After spending six months in administrative detention in the Nablus central jail under a military order issued by the Israeli military commander of the Central Region of the West Bank in November 1990, I was released in May 1991. The only reason mentioned in the
detention order was that I was considered “a danger to security and the public order for involvement in the leadership of the intifada and writing the leaflets that guided its activities in the occupied territories.”
I don’t trust military appeal committees, but under pressure from some of my friends, I challenged the order in front of the military appeal committee. As expected, the security services (Shabak) claimed to have secret evidence which they wouldn’t reveal in order to protect their sources. The military appeal committee accepted their argument and confirmed the order.
My fear at the time was that, as was usual, the six months would be renewed automatically unlimited number of times, sometimes turning into years. This is still the case for many Palestinians who are not involved in violent activities but whose political or human rights activities do not sit well with the occupation security services.
Fortunately, toward the end of my term, Secretary of State James Baker started his first of eight shuttle visits to the Middle East to prepare the Madrid Conference which took place on the October 30, 1991. My colleague, the late Faisal Husseini, was invited to meet with Baker and demanded my release as a condition for the meeting. In a message I smuggled out of jail, however, I asked Faisal not to miss the opportunity and accept the invitation. “I’ll catch up with you after my release,” I wrote to him. And that’s what happened.
Two months after my release, I was invited to attend a roundtable discussion organized by Prof. Herbert C. Kelman at Harvard University in Boston as part of a series of dialog meetings he was organizing between Palestinian and Israeli figures. These were later published as a series of articles in his book Resolving Deep-Rooted Conflicts.
Among the Palestinians who participated in that meeting was Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib, currently a professor at Bir Zeit University, who was identified at that time with the Communist Party was one of the Orient House Group led by Faisal Husseini, and was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Washington peace talks in 1992.
During that meeting, I was notified by Faisal that the State Department would contact me and invite us — Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib and myself — for a meeting with them, and we should accept the invitation.
U.S. Position Rejected Palestinian Statehood
The meeting was held at the State Department in Washington, DC., and we met with Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller, and John Kelly. The first two continued to be involved in all activities related to achieving a political settlement to the conflict, while John Kelly, to my knowledge, disappeared in the first stages of the peace process.
Dennis Ross started the meeting by talking about the Madrid Conference, saying, “We understand that we are talking about autonomy, not a state, and about a Palestinian delegation from the inside and not from the outside (without any PLO participation), and the delegation from the inside will not include any participants from East Jerusalem.”
Of course, we rejected this approach and insisted that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and that Jerusalem is an integral part of the occupied territories, and it is the address of the Palestinian people, and they should be involved. We tried to explain to them that without the PLO and without East Jerusalem, no one will participate, but this made no impact on our American addressees.
I conveyed the message to Chairman Arafat through a telephone call from Paris on my way back to Jerusalem. His furious response, shouting and calling the Americans bad names, offended me to the point that I asked him to end the conversation in a civilized manner, but then he changed his tone 180 degrees, spoke nicely to me, and asked me to come to Tunis. I apologized, telling him that I had just been released from jail and didn’t want to be jailed again. Then he asked me to send him a written report about the meeting, which I did. After hanging up, the contact person whose home telephone I had been using said that I should not be offended because Arafat was not shouting at me but at the Americans whom he knows bug his telephone and wanted them to hear his response.
Looking back to that meeting with Dennis Ross and his colleagues after 30 years shows clearly that the position expressed by Ross in our meeting at the State Department in the summer of 1991, before any conference or peace talks, continued to be and still is the dominant basis of the American position through the decades of fruitless negotiations under US auspices whose goal, they claimed, was to find a political solution to the conflict.
I believe that Dennis Ross advanced this position through all the different central official positions and responsibilities that he filled during the negotiations processes, where he was a key player. And many observers believe that this position fits with the position of the right wing of the Israeli Labor Party, with whom he was on good terms. The position outlined by Dennis Ross in 1991 has continued to be the cornerstone in the coordinated Israel and U.S. positions in the peace talks.
This position, which was strongly against allowing the creation of a Palestinian state, has been shared by successive Israeli Governments and U.S. Administrations. It is based upon the Alon Plan of the seventies, which demands full Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and the mountains overlooking it, annexing areas from the West Bank alongside the ceasefire lines of 1948 known as the Green Line, and readiness to give Jordan some control through the so-called functional solution, or the Palestinians some control through so-called self-rule or autonomy, allowing them to run Palestinian civil affairs in the Palestinian populated cities and towns inside the West Bank, without any real control over the land. Autonomy for the people and not for the land.
U.S. Support for Israeli Occupation
In addition, the consistent U.S. policy is taking measures that abort any possibility of real progress toward ending the Israeli occupation and achieving a political settlement to the conflict. Such measures encourage Israel to continue its occupation and its colonizing project and refrain from engaging in a real negotiations process.
The U.S. is the main supporter of Israel and its occupation, politically, economically, and militarily. Tens of billions of dollars were and are pouring annually into Israel in cash or in different forms of military and economic aid. This aid provides Israel with financial resources for its settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and to continue its exploitation of Palestinian natural resources and repression of the Palestinian people. The U.S. is not only aiding Israel but its occupation, too.
The U.S. provides Israel with the most advanced sophisticated war technology in the U.S. military arsenal and claims that its aim is to maintain Israel’s military superiority in the region.
In addition, the U.S. offers Israel full political support and vetoes any resolutions of the UN Security Council and opposes resolutions of the UN General Assembly or other agencies if they are against Israel occupation practices in occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and it uses its influence on many other countries to make them vote on the side of Israel. The only exception is UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in 2016, when President Obama abstained on the resolution that declared the occupation and the settlements illegal.
Backed and encouraged by U.S. political, economic, and military aid, Israel is challenging the international legitimacy resolutions, refraining from joining any serious negotiations to end the occupation, and behaving as if it is above international law.
As for peacemaking in the Middle East, the U.S. dominated the socalled peace process by preventing any third party from playing any role to push the process forward. It intimidated Arab countries from seeking or facilitating any Soviet, later Russian, effective role and pressured EU countries not to take any active role beyond writing checks to subsidize the occupation. The U.S. traditional claim was that any such intervention from third parties would “disturb”!! the peace process. The U.S. invented the Quartet formula to put the UN under its auspices and contain all possible players under its umbrella.
The U.S., while pretending to play the role of peace broker, was in fact the peace spoiler, the obstacle to progress toward peace, and indirectly the Godfather of the settlements and continued occupation.
Efforts to Sideline the PLO
The American principles expressed by Dennis Ross in the abovementioned meeting, stressing that the delegation should be only from the occupied territories, switched on a red light for the Palestinian leadership in Tunis and raised the level of their fears that the U.S. and Israel were trying to promote a local leadership in the territories to bypass the Tunis leadership and strike a deal that would leave the PLO outside the game. This fear was the main reason behind the PLO efforts to seek a secret parallel track to Washington negotiations to abort the efforts to create an alternative leadership to the PLO and to get a seat at the front row of the negotiating table. As such, the Oslo process started secretly behind the backs of the team negotiating in Washington, and the PLO made substantial concessions to Israel to achieve recognition and be at the table.
The Palestinian negotiating team in Washington led by the late Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi felt betrayed and stabbed in the back. The Washington talks stopped, and the Oslo process started.
The bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations under the auspices of the U.S. proved to be impotent. The Israelis had no intention to allow a settlement ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, because they are committed to their settlements plan in all the occupied Palestinian territory which they call the Land of Israel and were trying to gain time to complete this plan.
The U.S. refused numerous demands from the Palestinians to use its influence on Israel and push the talks forward toward an agreement. Its traditional argument was that “we can facilitate the negotiations but will not interfere in them because the parties should make the deal themselves.”
This argument is misleading, because the moderate Palestinians, namely Fateh, which opted for negotiations and abandoned their legitimate right of resistance against the occupation, a right embodied in the UN Charter, and were left like beggars at the negotiating table. They were accepted to join the peace process after yielding to the U.S. conditions of abandoning violence and denouncing terror, recognizing the right of Israel to exist; and recognizing UNSCR 242. After doing that, they stopped all kinds of resistance against the Israeli occupation and became hostages of the peace process.
The failure of the moderate Palestinian leadership to deliver to its people what it promised — ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state — through negotiations caused severe damage to the image of that leadership in the eyes of its people and raised the credit of the militant groups, such as Hamas, which continued to adopt armed resistance against the occupation.
Furthermore, a strange alliance emerged between Hamas on the Palestinian side and extreme Israeli right-wing fanatics. Both shared the goal of undermining the negotiations each for its own reasons. Right after signing Oslo, from mid-1994 until 1996, Hamas carried out suicide attacks against civilian targets inside Israel which incited Israeli public opinion against the negotiations, and right-wing Jewish fanatics assassinated the late Prime Minster Rabin because they thought that he might agree to withdraw from the territories and endanger their expansionist settlements project.
Lack of Parity Caused Negotiations to Fail
Looking back at the Oslo process, the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the failure to conclude the talks as scheduled in May 1999 by dissolving the PA and creating the independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, it is clear that the negotiations were not between equal partners. The Palestinian negotiators had no tools to use to exert pressure at the negotiating table, while Israel didn’t seriously intend to reach a negotiated agreement.
Lack of parity caused the failure of the bilateral negotiations to reach their destination. The conclusion is that in the absence of a neutral, fair, and active broker who aggressively steers the sides in a positive direction, there is no chance for any progress in bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In addition to the said above, two points should be noted:
a) Politically speaking, the Oslo Accords did not define the outcome of the negotiations and left the door open for each side to understand it as he wants. The Palestinians, who recognized the state of Israel, believe that they already compromised on 78% of their homeland, historical Mandatory Palestine, and believe that they are entitled to creating the state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital based on the June 4, 1967 lines, if not on the total area designated for the Arab state in the Partition Resolution 181 of 1947. The Israelis kept their ambiguity, had their hidden agenda, and worked intensively on the ground to undermine and prevent any withdrawal from the occupied territories and prevent the creation of any Palestinian state or national entity. Their aim is to keep the PA as is — a subcontractor for the occupation carrying out the civil duties usually done by the occupiers but financed by the donor countries and serving the security of the occupation through the so-called security coordination.
b) Israel refused to commit itself in the Oslo Accords to freezing all settlement activities in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, until the negotiations were concluded. It continued building and changing the topography and demography of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, creating facts on the ground, undermining the possibility of a political solution, ignoring international demands to halt this activity, and ignoring Palestinian protests. Israel’s insistence on accelerating the implementation of the settlement strategy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem killed the peace process.
The PA, which was supposed to be a temporary body and be dissolved in May 1999 after concluding the talks and reaching an agreement, became permanent, and the area where the Palestinian state was supposed to be created became fragmented by Jewish settlements, making the goal of achieving a two-state solution almost impossible.
Situation on the Ground Conducive to Apartheid
The situation on the ground now doesn’t allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, and its continuity is conducive to the creation of an apartheid regime of two communities with a dual legal system, one enjoying all the privileges of being citizens of the Jewish state and the other deprived of its basic human rights, subjected to systematic discrimination, becoming an easy target for attacks on people and on their lands and properties by Jewish settlers who are backed and protected by the Israeli occupation army whose ranks include soldiers and officers who are themselves settlers.
Optimistic or unrealistic people are still talking about the two-state formula. And I say “formula” rather than option because it is not an option. The two-state formula is not realistic or possible because of the Jewish settlements spread over the occupied territories like mushrooms.
The two-state formula can be realistic in only two cases:
First, if there will be a leader in Israel who will have the guts to evacuate the settlements from the occupied territories in order to achieve a historic deal and peace not only with the Palestinians but with all the Arab and Islamic countries as proposed to Israel in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which was endorsed by the 57 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Is the emergence of such a leader possible? All signs in Israel assure us that the emergence of such a leader is beyond the impossible.
Second, if there will be international pressure on Israel, including a boycott or threat of a boycott, or other punitive measures, until Israel agrees to evacuate settlements and abide by relevant UN resolutions, end the occupation, evacuate settlements, and enable the creation of a Palestinian state. Is this possible while the U.S. is there blocking not only the implementation but even the discussion of such an action? The answer is negative, but there is no other option but to make it positive.
One State, Two States, or Status Quo
The continuity of the current situation, the status quo, is the best recipe for the development of an apartheid regime which will be accompanied with violence and bloodshed on both sides until it collapses, and with its collapse will come the end of the Zionist project of creating a Jewish state.
Obviously, the average Israeli is not interested in knowing about the real situation in the occupied territories and does not like to think about future scenarios. They believe that the status quo is the most comfortable solution.
Finally, if the two-state formula is obviously unrealistic and almost impossible, and the current status quo is a guaranteed path to the apartheid regime, is one state a realistic formula?
I’m in favor of one democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion but unfortunately, I don’t see that as a realistic option. One state is like a marriage. It needs the agreement and willingness of the two sides, and I don’t think that the Jews will agree to one state because that will mean the end of the Jewish state.
Furthermore, Arabs and Jews have lived for years under the circumstances of conflict, each with his own religious, cultural, and ethnic identity and each wanting to protect its unique character. Therefore, they need a different formula rather than one state to accommodate this situation, even if only for a transitional period.
Two-State Formula Requires International Intervention
Ruling out the possible applicability of any of the three commonly known scenarios — one state, two states, and the status quo — requires us to think seriously and decide which of the three could be made possible and how, bearing in mind the need for durable peace and stability.
I believe that the most acceptable formula is still the two-state formula and that the only way to make it possible is through outside intervention. Pressure on Israel, including sanctions and boycott, to end the occupation and come to a peace agreement with Palestine is necessary. If this doesn’t happen, we will stay on the apartheid track. There should be no doubt about this and no underestimating the consequences.