PHOTO: The Israeli West Bank settlement of Efrat is seen on Sept. 1, 2014. Israel said it would expropriate 988 acres of Palestinian land around Bethlehem, and allowed 45 days for any appeal. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
For further reference, see our recently released expert Q&A: Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch on Being Denied Entry to Gaza, and our recently released fact sheets, Putting Palestinians “On a Diet”: Israel’s Siege & Blockade of Gaza and The Children of Gaza: A Generation Scarred & Under Siege.
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, former advisor to Palestinian negotiators, and author of Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013) and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006).
Diana Buttu, Ramallah-based analyst, former advisor to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.
Q - Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced a new diplomatic initiative calling on Israel to end its occupation within three years and to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state with borders based on the pre-1967 lines. If Israel refuses, or fails to negotiate in good faith, Abbas says the Palestinians will take action at international forums like the International Criminal Court.
How does this plan differ fundamentally, if at all, from Abbas' previous strategy, and what is the likelihood that it will succeed, or at least advance the cause of Palestinian freedom in some way?
RK - "It appears that it would delay further the possibility of pressure on Israel by the International Criminal Court, and provide further opportunity for Israeli foot-dragging, prevarication, and aggression, while settlement building and occupation continue. This Israeli government has never negotiated in good faith, and there is no proper forum or structure for a negotiation in any case, the Oslo process having been revealed as a device for strengthening Israeli occupation control and colonization of Palestinian lands."
DB - "This plan does not differ, in any way, from previous failed plans put forward by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is one of the architects of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations process known as Oslo. As such, he appears to have one only plan —negotiations — and despite the indisputable fact that this process has failed to bring Palestinians any closer to their freedom after more than two decades, he continues to insist on returning to this same strategy.
"To be clear, Israel has no interest in reaching a fair and lasting peace agreement with the Palestinians, but does have an interest in resuming negotiations. Under the cover of 'peace talks,' Israel can continue to build and expand its illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, and it can continue to maintain a brutal military occupation while at the same time reaping the benefits of increased trade and normalized international relations.
"Therefore, Abbas needs to change course and pursue a different strategy. Instead of demanding more negotiations, he should push the international community to isolate and ostracize Israel for its continued military occupation, colonization, and other violations of international law. This should take the form of advocating for sanctions and boycotts against Israel, and pushing for Israel's isolation from the international arena. At the same time, he should mobilize large-scale nonviolent resistance on the ground in Palestine, something he has failed utterly to do up until now. Another three years of negotiations will only serve to provide Israel with yet more time to build more settlements, and make even further demands that Palestinians concede more of their territory to accommodate Israel's criminal behavior."
Q - According to reports, Israel is refusing to send negotiators to Cairo for follow-up talks to ease its blockade of Gaza and to address other issues, as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement that ended its latest bloody military assault on the occupied and besieged coastal territory last week. If Israel refuses to abide by its word to discuss a loosening of the siege and other matters, what avenues of redress do Palestinians have, and does Israel's continued intransigence make another war in Gaza inevitable?
RK - "If occupation and settlement continue, and in the absence of international efforts to call Israel to account for its violations of UN Security Council resolutions and international law, there will unfortunately inevitably be more violence. The Palestinians should be actively seeking to reunite their national movement, agreeing on a consensus strategy involving popular mobilization, and expanding international and regional support for their cause in order to put pressure on Israel, which has managed to maintain the status quo of occupation and colonization of Palestinian land for nearly five decades now."
DB - "Israel has no incentive, whatsoever, to resume discussions over Gaza. Unlike its negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in which a resumption of talks provides Israel with the opportunity to expand its settlement enterprise without international repercussions, Israel is under no pressure to open Gaza. Rather, Israel has been allowed to maintain a seven-year blockade of Gaza, deny Palestinians freedom of movement and the ability to import and export goods, and deny Palestinians access to their fishing rights without any reaction from the international community. Israel has reneged on previous promises to open a seaport and airport in Gaza and to open the crossing points. Yet, it has done so with impunity.
"Given that no people can be expected to sit idly by while being denied their freedom, caged in an open-air prison, and targeted by repeated military attacks, sadly it will only be a matter of time before yet another war in Gaza breaks out. This is why Palestinians have been urgently pressing for the international community's involvement, and highlights the necessity of a comprehensive approach to address Israel's military occupation and denial of Palestinian rights and freedoms."
Q - On Sunday, the Israeli government announced plans to expropriate almost 1000 acres of occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank near Bethlehem, in what is reportedly the largest Israeli land grab in three decades. In response, the international community, including the United States and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, condemned the move, with the latter pointing out that all settlement activity is “illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution.” Even before this latest large-scale Israeli theft of Palestinian land, a growing number of observers had concluded that the two-state solution, which is predicated on the creation of a Palestinian state in territories that Israel continues to aggressively colonize, was dead. What, if any, impact do you think this move will have on the situation on the ground, Abbas' new diplomatic initiative, and prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict?
RK - "Israel has long since buried the two-state solution with its colonization efforts all over occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly publicly stated that Israel will never give up its control of these territories. It is unclear what more he could do to drive a stake through the heart of the two-state solution, so far without provoking any serious international or regional reaction. The Oslo paradigm is dead, and we seem to be in a new phase, but neither Palestinian and Arab leaders, nor the US and Europe, have yet reacted in an appropriate way, which would be to finally hold Israel responsible for its actions and to impose serious sanctions on this serial violator of international law and norms."
DB - "Israel cannot claim to favor a negotiated settlement or to support the two-state solution while also expropriating Palestinian land, demolishing Palestinian homes and building settlements. While Israeli actions like settlement building are blatantly illegal, the international community has failed to hold Israeli leaders accountable or to censure Israel in any way, apart from the occasional toothless verbal condemnation. Unfortunately, Abbas's 'new' diplomatic initiative will only serve to provide Israel with more time to build and expand more settlements while the world sits, watches, and does nothing. Israel killed the two-state solution a long time ago, aided and abetted by the international community's apathy and inaction. One can only hope that this latest large-scale theft of Palestinian land will lead to a shift in international thinking, forcing world leaders to realize that the only way forward is to hold Israel accountable for its illegal actions — rather than demanding a return to useless, counterproductive negotiations."