Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Alternate Routes Towards Peace in Palestine

By Christopher HannaPublished October 24, 2014

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As negotiations with Israel crumble, the Palestinian Authority is exploring alternative means by which it can bring about the end of Israel's military and settler occupation of the West Bank. These efforts should be both commended and expanded.
By Christopher Hanna, 10/24/14

In a speech delivered to the United Nations General Assembly on the 26th of September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the United Nations Security Council to establish a deadline for the withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from land occupied in the aftermath of Israel's 1967 Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors. Over 350,000 Jewish Israeli citizens inhabit state-protected settlements on Palestinian territory that the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions consider to possess no validity under international law.

The United States strongly condemned Abbas' controversial move, decrying it as an irresponsible, unilateral attempt to resolve a conflict that can only be meaningfully addressed through bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The argument was well-anticipated by the Palestinian leadership; Abbas has asserted that Israel's failure to negotiate in good faith necessitates independent Palestinian action on the international stage to bring about the termination of the occupation.

As Abbas has noted, the U.S.-initiated 2013-2014 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were marked by overt Israeli hostility to the peace process. Shortly before the commencement of talks, Israel announced the construction of nearly 1200 settler homes in the West Bank. Many observers see this action as a reflection of Israel's ruling Likud party's antagonism towards the furtherance of Palestinian sovereignty; its charter explicitly rejects calls for Israeli disengagement and withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, and definitively dismisses the prospect of Palestinian statehood. As Abbas has pointed out, continued bilateral negotiations allow Israel to pay empty lip service to the peace process while intensifying and cementing its illegal presence in the occupied territories.

The stalling of negotiations threatens to envelop the region with a Third Intifada, or a re-initiation of extensive Israeli-Palestinian violence within Israel proper and the occupied territories. The 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1400 Gazan Palestinian civilians, has raised the prospects of Intifada-style violence, which would include guerrilla warfare, suicide bombings, and urban combat. Disillusionment with what Palestinians largely consider to be an unjust, Apartheid-esque "peace" in the West Bank, alongside mass causalities of compatriots in the othered severed half of the Palestinian nation (i.e. Gaza), has fostered expressions of civil discontent that are transmuting into violent clashes. If the first and second Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation are any indication, the human costs of a Third Intifada would be catastrophically high. Abbas' pursuit of an alternative political solution to the conflict are thus Palestine's best bet at averting both the furtherance of the illegal occupation and the renewal of violence.

It is important to note that Palestinian appeals to the Security Council are unlikely to materially undermine the Israeli occupation; three of its five permanent members (i.e. the United States, France, and the United Kingdom) are among Israel's closest friends in the international community. But Abbas' move, alongside other unilateral and multilateral efforts, will intensify pressure on the Israeli government to initiate settler and military disengagement from the West Bank.

In the coming months, the Palestinian leadership should invite the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli contraventions of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. Further, the Palestinian Authority should follow up with its plans to take administrative control of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip; doing so will lessen the grip of Islamists militants on the coastal exclave and thus facilitate Gaza's inclusion in a future democratic Palestinian state. The undoing of Hamas' militarization of Gaza is widely considered to be a precondition for the development and legitimation of a sovereign and independent Palestine. The militant group's disarmament, part of stabilization efforts that should be executed by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with moderating international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union, must be complemented by Israeli guarantees that it will relinquish its crippling, draconian control of Gaza's land crossings, air space, waters, and electromagnetic sphere. Thus, the maintenance of what many experts refer to as Israel's "effective occupation" of Gaza, as well as Hamas' reactive militarization of the coastal strip, must be challenged on the international stage.

Further, European governments should follow Britain and Sweden's lead by diplomatically recognizing a Palestinian state so as to legitimate Palestinian aspirations for full sovereignty and delegitimate the occupation apparatus. Ideally, this collective pressure will reduce the intransigency of the Israeli state and pave the way for the establishment a free and independent Palestine. If the international community fails to impose this pressure on the Israeli government, the hope of a just and lasting peace in the region will be consigned to the status of a mere pipe dream.