The current predicament between the Palestinians and Israel was exasperated during the nine months of negotiations that were proposed by the U.S. administration. During this period of negotiations, no real progress was made on the permanent status issues. On the contrary, the situation worsened as a result of the Israeli government’s measures such as the authorization of tenders for housing units in settlements that can serve 55,000 Jewish settlers in areas that would have been otherwise under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian state.
The nine month negotiation period was intended to be based on the 1967 borders, during which the two parties would arrive at a comprehensive framework over the final status issues leading to specific and detailed matters. This setup was thought to bring a settlement, ending the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.
In the course of the shuttles carried out by Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East, significant effort was exerted by the US Administration to arrive at a framework agreement that could set the foundation for a comprehensive mechanism to disentangle and resolve the deteriorating conditions in the region, particularly those pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. To the US administration, finding an agreed-upon settlement to the Palestinian problem will be the key to straightening out the chaotic state of affairs in the region which would ultimately change the Middle East dynamics to a condition away from radicalism to a condition of stability and prosperity.
Despite Secretary Kerry’s relentless effort in bridging the gap between Palestinian and Israeli positions, his endeavors were confronted with an Israeli vision that was adamant on taking the course of settlements and settlement expansion at the expense of a peaceful resolution of the conflict that is based on the two-state solution where Palestine is created on the bases of the 1967 borders as stipulated in various international instruments. Unfortunately, US acquiescence to the demands of the Israeli government rather than working towards what is required for the achievement of a just peace in the region, enabled the Netanyahu government to take this course of action.
The claim by the Netanyahu government that the pronouncement of a technocratic government that ended the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip devastated the negotiations was a baseless assertion. During the nine-month negotiations period, the Netanyahu government was engaged in no more than a public relations campaign during which the settlement enterprise was in full force, changing the Palestinian landscape and the demographic structure of the West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem.
Not only did the Netanyahu government abrogate the understandings with the US administration and the PLO regarding the settlement expansion during the nine month period, it also reneged on its promise to release the fourth batch of Palestinian political prisoners who spent over 25 years in Israeli jails.
The failure of the negotiations led to yet another setback for the Palestinian public, Muslims and Christians, and deepened their skepticism of the intentions of the Israeli government. Their aspiration for an independent and viable state was drained and their hopes for a better and freer life were depleted. The full fledged settlement expansion, the increase in settlers’ violence, the intensification of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the encirclement of the West Bank contributed to this state of affairs which led to the increase in Palestinian despair, hopelessness, and anger. This prompted the Palestinian leadership to opt for alternative means, including striving towards unity and reconciliation among the Palestinians, which is a long-held demand by the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians, West Bankers and Gazans, Fateh and Hamas supporters, etc.
The reconciliation among the Palestinians was not to the liking of the Israeli government.To the Israelis, reconciliation will lead to a stronger Palestinian position and will strengthen the credibility and legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership locally and internationally. Obliterating this unity and this reconciliation empowers Israel and weakens the Palestinians.
The war against Gaza was precisely an attempt to destroy the Palestinian national program and the Palestinian aspiration for a free, viable, and democratic Palestine on the land occupied by Israel on June 1967. The murder of children and the destruction of the Gaza infrastructure did not deter the Israeli government from going to war to destroy the Palestinian national dream and Palestinian unity. By doing so, Netanyahu believed he will weaken his arch enemy, President Mahmud Abbas, who, to Netanyahu, was more dangerous than the rockets of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For Netanyahu, the diplomatic effort of President Abbas was gaining ground on the international scene and was isolating Israel in many international circles.
Despite the failures and atrocities, we still have hope. The recent papal visit to the Holy Land and his praying alongside the apartheid wall and his call for peace and justice in the region inspires us, eases our despair, and lights our path for a better future. A future that we pray will end the carnage of the present. The continued effort of His Holiness Pope Francis in bringing about justice and peace to the region is appreciated and highly anticipated by the people of Palestine. The moral weight, vision, and wisdom of the Pope cannot be underestimated and we are confident that the Holy Land and its stability is one of the main priorities of His Holiness.
Issa Kassissieh is Ambassador of the State of Palestine to the Holy See
Last week, ZENIT published the perspective of Zion Evrony, Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, which can be read here.