This month, Palestinians and Israelis will mark one year since the
renewal of peace negotiations at the Annapolis conference. It was
there that we consummated the hope that we would reach a
comprehensive peace agreement by the end of 2008, while improving
the economic and security environments that underpin the political
track. Yet, as we approach year's end, there seems to be no end to
the bumpy road to peace that began in Madrid 17 years ago.
Regrettably, few expectations have been met. Settlements pepper the
West Bank and continue to grow. Every indicator of settlement
activity - from publicly and privately initiated construction to
tenders and building permits - shows that, rather than stopping,
settlement activity has in fact accelerated since Annapolis.
Similarly, restrictions on access and movement are tighter than
they were before Annapolis. Today, there are 630 checkpoints and
roadblocks, as compared to 563 before Annapolis, not to mention the
tightening of the siege on Gaza. And land confiscations, home
demolitions, and military incursions and raids have all
An Erosion of Self-Esteem
Needless to say, the quality of life for the average Palestinian
has worsened. Yet, as devastating as these developments have been
on Palestinian fabric of life, the combination of deteriorating
ground conditions and the absence of a political horizon has had an
even worse impact on the Palestinians' state of mind.
Decades of Israeli occupation and oppression have triggered and
perpetuated an erosion in Palestinian self-esteem and
self-assuredness. Palestinians old enough to remember the first
intifada felt it during the second intifada. Palestinians also felt
the shame of it in June of last year.
In turn, this erosion has tended to elicit one of two seemingly
polar reactions among Palestinians, namely, defeatism and
belligerence. Neither is constructive. You cannot end the
occupation if your mindset is defeatist. Nor will belligerence get
you there, with what may come with it by way of violence and
Today, the greatest obstacle preventing Palestinians from achieving
their national goals is not occupation per se or factionalism, not
poverty or separation, but a dangerous erosion of self-esteem and
consequent loss of faith in their capacity to get things
To end the occupation, Palestinians must first rid themselves of
what four decades of Israeli occupation have precipitated by way of
fear, skepticism, cynicism, self-doubt - and loss of self-esteem.
We can regain our sense of self-assuredness once we collectively
and consciously embrace a paradigm that says that, on the way to
freedom, defeatism must be defeated and belligerence must be set
Acting on this conviction, from day one, this Palestinian Authority
(PA) set out to create and set in motion mechanisms capable of
getting us there - building towards statehood despite the
occupation. This involved building strong, effective institutions
capable of delivering services to the people in an expeditious and
fair manner, all within the framework of good governance.
This effort has already started to bear fruit. In the area of
financial management, for example, there is now a system that truly
measures up to the highest international standards and practices.
In addition to earning it trust at home, the government has won the
international confidence necessary to secure much-needed aid,
including from the United States and the European Union.
This is but one example of the progress we have been able to
achieve over the past year in building towards statehood. There are
other important examples, especially in the spheres of security and
law and order. Together, these efforts prompted United Nations
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to speak of "an emerging sense of
self-empowerment" among Palestinians.
His is an accurate assessment. On visits to many districts in the
West Bank - which will hopefully be replicated in Gaza - I was
greeted with cautious, yet distinct glimmers of self-respect, pride
and resilience. They were visible in the streets of Nablus and
Jenin, where law and order and, thus, a modicum of normalcy have
been restored. They were there in Manger Square in Bethlehem in
May, when 1,000 businessmen and dignitaries from all over Palestine
and abroad, including Israel, dined together in the open air. For
the past few years, this feeling has existed in Bil'in, where
villagers peacefully protest against the erection of a despicable
wall that threatens their livelihoods and, sometimes, their lives.
It was there one sad day when Palestinians walked up a Ramallah
hill to bury Palestine's most highly revered literary icon, Mahmoud
Darwish, conjuring up memories of the day the Palestinian nation
mourned the loss of its late President Yasser Arafat. Pride and
self-respect were certainly there the day a shipment of Palestinian
pharmaceutical products, destined for the first time to Germany,
made its way through the maze of economic restrictions in the West
Bank, to meet the most exacting pharmaceutical standards in the
world. And, indeed, they were there the day Palestinians welcomed a
boat-load of visitors off the shore of Gaza. And they are there,
every single day that a Palestinian child goes to school, that a
Palestinian farmer manages to work his land, that a Palestinian
mother remains hopeful that her son will be released from Israeli
prison, that a Palestinian family chooses - finds a way - to remain
on their land for another day.
A Sense of Dignity
Palestinians are approaching a critical mass of positive change, or
"positive facts on the ground," that are indicative of a most
encouraging shift in their mindset, away from doom and gloom
towards a distinct sense of possibility and the promise of a better
When and where possible, this PA has tried to help create
opportunities and conditions to make these things possible and, in
so doing, to nurture the people's sense of dignity in themselves.
And it remains unequivocally committed to doing just that.
Still, there is no dignity in what is happening to Palestinians
now. And the same is true for Israelis. There is nothing dignified
in Israeli parents having to be afraid while their children are
away at school. There is no dignity for the mother of the Israeli
soldier who delayed a Palestinian woman at a checkpoint near
Nablus, causing her to lose her unborn child. There is also nothing
dignified about the world's fifth-largest army subjugating a people
with no country and no army, nor in a country that prides itself on
being a democracy when it allows itself to be held hostage by a
group of extremist settlers who forcibly put their own interests
ahead of the will of the majority.
Despite this - indeed, because of this - Palestinians remain
hopeful and resolute about reaching a peaceful resolution to the
conflict with the Israelis based on a two-state model. Palestinians
long to live in freedom like any other people. For, only with
freedom can they achieve the heights of dignity that they strive
Not Just Any Peace
Palestinians don't just seek peace. They seek a meaningful and
lasting peace with Israel. They seek strong economic ties between
the independent states of Israel and Palestine. They do not want to
simply get to a point where they just accept each other - they want
to have warm relations where both sides recognize the mutual
economic, intellectual, spiritual and, of course, security benefits
of living and working together. They do not want to erect walls;
they want to build bridges.
However, Palestinians are not interested in just any state and not
at any cost. It is not just Israel who has a constituency it has to
worry about and serve. It should not be forgotten why the results
of Palestinian parliamentary elections were what they were in 2006.
As one prominent Israeli advocate of peace put it, "There is no
Palestinian partner for improving the quality of the occupation;
there is only a Palestinian partner for ending the occupation."
When all is said and done, the Palestinian leadership will have to
take any agreement it negotiates with Israel to its people.
People have an inherent sense of fairness by which they judge any
settlement, and that sense of fairness tells them that a peace
agreement with Israel must yield a fully sovereign, viable,
contiguous and potentially prosperous Palestinian state on 22% of
their historic homeland, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a
solution to the refugee issue that honors the refugees and
recognizes their rights and their suffering. That same inherent
sense of fairness tells them that a rump state made up of
disconnected Israeli throw-aways is not what they have waited for
so long or sacrificed so much for. It tells them that the great
compromise they made in 1988, when they relinquished their claim to
78% of their historic homeland, should be acknowledged and
respected by the other party.
Regrettably, the two-state solution is teetering under the weight
of 170 settlements and almost half a million settlers. Time is
running out on the two-state solution. With every brick that is
laid in a settler's house, with every road that is paved for
settlers, with every concrete slab that is erected for the wall
that snakes in and out of the West Bank, the bond that ties
Israelis and Palestinians together, which originates in the fact
that we must share the same piece of land, grows just a little bit
tighter. That is the great irony of Israel's settlement enterprise.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recognized this when he said, "The day
will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a
South African-style struggle for equal voting rights."
How to Achieve Peace
Nevertheless, hope remains that through negotiations a lasting
peace between Palestinians and Israelis can be reached on the basis
of a two-state solution. For this process to be successful,
however, we must bring to it dignity and credibility. The Oslo
process stalled because it quickly lost credibility - there was
talk of peace while actions on the ground worked against peace.
Annapolis risks being the same unless Israel reconciles its
behavior on the ground with its stated intentions of peace and
creating a viable and independent Palestinian state. And, if
Palestinians and Israelis are to get to where they want to be, they
have to treat each other with dignity and lead with dignity. This
means behaving like statesmen instead of politicians - thinking of
the next generation, not the next elections.
For Palestinians, this means remaining steadfast, not just to their
principles for a solution, but to their commitment to non-violence
and previous agreements. And Palestinians are resolute in this.
This PA views its role as one of assisting the people to live
better than the day before and to persevere on their land. And it
is committed to doing so through constructive, non-violent means
that honor, rather than shame, the Palestinians' very noble
For Israel, what this means is negotiating an agreement with
Palestinians as equals¸ not bullying them at the negotiating
table with facts on the ground it only erected yesterday or some
years ago. Israel must say "no" to the settlers. It must not abuse
its stature as an occupying power to coerce Palestinians, for
example, by withholding much-needed tax dollars when it disagrees
with their legitimate means of diplomatic protest. And it must not
cut off 1.5 million Palestinians from the world for the
unacceptable actions of a few.
For the rest of the world, this means showing strength of
leadership and getting tough with transgressors of our commonly
held values, whether friend or foe. The world has been generous
with Palestinians, backing our state-building efforts with robust
financial investment, and it has been tough with Palestinians when
it felt we strayed onto an undesirable path. We now need it to be
equally demanding of our neighbor. Palestinians need the
international community to hold Israel to its word when it says it
desires the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. They need
the world to take practical steps to keep the establishment of such
a state possible. Wagging its finger at continued settlement
activity is simply not enough.
Time for the Swing of the Pendulum
Thus, we are at a crossroads. A lot is riding on the choices we all
make. Outcomes are not ordained or inevitable. We must seek to draw
the right lessons from our experiences of peacemaking since Madrid.
Now is not the time to abandon our vision of two states living side
by side in peace and security, which became a matter of
international consensus with President George W. Bush's speech of
Instead, we should make adjustments. Since Oslo, the pendulum has
swung too far away from what international law and justice
prescribes, towards the diktat of practicality, towards what may be
seen as acceptable to each of the parties to the conflict. This
shift would not have been too problematic had it occurred in a
context of parity of influence. However, with us, Palestinians,
holding the shorter end of the stick, this disparity has
necessarily meant erosion in our position with each round of
diplomacy that did not end with a solution. This structural defect
has to be redressed. It is time for the pendulum to swing back in
the direction of what international law and justice requires.
Back in 1988, Palestinians made the historic and painful compromise
that we felt was necessary to secure a solution to the conflict. As
our Israeli neighbors think about what they consider to be painful
compromises, it is hoped that they will devote equal time to
reflecting on the promise that ending the occupation of all Arab
territories holds: normalization not just with Arab countries, but
with the 57 member states of the Islamic Conference who all
endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative. That consideration will no
doubt be aided by effective international engagement, with the U.S.
leading the way in close partnership with the rest of the community
of nations, especially the other members of the Quartet, as well as
Arab countries. To me, this is the way forward.