Palestinians need to smash the status quo

A new leadership must go beyond old hatreds to aim for peace and dignity for all

It is a tragedy of epic proportions that after decades of struggle for their rights the hopes of Palestinians are being systematically dashed. There is no Palestinian state on the horizon and realities on the ground are no longer conducive to what remains the official policy of just about every member of the United Nations. Donald Trump’s pro-Israel bias has ridden roughshod over the few cards that were left in the Palestinian Authority’s hands.

Although a growing number of Palestinians now believe the solution is one state that idea is pie in the sky because Israelis fear being outnumbered by an Arab demographic bomb. That said it is possible that the Israeli government could be incentivised to begin realistic direct negotiations with President Mahmoud Abbas on a way forward. Peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—with more allegedly in the pipeline—translate to Israel being open to compromise especially since its once thriving economy is being battered by Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, Abbas has washed his hands of all and any contacts with Israeli negotiators or American intermediaries. In truth, the Palestinian issue has been a dark cloud looming over the Middle East since most of us can remember. The region has been stuck in a time warp for over half-a-century. Those of us who have been closely following the ups and downs of this seemingly intractable land dispute could reel off the Palestinian rhetoric by heart. The arguments and the language are unchanged and have been so overused by Palestinian spokespersons that they fail to hit home.

For instance, what use is quoting UN resolutions when the international body is proven to be impotent? There are no creative solutions or new ideas within the structures of Fatah and Hamas and the fact that ideological divisions remain between the various factions as well as hostility gives Israel grist to its mill.

Penny has finally dropped

If Palestinians cannot grasp each other’s hands to produce a unified stance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue arguing that he has no partner for peace. On this the penny has finally dropped. Earlier this month, the leaders of 14 Palestinian groups met, among them Abbas and the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, who apparently agreed to hold legislative elections during the coming months, the first since 2006. But according to Israel media, Hamas has denied reaching agreement on any such ballot.

While Abbas is resentful towards the Trump administration, given that he has faithfully kept to Washington’s script since the demise of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, his reach out to the now defunct Quartet to organise an international conference is an exercise in futility. The only country with any meaningful influence over Israeli policy is its most generous donor and diplomatic champion, the United States.

Backing for a two-state solution

It may be that Abbas is biding his time in hopes of former US Vice President Joe Biden taking the White House. Biden like his former boss, Barack Obama, has expressed his backing for a two-state solution and has come out against Netanyahu’s now delayed annexation plans but will he put his money where his mouth is? President Obama, whose sympathies were known to lie with the Palestinians, lacked the courage to incur the lobby’s wrath.

The bottom line in this never-ending sad saga is this: Israelis and Palestinians need new faces with fresh ideas. Those unable to get past their mutual hatreds need to go. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups should give up their weapons and their manifestos so they too can sit at the table. Palestinians would be wise to nurture trust in each other and under the umbrella of Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain work on building the blocks that could one day serve as the foundation for a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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