Reversing the Path of Reconciliation

Prime Minister Netanyahu and most members of his government’s coalition have never tried to hide their disdain for the Palestinian-Israeli agreements, which were concluded by the previous Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization within the current Middle East peace process. They have always tried, however, to claim a readiness to implement these agreements, as they are legally binding and politically important. This claim has proved, beyond a doubt, to be false.

The problem here is not merely that the Israeli government has not complied fully with the agreements. Nor is the problem that some, or even many, Israeli violations of the agreements took place because of security, on the basis of so-called "reciprocity", or for other reasons. It is much worse than that. The problem is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues have not been able to depart from their basic ideological positions vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, compounded by Israeli government coalition politics. As a result of that, and given the inherent contradiction between these basic positions and the agreements reached, the government has adopted and implemented policies which deliberately destroy the agreements, thus reversing the path of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation, and possibly bringing to an end the whole Middle East peace process.

What are those basic positions? First and foremost, the position of keeping all or most of the occupied land as part of the "Land of Israel". The Declaration of Principles of 1993 states that "negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973". In fact, the whole Middle East peace process is based on the principle of "land for peace", as is envisioned in those resolutions. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to publicly refer to the land as "Judea & Sumaria" and makes statements such as "the West Bank is part of Israel proper" and "we cannot go back to a country that is 10 or 12 km. wide." Such statements, of course, reflect illegal expansionist designs on the occupied territories, as manifested in the above-mentioned position.

Linked to that is another, no less dangerous, basic position which denies the rights of the Palestinians as a people. The Declaration of Principles speaks of the "Palestinian People." It’s preamble states that the two sides agree that it is time to "…recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights..." Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, has repeatedly denied the political and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including his insistence on rejecting the right to have their own state. The Prime Minister has actually yet to utter the words "Palestinian People". Instead, he publicly speaks of apartheid-like arrangements or cantonization for the Palestinians, as he envisages a "final settlement."

In light of these basic positions, or because of them, comes the government’s policies relating to the transitional period, which, according to the Declaration of Principles, should lead to a permanent settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. These government policies aim precisely at preventing such a final settlement through a total methodological violation of all the main components of the agreements on the transitional period. These main components can be summarized as follows:

The first relates to the establishment and expansion of the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestinian elected council to all of the West Bank and Gaza, except Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements and military locations. Linked to this is the withdrawal and successive redeployment of the Israeli army up to specified locations, the dissolution of the Israeli civil administration, and the withdrawal of the military government.

The second relates to the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza, and linked to that, the safe passage between them, the freedom of movement of all persons and goods, and the need to preserve the lawful ownership of the land.

The third relates to the improvement of the living conditions of the Palestinian people, the development of the Palestinian economy, and cooperation between the two sides in economic fields, as detailed in the Paris Economic Agreement.

The fourth component relates to the postponement of negotiations on specific issues, such as Jerusalem and settlements, to the final status negotiations, which normally require that the parties will not create new "facts on the ground", prejudging the outcome of those talks.

All of these components, as well as many other detailed and important elements of the agreements, have been systematically and comprehensively disregarded and violated by the Israeli side. For instance, Palestinian jurisdiction is still limited to a small percentage of the territory; Israeli redeployment to specified locations has not taken place; the Israeli civil administration has not been dissolved; safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza has not been established; all kind of restrictions on freedom of movement have been imposed; confiscation of lands and theft of natural resources continue; the living conditions of the Palestinian people have sharply deteriorated; numerous measures were imposed by the Israeli side, effectively destroying the Palestinian economy; creation of new "facts on the ground" has intensified; and attempts to change the demographic conditions and legal status of Jerusalem continues, as do illegal settlement activities. In addition, the Palestinian side has been prevented from operating the Gaza airport and even from constructing the seaport; many Palestinian political prisoners remain in Israeli jails; the Israeli side has blocked any progress on the return of the displaced Palestinians, totaling more than a half million persons, and Israeli violations of specific provisions on Hebron and on the Bilal Mosque in Bethlehem continue. Finally, direct Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people goes on, including assassinations and the demolition of homes.

These policies, practices and measures obviously constitute total methodological violations of the agreements, and they are being committed simply by means of the overwhelming Israeli power, including military, in full disregard for the essence of peacemaking. This, however, should not come as any surprise, precisely because of the basic ideological positions of the Israeli government, as described above.

Is it conceivable for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be brought to an end without the fulfillment of the minimum requirements of justice and dignity for the Palestinian people? Is it at all possible for movement on the path of peace to continue, even while the very national existence of the Palestinian people is denied? The answer is an emphatic NO! These are the basic things that should have been achieved in this peace process, but they are precisely the ones being negated by Mr. Netanyahu.