Despite the announcement by the Hamas leadership that it was willing to disband the administrative committee for the Gaza Strip, which was founded six months ago as an act of defiance against PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the road to Palestinian reconciliation is still long. Moreover, it is quite likely that Hamas has maneuvered skillfully, and has successfully caught Abbas and the PA in a honey trap, since if the PA-led Palestinian government returns to Gaza, it will assume the heavy responsibility for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and the welfare of the population. » More
Donald Trump entered the White House promising to be ‘the most pro-Israel president ever’. This hyperbolic bombast gratified what is certainly the most right-wing Israeli government ever, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab armies in 1967, and half a century of occupation of the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem it has no plans to end.
President Trump, the self-described dealmaker, keeps hinting and tweeting he is on course to do ‘the ultimate deal’ that has eluded his predecessors: never spelt out but assumed to mean an Arab-Israeli peace encompassing a deal for the Palestinians, who have sought in vain the state proffered tantalisingly by the Oslo accords of 1993-95.
This most erratic of US presidents, meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, in February, threw the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Oslo to the winds, saying that the two-state solution, meant to offer security to Israel and justice to the Palestinians, may not be the way to resolve it. ‘I am looking at two-state and one-state [solutions], and I like the one that both parties like,’ Trump said, to nervous chortles from Netanyahu and general bemusement.
This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 5 May 2017.
Until recently, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was seen as a unique ‘success story’ of the Middle East Peace Process. However, recent developments seem to be challenging this narrative; only last month, demonstrations attracted thousands of Palestinian protesters who demanded the suspension of cooperation with Israel. Shortly before this, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to end Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in response to a new Knesset law which retroactively legalised some 4,000 Israeli settler houses built on private Palestinian land. Consequently, one of the cornerstones of the Oslo Accords now appears to be under real threat.
Effective cooperation – what for?
Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in security terms has hitherto been robust in the West Bank (Hamas put an end to it in Gaza in 2007) and dates back to the 1993 Oslo Accords. These stipulated the creation of ‘a strong police force’ which would guarantee public order and internal security for Palestinians, while the Israeli state was to be responsible for countering external threats and ensuring the overall security of Israelis. Today, with over 44% of public sector employees in the PA working in the security sector (over 80,000 people), it remains a major provider of income to the Palestinian population. It also accounts for the lion’s share of the PA’s annual budget, with 30-45% allocated to this sector.
Once more, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is taking center stage. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan that the initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked. But why is this initiative, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia 15 years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly and the United States has shown little interest in enforcing it?
In March 2002, the initiative, composed of a few sentences, was proclaimed at an Arab League Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Less than half of the Arab leaders participated in that conference. Head of the PA and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend. Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. Sharon told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. Arafat died two years later, amid allegations that he had been poisoned.
In the following interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen, Bilal Y. Saab discusses the prospects of reviving the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative and much more.
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu no longer recognizes a two-state solution; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is widely considered too weak politically; and the Israelis and Palestinians have a serious trust deficit. In this context, how can the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative be revived?
Saab: Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t think current regional and Palestinian conditions allow for a two-state solution, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize a two-state solution. As hardline as he is, even he knows that it’s the only way to bring an end to this conflict sustainably. For him, security comes first, which is understandable. The problem, however, is that what he has in mind is perfect security and zero risk, which is completely unrealistic. Even [the late Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon accepted political and security risks when he disengaged from Gaza [in 2005]. For a leader whose domestic position is so powerful, it boggles my mind, and that of many others both inside and outside Israel, how Bibi is so reluctant and so cautious on an issue more critical to the survival of Israel and its Jewish democracy than any other: peace with the Palestinians.