Prospects for PalestineNovember 23rd, 2011
In the Middle East at the weekend I chaired a panel discussion amongst diplomats, politicians and scholars about ‘Prospects for Palestine’. There were Arab, Israeli, European and American viewpoints. The question at the core of the discussion was whether the Oslo ‘concept’ – of a comprehensive negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians of all final status issues – was still alive.
The evidence was pretty clearly one way. No agreement for 12 years; declining confidence among Palestinian and Israeli populations; settlement building in defiance of the road map and the law; divided Palestinian leadership between Gaza and West Bank; American (and European) leadership focussed elsewhere; and so on. The products of Oslo, notably a Palestinian Administration in West Bank, are there, working to improve livelihoods, delivering institution-building lauded by funders, and security that the Israelis rely on. But no one thinks a breakthrough is around the corner.
There were three important themes. First, the Arab Spring has opened up regional politics, but not yet broken through in a coherent way into the Palestinian issue. The events in Egypt – a revolution fighting off counter-revolution – show the complexities. Israel is waiting for the scene to settle, the Palestinians are wondering how much of a priority they remain, and key players like Egypt and Syria are in tumult. Second, the issue of interim steps. Palestinian state building led by Prime Minister Fayyad has enthused the West and improved lives in the West Bank. But it is not a fully fledged strategy without a viable political track. Third, the role of the international community. President Sarkozy spoke in 2009 about a more activist role for the outsiders (“imposer un solution”). But while there is notional agreement about the end game there just isn’t agreement about the actions to get there, and the parties themselves are absolutely (and understandably) jealous of their rights.
None of these add up to hope for Palestinians, or confidence for Israelis. Many in Israel are focussing on other issues; many in Palestine are making contingency arguments about how a one state solution beckons, sundering Israel’s Jewish and democratic character (in the way President Peres once memorably warned when he said words to the effect that Israel should worry when it faced a future that was Jewish or democratic but not both). If the Israeli government really believes that a two state solution is in Israel’s interests, then it had better get on and achieve it, because it is falling by the wayside.