by Hassan Asfour
At this critical political stage of the Palestinian national struggle, there is an imperative need to assess the political process, mainly the Declaration of Principles (DOP), also known as the Oslo Accords, in a subjective manner and not according to the interests and views of any regional side. Such an assessment is needed particularly from those who criticized Arafat for confronting the American conspiracy to dismantle the PLO and eliminate the Palestinian national identity.
The recent U.S. political involvement in the region is not unusual when seen in terms of the “American-Zionist” landscape and is consistent with the U.S. policy in the Middle East. The historical background to this can be seen in the Reagan Plan, officially adopted by the U.S. administration in 1982 during the siege of Beirut. This plan was followed by the adoption of the “Building for Peace” report which was published at the end of 1988. This report, prepared by a study group at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy convened by Martin Indyk, was composed primarily of Jewish and Zionist experts and consultants such as Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller and Barry Rubin, formed the political base for the Madrid Conference. Its essence and primary objective were to dismantle the PLO and its legitimate official representation, to exterminate the Palestinian national identity, and to isolate Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian social, religious and political fabric.
The Oslo Accords, with their continuous efforts to downgrade the Palestinian people’s right of self-determination to some form of administrative, self-governing body, provided a golden opportunity to fulfill the U.S. strategy of ending the Palestinian liberation movement and eliminating the Palestinian national identity.
Furthermore, some opponents of the Oslo Accords on the Palestinian side claim that it liquidated the Palestinian national resistance by categorizing it as terrorism and obliging the PA to commit itself to fighting “terror.” At the same time, there are those who argue that if we assess the Palestinian national struggle since the establishment of the PA in 1994 until the assassination of Arafat, we will find that this period witnessed the peak of Palestinian political and national action, compared with the period from his assassination until today.
However, the time has come to acknowledge that, in principle, the Oslo Accords no longer exist on the ground. And it’s time to officially withdraw from them.
Israel has violated every aspect of every agreement signed with the PLO, and following the Camp David summit in 2000, Israel reoccupied the West Bank, assassinated Arafat, and imposed its unilateral agenda on the process. For example, the Israeli redeployment in the Gaza Strip and its meager, symbolic redeployment in the West Bank were implemented unilaterally, without any coordination with the Palestinian leadership which is supposed to be its partner in the political process and despite the fact that these two geographical areas are supposed to be a unified territory.
Throughout the political process, Israel continued to implement its policy of settlement expansion, thereby changing the demographic nature of the West Bank. In addition to the Judaization of over 12% of Jerusalem and the West Bank, it declared the Occupied Palestinian Territories the “Land of Israel” and waged three wars on Gaza, achieving an outstanding war-crimes record by primarily targeting unarmed civilians.
All these events make a complete withdrawal from the political path of Oslo a Palestinian national necessity in view of Israel’s failure to comply with the accords and its continuous efforts to eradicate the Palestinian people.
The Alternative Palestinian Political Options: What Abbas Should Do
It falls to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately declare the State of Palestine in accordance with United Nations Resolution A/RES/67/19 of December 4, 2012, in text and in spirit. This would reshape the political landscape in such a way that the lands under Israeli occupation would become those of the “State of Palestine.”
Article IV of the DOP of 1993 set a period of five years to complete a gradual Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which are considered a single territorial unit. Israel not only failed to abide by the agreement but actually eradicated its essence. Therefore, the Palestinians should cancel all signed agreements with Israel and rescind their recognition of the State of Israel, making such recognition conditional on Israel’s recognition of the State of Palestine and a complete end of the Israeli occupation. If these conditions are not met, Israel should be expelled from the United Nations, as was done to Apartheid South Africa in 1974. In the above context, the Palestinian president should declare that if Israel doesn’t recognize the State of Palestine in accordance with UN Resolutions 181 and 194, this would mean reopening the debate on the UN resolution to include both a guarantee of the right of return and compensation for the Palestinian refugees, ending any debate on whether they need to choose between return and compensation. The issue of the refugees, which was supposed to be discussed in the final status negotiations, has been sidelined since the Madrid Conference in 1991 under the slogan of “good intentions,” while Israel has reaped maximum benefits from the political process and has given nothing in return.
The declaration of the State of Palestine would mean the following:
• The door would be opened to prosecuting the Israeli leadership as war criminals at the International Criminal Court.
• Israel’s agreements with some Arab countries would no longer remain as they are, despite what some may think. The Palestinian political intifada would force the official Arab establishment, the Arab League, to reassess its position in accordance with the new Palestinian position and to stop dealing with the Arab Peace Initiative (API) and its components and rephrase it from the standpoint of the declaration of the State of Palestine. As the API was drafted at the Arab League Summit in Beirut in 2002, 10 years before UN Resolution 67/19, this initiative would become “politically void” and of no value once there is a Palestinian state.
• The Palestinian national resistance against the occupation with all its components, especially the nonviolent popular movement, would be reconsidered. This is something Israel cannot afford, especially when coupled with international instability and the backing of international legitimacy.
• The BDS movement would take on a new political dimension that could spread to various sectors.
• All the Zionist movement projects being prepared with the use of local and regional tools to create a semi-state in Gaza and to divide the West Bank based on administrative roles would be blocked.
• The declaration would mark the birth of the third new political era of the Palestinian revolution, from the establishment of the PLO and the armed resistance, to the establishment of the PA on the land of Palestine with Yasser Arafat as its president, to the establishment of the State of Palestine as the Palestinian legitimate right.
• The State of Palestine would become the address for the Palestinian people and all they have accomplished on the ground and would unite them in identity and affiliation with a recognized state.
• The historical injustice committed against the Palestinian people would not be forgotten, and legal action would be taken to guarantee compensation for the suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the Nakba and what followed and to prosecute those responsible for it.
• The “legal political restriction” enforced by the agreements to find a “just solution” would be lifted.
The above steps are some of the options that the Palestinian leadership ought to consider in its confrontation with the so-called “Deal of the Century,” a U.S.-Israeli plan denying the basic right of the Palestinian people for a state while accommodating Israel’s settlements colonial project. Accepting the unilateral Israeli-U.S. plan would have severe consequences for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.
According to some media resources, the following are some details of this unilateral plan and the challenges it poses.
• Redeploy the Israeli army, with guarantees from the United States and its Arab allies, from Areas A and B, which comprise 42% of the West Bank, and withdraw from them, as was done in the case of the redeployment from the Gaza Strip. This plan would leave the PA with two options: to fill that void or reject it. Some argue that rejecting it is not a realistic option, though the Palestinian leadership ought to be prepared with a firm decision.
• Withdraw Israeli forces from “Palestinian neighborhoods” in Jerusalem on the city edges. This plan would leave tens of thousands of Palestinians in these areas without civil, legal administrative management. If the PA agrees to fill that administrative void, there are several political consequences that the leadership ought to examine carefully in advance.
Other details of this unilateral plan are merely cosmetic additions, such as economic benefits, especially in the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank, while the essence of the deal is actually Israeli control of more land in the West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley.
In addition to the steps outlined earlier that Abbas ought to take if he indeed wants to turn the political table upside down for the sake of the Palestinian people’s struggle and what they deserve, he ought to take immediate action to end the internal Palestinian conflict. It is expected that the declaration of the state would give him unprecedented legitimate popular power and make him more influential and stronger.
These steps should be followed with a call for an emergency meeting in Cairo of the entire Palestinian leadership and all its factions, especially Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the announcement of the end of the Palestinian division, and the formation of the new government of the State of Palestine whose government will be based in Gaza until the liberation of Jerusalem is achieved.
Furthermore, in that meeting the leadership should determine the framework for the next parliamentary and presidential elections and should convene the Palestinian National Council to reassess the new role of the PLO after the declaration of the State of Palestine.
In addition, it will be necessary to prepare for the next confrontation that will erupt with the declaration of the State of Palestine. The focus should be on the transformation of the agenda of the international community from “withdrawing from lands” to “ending the Israeli occupation of the State of Palestine. This would grant the new Palestinian political leadership the legitimacy to formulate an Arab decision and go to the UN with the demand to end the Israeli occupation on the basis of one member state calling for an end to its occupation by another state.
Would Abbas move forward with these steps with the support of his people and declare an end to the Israeli occupation and the beginning of the era of Palestinian independence? This is the main challenge facing him as the president of the Palestinian people if he were to decide to make a historical move.
To conclude, the Palestinian people are at a critical junction at which they are left with few options. Primary are the diplomatic option of turning to the international community and acquiring membership in UN organizations as a UN member state under occupation, and the option of nonviolent massive popular resistance. Both options remain the main source of strength, whether the Palestinian leadership opts to withdraw from the signed agreements with Israel, mainly the Oslo Accords, or to intensify international diplomatic steps to confront Trump’s “Ultimate Deal.” What is obvious is that the Palestinian leadership cannot continue with the same strategy of “reactionist passivism,” as this historical stage demands that they stand up for the aspirations and rights of their people. They must prepare a practical and serious plan for the “day after,” because the situation is expected to worsen with every step they take and the outcome might be catastrophic.
The real Palestinian political rage is not going to start with slogans; it starts with a political move that can be a national spearhead that moves forward to protect the fate and future of the Palestinian people before it protects history. Such a move must come with the awareness that the leadership cannot wage a comprehensive battle against the Israeli occupation while at the same time having the best security coordination relations with it. We are facing the challenge of canceling all the signed agreements with Israel, including the security coordination. The Palestinian leadership must be prepared to confront the occupation while presenting alternatives to meet its people’s needs and prove that it is capable of coping with the consequences of these steps.