that there is no Palestinian partner.

Finally, the only way out of the current impasse is for the two sides to sit together as soon as possible to negotiate a final settlement, with American, UN, Arab and European support, and on the basis of known determinants and references, which the two parties themselves had previously agreed on since Oslo 1993.

The US role in forming this umbrella for the political process remains, as it has always been, crucial and fundamental. Perhaps the best strategy is to revive the international quartet, after expanding it to include the two parties to the conflict, and other Arab stakeholders, who have shown responsibility and ability to assume a positive role in the settlement process.

We must boldly move from a mindset of conflict management to conflict resolution. The alternative to the two-state solution is the continuation of the status quo, as Israel desires: one country based on a system of scandalous and disgraceful racial discrimination against five million people.

It is a situation that will be impossible to defend politically or justify morally. It is also a situation we could all avoid if we have the determination to work together.

Palestine, despite the tremendous transformations that are taking place in the region, remains the most important key to stability, peace and coexistence, not only in the area between the river and the sea, but in the entire Middle East region.

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