No real check on Israeli power leaves Palestinians stateless

As Palestinians mark 52 years since Israel captured the whole of historic Palestine, their bid for self-determination remains in the hands of Israel and its strongest ally, the United States.

The yet-to-be-revealed US Middle East peace plan, dubbed the «deal of the century» by President Donald Trump, is expected to do little to assist the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and statehood, years after the Oslo Accords proved futile.The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents the Palestinians internationally, wants an independent state based on the de-facto borders before the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem. It also captured Egyptian and Syrian territory during the war.

Known by Palestinians as the Naksa, or the setback, the 1967 war came 19 years after the creation of the state of Israel — when Zionist militias took over the majority of Palestine and established a Jewish state.

The Naksa saw the displacement of more than 300,000 Palestinians — many of whom had sought refuge in these territories after the 1948 war, known by Palestinians as the Nakba, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and villages.

The yet-to-be-revealed Middle East peace plan is expected to do little to assist the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom, experts say File: Susan Walsh/The Associated Press

Today, the occupied West Bank, parts of which are controlled by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) based in Ramallah, the besieged Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and East Jerusalem, which remains under full Israeli control — are territories where Palestinians are subject to different forms of Israeli dominance.

‘Two-state’ solution

After officially recognising Israel’s existence in 1988, the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995, which were meant to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state through the establishment of an interim Palestinian government — the PA.

The Oslo deals also handed Israel control of the Palestinian economy, civil and security matters in more than 60 percent of the West Bank.

The accords were meant to kick-start peace talks brokered by the US, with a two-state solution as the desired objective of negotiations.

But efforts to strike a deal over the years have been fruitless, leaving the Palestinians with a provisional self-governing authority that has been unable to stop the entrenchment of Israel’s occupation in the territories that Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel’s dominance has not been offset by any meaningful legal, grassroots or media strategy strong enough to overcome this military dominance, Sam Husseini, director of the Washington, DC-based Institute of Public Accuracy, told Al Jazeera.

Simply put, he says, there is «no real check on Israeli power», which is why Palestinians are still stateless.

Diminishing Palestinian rights

Through the Oslo Accords, the US government succeeded in sidelining any meaningful UN process, Husseini noted.

«The ‘peace process’ over the years — whether allegedly active or in a ‘lull’ – has been very short on peace and very long on process,» he said.

«It’s bought Israel more and more time to further consolidate its power over Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights as well as to increase its dominance and connections with others in the region.»

Part of the result of this has been to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict virtually impossible, Husseini said.

Though the notion of a two-state solution has been the basis for prior negotiations, the upcoming US peace plan is expected to fall short of promising Palestinians the state they want.

One of the architects of the long-awaited plan, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has indicated that the US would be withdrawing from its long-standing support of the two-state solution.

When recently asked if the Palestinians could expect freedom from Israeli military and government interference, Kushner said it would be a «high bar».

Palestinian leaders want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their state and in late 2017 cut ties with the Trump administration when the US recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the country’s embassy there, a longstanding Israeli aim.

Emboldened by the US move, Israel is likely to push for more concessions in the US plan, analysts note.

«Israel will make further demands and further diminish Palestinian rights with the obvious goal of liquidating any meaningful Palestinian self-determination or independence or even culture,» Husseini said.

Formalising the ‘status quo’ 

Trump’s administration has also taken steps to economically weaken both Palestinians and their leadership.

Formerly the largest donor to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, the US cut off its roughly $300m annual donation in 2018, deeming its fiscal practices «irredeemably flawed».

For nearly 70 years, the UN agency has been the lifeline to the more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories and Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, offering support in food supply, education, healthcare, social services and employment.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank, said these moves have erased the rights of Palestinian refugees, which have been a sticking point in negotiations.

«Whatever the fate of the so-called deal, the Trump administration has already sought to formalise the status quo,» Hijab told Al Jazeera.

Since Trump took office, the US has also curtailed aid to the PA and shut the PLO office in Washington, DC, further stoking tensions between the Palestinians and the US.

According to Hijab, the current Palestinian leadership has also not been able to make political gains because it has not known how to «parlay Palestinian sources of power into policy shifts».

Hijab noted that in 2004, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its advisory opinion on the unlawfulness of Israel’s separation barrier, which runs through East Jerusalem and the West Bank, there was an opportunity to push Europe «hard» to take action against Israel’s policies in the occupied territories — but this has not happened.

«Since it occupied the territories in 1967, Israel has relentlessly expanded its fragmentation of Palestinian territories and containment of the people into ever smaller enclaves,» she said.

Palestinian leaders and political factions have already rejected the proposed deal, which may not be revealed in full for some time as Israel faces a new election in September.

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