One of the paradoxes of the internal conflict in Palestine is that Palestinians are fighting each other without any regard to the fact that the Israeli occupation continues unabated. There are plenty of reasons to explain why the occupation has continued for decades. Palestinians have missed opportunities because they failed to measure accurately their own negotiating powers in comparison to the Israelis. The Arab states gave plenty of lip service to the Palestinian cause, and the international community passed UN resolutions, which were never implemented.
The combination of Arab lip service and international resolutions gave Palestinian leaders exaggerated expectations. In reality, and on the ground, the West (especially the US) invested more on weapons to the region and vetoing Security Council resolutions than on serious efforts to encourage all sides to a peaceful resolution. Forty years after the 1967 Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank – including Jerusalem – Palestinians have failed to find the magic formula for their liberation.
They’ve attempted cross border violence (late 60s), Arab and international diplomacy (70s and 80s), the first intifada (’87), secret talks (’93 Oslo) suicide attacks (90s and second intifada), cross border rockets ’06 and ’07), regional Arab initiatives (2000, repeated 2007), international initiatives and peace envoys (since ’67), but nothing has succeeded in cracking the Israel occupation.
Two years ago when the Israeli army redeployed from the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials requested Palestinian and international recognition that the occupation was over in Gaza. No such a statement was made simply because the occupation was not over. Israel continued to control the borders, collect customs for imports and decide when the only remaining outlet for Gazans (the Rafah crossing point) is opened or closed.
With Gazans unable to go to work in Israel and without any resources for economic viability, the Palestinians of Gaza remained totally dependent on Israel even though Israeli soldiers had left the streets of Gaza and the ally ways of its squalid refugee camps.
Interestingly, while the Israeli army is entrenched in the West Bank the human situation there is less troubling simply because the population has multiple sources of income. And most West Bankers are not refugees.
This year, 40 years after the passing of Security Council resolution 242 which stated in its preamble: "Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security…" many felt that the Palestinian cause was finally on the verge of being resolved politically.
The Arab peace plan calling normalization by all Arab countries with Israel in return for its withdrawal to the 67 lines (reiterated with more zeal this year) responds to the deepest Israeli aspiration of being accepted in the Middle East. The current American president and his secretary of state seemed focused on seeing the birth of the state of Palestine alongside Israel on the ground and not just in words.
This spring Jordan’s King Abdullah gave the strongest pro-Palestinian speeches ever made to the joint session of Congress. He argued that a breakthrough is needed quickly before the Americans get bogged down with the ’08 presidential elections and another window of opportunity would be wasted. The Israelis also, while reeling from an unsuccessful war in Lebanon seem also ready to make what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called "painful compromises."
The false trappings of a state provided to Palestinians as part of the Oslo peace process and the famous White House handshake in 1993 has hurt more than helped Palestinians. Palestinians got an elected president, parliament a government (whose ministers are not guaranteed passage from Gaza to West Bank), passports (whose numbers must be entered into Israeli computers), postage stamps and lightly armed police, but not real sovereignty over land or contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank.
Hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank with an eight foot wall deep in the Palestinian territories and tight control over the borders make these trimmings of a state nothing more than cosmetic.
In return, the Israelis were relieved of having to guard populated areas, crowded neighborhoods and economically they were no longer obliged to pay public servants or take care of the occupied population as – I would argue – international law stipulates.
For many Palestinians, including the leadership, the imperfections would eventually be rectified and the sovereignty would be solidified. None of this happened thanks to the hesitation of Israel, the continuation of settlement activities and the disruptions of the Islamists who had little interest in the Oslo process or even the idea of a two state solution.
Without a road map that would lead to genuine independence of Israeli occupation and the ability to truly govern a genuinely sovereign state that has contiguity, opposing voices among Palestinians have been on the rise.
Seeing so many Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank some are asking for the scrapping of the two-state solution and focusing the struggle in the direction of a single bi-national state.
Others who see Israelis as unlikely to accept a plan that will weaken the Jewishness of the state, are simply opting for a total withdrawal from the charade called the Palestinian Authority.
This idea, championed publicly by Dr. Ali Jirbawi from Bir Zeit University is based on the idea of returning all powers and responsibilities to the Israelis and refusing interim agreements, thus forcing them to take security and financial responsibilities of the occupied territories.
Their other option being to reach a true agreement in which Israel would allow Palestinians full sovereignty and territorial contiguity, exactly as President Bush and other western leaders have been publicly declaring.