Here’s the situation: Israel and Palestine are stuck in a political deadlock. The current Israeli government and any foreseeable possible one for the coming years has no political mandate or political will to negotiate any kind of agreement with the Palestinian people. This, the most crucial issue facing Israel, is not on the agenda of any political party that will lead the next government. The Palestinian side faces a divided political house between the West Bank and Gaza, where both governments have little legitimacy from their own street. Palestinians are only unified by their overwhelming desire to have elections. And Israel is locked into political stagnation because of its inability to form a stable government with political longevity, causing it to face repeated elections with a basically unchanged electorate.
Those of us on both sides, in Israel and in Palestine, who believe that we must return to the table to figure out together how to move forward toward the resolution of this conflict, have no political leaders to turn to and few constructive ideas on how to end the deadlock. The large majority of the young generation on both sides sees no hope for peace and, therefore, is either disengaged from the matter entirely, has no desire for contact with the other side, are busy with their own careers or are moving toward adopting extremist ideas. I saw a recent survey done by one of the leading Israeli pollsters who found that less than a third of Israelis believe there is a need to end the occupation over the Palestinian people. Does that mean that two-thirds of Israelis believe that Israel can continue to rule over millions of Palestinians and that is okay? Do those millions of Israelis believe that there is no price to pay for the continued denial of the rights of the Palestinian people to have the same rights as the Israeli people? The number of Palestinians who believe in the need for a political agreement with Israel is also on the decline.
THE LARGE majority of Palestinians, especially the young generation, no longer believe in the two-state solution. The reality that they see all around them is increasing Israeli land grabs and settlement expansion. Two weeks ago, I traveled all around the south of the West Bank and I saw tens of new outposts on hilltops all over the area. In the north of the West Bank there are even more. They all know, as does every Israeli, that before long those few caravans on the hill tops will be homes that will be called new neighborhoods of existing settlements which are kilometers away. The few caravans are already connected to the electricity network and will soon have all of the infrastructure required for normal living. At the same time, Palestinians are caged into small areas in cities and villages without any possibility of expansion while 62% of the West Bank, defined by the defunct Oslo agreement of 1995 as Area C, was placed under full Israeli control.
Every Palestinian in the West Bank feels strangled by the Israeli settlements and the military government. Palestinian homes are demolished by Israel almost every day. Every night, dozens of young Palestinians are arrested by Israel. The occupation surrounds their lives and there is no escape for them. They see their own government as little more than a subcontractor of the Israeli regime. It should be no surprise that Palestinian public opinion polls show an increase in support for an armed struggle against Israel. This comes mostly from the young generation who did not live through the horrific era of the Second Intifada.
This week, a former Israeli prime minister asked me if a third intifada is possible. Of course it is. And not only that, but there is a fair chance that if it happens, we will be faced with Nakba-type actions of driving full communities of Palestinians from their homes, because there is growing support among right-wingers in Israel to do just that. Israel is already doing that in Masafer Yatta in the South and in small communities in the Jordan Valley, and there is total silence in Israel and around the world.
WHAT CAN we do – we being those who still believe that we must find the way to live together on this land? First, we all need to work on our own side to gain more power within our political systems. In Israel we are working on launching a joint Jewish-Arab party of equity that, even if we are not successful in the upcoming elections, we will begin to challenge the discourse in Israel and eventually carve out a place within Israeli political culture where equality of all citizens must be a given, and not a point of controversy.
In Palestine, there must be elections for president and parliament and there must be agreement between all parties that the will of the people will be fulfilled and the separation between the West Bank and Gaza will finally end. The political forces who reject the path of violence in Palestine must unify, gain strength and become strategic in how they present themselves to the public.
Israelis and Palestinians who believe in a common future should immediately begin to campaign for the release of Marwan Barghouti from prison after twenty years behind bars. Barghouti remains the only Palestinian capable of winning any election against any other candidate. He is also someone who believes that ending the occupation and resolving the conflict are things that must happen, preferably through negotiations and cooperation. When there will be Palestinian elections, Barghouti will run – and he will win. And if he is still in an Israeli prison, there will be an international campaign for his release. The possibility of a democratically elected Palestinian president in Israeli prison is not far-fetched. That is why many months ago I wrote to the new head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and encouraged him to engage with Barghouti in political dialogue while he is in prison, just as they did in South Africa with Nelson Mandela. But as I have been told with people who have the right to visit Barghouthi in prison, no one on the Israeli side has engaged with him in any kind of political talks.
I have given up all hope that the international community will come to our rescue. As long as the United States and most of Western Europe still speak about two states but only recognize one of them, they are useless politically for us or even worse. Keeping the mantra of two states while doing nothing to make it happen has only helped to increase the lack of viability of the two-state solution. So we are stuck here, by ourselves – Israelis and Palestinians who both have no intention of going anywhere else. That is our situation.