Leaders have a habit of creating expectations for their people; these are higher in the case of groups that suffer from injustice.
Not wanting to set precise time limits, leaders sometimes say elections will take place in the winter of the coming year, in the first half of the following year, and similar such vague dates.
Palestinians, still waiting for a state of their own, free from the yoke of an unjust colonial military occupation, probably received the highest number of promises that never materialised. They started at the beginning of the 20th century, when British leaders promised Arab leaders that Palestine will be free and independent (while at the same time promising Jews a homeland in Palestine); then, throughout that century and in the 21st, record books were filled with unfulfilled promises to the Palestinians.
The most recent, totally useless was the promise made by US President Barack Obama from the UN rostrum. Speaking at the opening of the winter session of the General Assembly, in September 2010, Obama said: "When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
Not only did the Obama administration join previous US governments in making false and unfulfilled promises, it also began an active campaign to ensure the failure of a UN Security Council resolution dealing with that very issue.
The past year was yet another in which the international community has failed to end a military occupation that the Security Council unanimously rejected in 1967. UN Security Council Resolution 242 declares in its preamble the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war".
As we come close to the end of another year of unfulfilled promises, we are now told of yet another timetable. The Quartet, made up of the UN, US, EU and Russia, has now given Palestinians and Israelis 90 days to produce written statements as to what their position is regarding borders and security. The 90-day period ends on January 26, 2012. Palestinians have already submitted their answer, but Israel has yet to do so.
The Quartet’s goal is simple. It wants to get Israel to commit in writing to a vision of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state that the international community supports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, which has accepted (with two conditions) the two-state solution, failed to answer this question during the crucial face-to-face negotiations in the winter of 2010. Netanyahu’s conditions that the Palestinian state be demilitarised and that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state should not prevent Israelis from showing what their vision is when it comes to the borders of the Palestinian state and how to organise Israeli security.
Asking Israel to submit its vision of the borders (as in late 2010) aims to circumvent the Israeli roadblocks around settlements. If Israel outlines exactly where it sees the borders of the future Palestinian state, it will be difficult to justify Israel’s settling or confiscating land in that areas earmarked (even from an Israeli point of view) for the Palestinian state.
Of course, one should not be surprised if Israel does not present any map. In negotiations over 20 years, Israelis never presented to their Palestinian counterparts a single map or paper outlining the Palestinian state. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert came closest to it by showing one to his counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, without allowing him to take it or a copy of it.
While it is unlikely that January 26, 2012, will see any breakthrough, another date in 2012 is now being circulated as important from the Palestinian point of view. Abbas has announced that May 4 will witness new parliamentary and presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza, in which all parties, including Hamas and the PLO, will participate.
In addition to agreement on a date for unified elections, Hamas and Fateh are said to be in agreement to employ popular resistance (as opposed to armed resistance) as a way to bring about Palestine’s independence. Some press reports have also stated that Hamas is willing to discuss its position on recognition of Israel.
If Palestinians are united, they can exert concerted, nonviolent campaigns to finally end the brutal 44-year-old Israeli occupation of their land.