Hopefully with the departure of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu a political era may have come to an end. An era in which fear was exploited to feed the political ambition of leaders and, where politics was ultimately about self-promotion not national service.
Having said that, it is regrettable, that this process can yet be reversed if the new Israeli government collapses and a Trumpist Republican party wins the next presidential elections in 2024. Both Trump and Netanyahu are lurking in the shadows hoping to bring about such an outcome.
Trump is trying to engineer the Republicans winning a majority in the House and Senate at the mid-term elections as a step to secure the presidency for a Republican Party that he has managed to reshape in his own image. He is doing so through questionable practices depending on Republican dominated state legislatures that are imposing restrictions on ballot casting.
Netanyahu is trying to bring about the collapse of the fragile new government by intimidating right-wing members of the political parties making up the ruling coalition into withdrawing their support from the government.
If Trump and Netanyahu were to manage a comeback, this would have serious consequences for the Middle East. The greatest casualty would probably be the two state solution to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.
Whereas the US political system strength’s lies in the fact that it is capable of self-correction. The latest election stands testimony to that. Israel’s political system is not. Amongst its weaknesses is that Israeli democracy is structurally deficient in that it does not offer equal rights for “Israeli Arabs” that make up 20% of the population.
Israeli political commentator Dahlia Schiendlin in a recent article in the NYT captured Israel’s core problem along the following lines: “the problem with Israeli democracy is its refusal to define what Israel is: a theocracy, an aspiring democracy or an occupying power. All of which means nothing can be clarified if the government fails to address a third core issue: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. This is precisely where the international community’s role becomes critical.
Given the composition of the new Israeli government, it will not initiate or positively respond to any new ideas that aim to resolve the Palestinian issue. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to take unilateral and irreversible actions towards the annexation of Palestinian Territories. Nonetheless that does not mean it may not take measures that may complicate the realization of the two-state solution in order to appease its right- wing constituency.
This interval provides the Palestinians an opportunity to devise a new strategy to secure their national rights in establishing an independent and viable state. Needless to say, Arab, and for this matter international support, is critical in this regard.
Over the past decades, Israel has been able, by incremental steps and but also by stealth, to gradually expand its control over Palestinians lives and lands.
The latest developments in Gaza, Jerusalem and inside Israel proper produced and in some cases confirmed a number of important conclusions. First: Israel, with its military might, cannot ensure security for its citizens. Second: Israeli Arabs have exposed the deficiencies of Israeli political system in ensuring equal rights for both Arabs and Jews. Third: there is a growing international sympathy, particularly amongst the youth, in support of Palestinian rights. Fourth: there is a crisis in Palestinian leadership.
Palestinian disunity remains the Achilles Heel that will be continually exploited by Israel to justify its recalcitrance in finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.
It is the latter conclusion that requires further elaboration. Recent developments have demonstrated that in spite of Hamas’s short-term gains, both it and the Palestinian Authority have emerged bruised. Hamas could very well be losing the regional and domestic support system it depends upon. At the same time, it has become even more obvious that Palestinian leadership needs to be transferred to a new generation.
But to ensure such an outcome, the Palestinians need to revise their policies with the purpose of devising a new strategy that creates the necessary conditions for negotiations for a future negotiated two-state agreement.
Such a strategy should be designed to ensure that the international community, but particularly the US, take a series of measures compatible with international humanitarian and human rights law, in order to preserve the prospect of a two state solution.
Such a strategy can be based on four pillars:
1) Priority to achieving Palestinian reconciliation. This ultimately requires meticulously prepared free and fair elections. As Egypt has been playing the principal role in this regard, it should demonstrate to the Israelis its resolve in bringing about a genuine and sustainable reconciliation amongst all Palestinians.
2) Emphasis in international fora needs to be on protection of Palestinians rights in line with humanitarian and human rights law. This should relate to Palestinians both under occupation and in Israel proper. Equal attention should be placed on the long-neglected Palestinian rights, including freedom of movement and freedom from violence, dispossession, discrimination, and occupation. Such a rights-based approach necessitates accountability for violations of people’s rights and of international law. The unprecedented political involvement of Israeli Arabs offers the opportunity for a new understanding between Israel’s Jews and Arabs. It is therefore necessary to explore how best to build a relationship between Palestinians with Israeli citizenship with the rest of the Palestinians. Now that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are part of the government, this becomes all the more important for Palestinians everywhere. The fact that the Biden administration has publicly stated that Palestinians and Israelis “should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy”, provides a good basis for future action.
3) Reconstruction and development, both in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel on the one hand, and Hamas and the PA on the other, need to understand that they all need to work with one another and with international donors. The process of reconstruction needs to be managed carefully so as to reinforce Palestinian reconciliation. In this regard Egypt has a critical role and a delicate responsibility in managing the process.
4) Now that there are more Arab states that have formal relations with Israel, it is necessary to link the development of such relations with Israeli conduct. In this regard it is important to note that the UAE conditioned its agreement with Israel on the latter’s refraining from taking unilateral action to annex Palestinian Territories. This is the minimum formula that Arab states need to adhere to in order to ensure Israel’s respect for Palestinian rights. In other words, developing relations with Israel should be conditioned on the latter’s policy towards a two state solution.
Failure to seize this interval to enhance the Palestinians negotiating power will create, once again, the opportunity for Israel to evade the realization of a viable Palestinian state. Furthermore, the failure of the Arab states to create the regional and international conditions that help the Palestinians to take this path, will make long-term peace and stability in the region even more illusive.