Peace now? Forget about it

Why the Palestinians and settlers don’t want peace now

The Palestinians are certainly interested in a sovereign and independent state that will allow them to realize their self-determination as other peoples have done across the world. But they’re not pursuing a negotiated settlement with Israel. Instead the Palestinian Authority is pursuing a unilateral drive for statehood, still promising its people, as well as the Palestinian Diaspora, that they will eventually return to their former homes in Jaffa and Haifa.

Picture taken in Ramallah this week: Haifa, we are coming back

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has lost the Gaza Strip to rival Hamas, and at the same time has lost the ability to speak for half the Palestinian people. Assuming he does sign on the dotted line with Israel, officials in Jerusalem believe he cannot implement any deal. Who does he sign for? Who does he really represent? Can he implement a deal in Gaza too? they ask. The Palestinians are already split into two camps with one, albeit fracturing, national identity [Gaza is becoming more Islamic in character under the rule of Hamas and is associated more with the Iran-Syria-Qatar axis than with traditional Sunni states such as Jordan]. Abbas, as he privately says, does not represent the Palestinian people as a whole. He claims he can negotiate for the Palestinians as a whole, but knows that he cannot force Hamas to abide by any agreements. Abbas also figures that the longer the Israelis and Palestinians keep away from the negotiating table, the more Israel is blamed for the deadlock, an assumption borne out by the facts [see Leon Pannetta’s admonition for Israel to “get to the damn table”] Even if Abbas manages to form a unity government with Hamas, the latter’s inclusion will make it almost impossible for a sovereign Palestinian entity to make meaningful concessions to the Israelis. Another consideration within the PA is the massive international economic support for the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to well over 50% of its budget, and is effectively building the Palestinian state – including everything from power plants, sewage treatment, roads and civil service wages. Should a peace deal be signed with Israel, this constant flow of donations [mostly from Europe] could possibly come to an end, or be drastically reduced, especially if European nations need to cut their expenditure. Many financial experts in Europe believe that the true dimensions of the financial crisis plaguing the EU are truly horrific, and that many Europeans are already having trouble understanding why they should be bailing out their fellow EU members, let alone people on another continent. Meanwhile, the PA is nowhere near to being financially independent, and not only because of Israeli restrictions on their economy, which are nonetheless, significant. Every time the Israel Defense Forces lifts even a small roadblock in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, the Palestinian economy expands. The head of the Palestinian Monetary Authority told me last week that a cessation of financial aid from Europe and America would be tantamount to “Armageddon” for the PA, but that they would find a way to survive.

While it is not entirely clear what the official PA position is [several officials have expressed differing positions], the option of allowing far-flung settlements in the West Bank to remain under possible Palestinian sovereignty is a topic of discussion in the West Bank. While neither the Palestinians nor the settlers see this option as desirable in the least, reality has a momentum all its own – and the longer the conflict is not resolved, the more likely other solutions become. Given the option, will some settlers in the West Bank stay in their homes and live under Palestinian sovereignty? Some settlers undoubtedly will agree to that, especially those with large business concerns who employ a fair amount of Palestinians, as well as perhaps others whose connection to the land outweighs their connection to the State of Israel. Some settlers I’ve spoken to over the past week said they would absolutely not stay to live under Palestinian rule. “I will not be able to face my parents – who fled Europe and came to Israel so that they would never again have to be refugees, fugitives or foreigners. I will never be a foreigner again,” a Jewish woman from Shilo told me. Others say, with great conviction, that my question is entirely hypothetical, as there will never be a Palestinian state.

Right now, there are many settlers and Palestinians who live in a sort of coexistence. They see each other on [some] roads, at supermarkets, and other daily junctions of life. It’s not a real coexistence of course, because both sides believe the other is usurping their land. And for many settlers, the mainstream conception of a two state solution is largely acceptable, with one minor caveat: that the other, Palestinian state, will be Jordan. I’m stunned to hear many a settler expound on this argument, as if Palestinian aspirations, as well as Jordanian excoriations, count for nothing. For some of these settlers, this is the panacea, this is the best possible solution: Jordan is already 80 percent Palestinian, so soon, their logic goes, these Palestinians will demand, like their brethren in the Arab world, equal rights and democracy, which, the settlers then believe, will morph the Hashemite Kingdom into a Palestinian state. And following this train-wreck of thought to its logical conclusion, the Palestinians living in the West Bank will either move to their new state [Jordan] or become citizens of the Palestinian state [Jordan] but stay where they are now [in their West Bank homes of Ramallah, Nablus etc]. So if this is the way things are going, some settlers believe, why make a deal with the Palestinians in the West Bank now? You want to see real Swiss cheese? Watch as the West Bank is carved out between Israel, and Jordan. When I put it to the settlers I met this week that this scenario is highly unlikely, they smile and say, “let’s wait and see.” As if “waiting and seeing” somehow serves their interests, as if time is on their side. They truly believe that time is on their side, that the longer the settlements are left standing, and left to grow, the harder it will become for any Israeli government to remove them.

So if the Palestinian Authority doesn’t want a state through peace talks at this time and Hamas doesn’t want peace with Israel ever, and if the settlers want Israel to annex the West Bank and for the Palestinians to move en masse to Jordan, and the current Israeli government is unwilling and unable to make any serious peace moves beyond what it has already done [10 month settlement freeze in which time the Palestinians did not come to the table], we are left with a static situation which shows no internal signs of movement.