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Searching for a Palestinian national project

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds the gavel during the Handover Ceremony of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77, from the Egypt to Palestine at the United Nations Headquarter in New York, United States on January 15, 2018 [Atılgan Özdil / Anadolu Agency]
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York, US on 15 January 2018 [Atılgan Özdil/Anadolu Agency]

No one will disagree that Palestine’s chairmanship of the G77 is a great moral victory, especially since this group – which started with 77 members – has grown over the years to reach 134 UN member states. Palestine is not a full member of the UN but rather is considered an observer state, which gives the false impression that a Palestinian cause is still alive. It is the cause of a nation deprived of their rights and suffering from Israel’s occupation of their land which continues to expand unabated.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister handed over chairmanship of the G77 to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. This was followed by a celebration in New York, USA of a new political breakthrough for the Palestinian cause. It can be considered an extension of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s visit to the UN Headquarters in 1974 and his famous speech to the General Assembly, in which he said: “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

Taking on the chairmanship of the G77 is, of course, a major diplomatic achievement, but this does not preclude asking a very important question: What is the practical translation of this achievement on the ground, in Palestine in general and the occupied West Bank in particular?

When the Madrid peace conference was held in October 1991, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir spoke of creating a new reality on the ground. He said that Israel would negotiate, if it was forced to do so under US pressure, but would also work to change the status quo on the ground through settlement activity. Shamir hinted that the negotiations could take ten years, during which time Israel could isolate the West Bank by planting a large number of settlements throughout the territory.

Nothing has changed since Shamir made his remarks in Madrid after the US administration – led by George HW Bush – forced him to attend. Nothing has changed, particularly given the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu – who spoke on behalf of the Israeli delegation in Madrid – went on to become prime minister and is meticulously implementing the picture Shamir painted during the conference.

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There is a new reality in Palestine today and this is the reality that matters to Israel, since it never believed in the UN and its resolutions. At the end of the day, Israel is concerned with its influence over the US Congress, much more than it is concerned with a resolution issued by the UN or by Palestine’s chairmanship of the G77. This does not give Palestine anything, particularly in light of the absence of a PA or Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington. None of the breakthroughs that Palestine could achieve in the UN will benefit it given the huge presence of Israeli settlers in West Bank.

There is a big difference between foreign trips and foreign policy. There is a big difference between the West Bank without settlers and the presence of hundreds of  thousands of them. The West Bank is currently nothing but a territory occupied by Israel. The G77 can do nothing to confront Israel’s terrorism. The celebration in New York held for Abbas will not achieve anything. These are all consolation prizes that ultimately mean nothing, as long as the number of settlers in the West Bank grows by the day and continues to encircle Jerusalem.

The current situation on the ground is not only distinguished by Israel’s efforts to destroy the two-state solution by building settlements, but also by the lack of any American-Palestinian relations. There is a Palestinian disregard for the United States, coupled with a full US bias towards Israel. This bias culminated in the US consulate being moved to Jerusalem and the Trump administration’s recognition of the Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is certain that the current Palestinian leadership has been unable to do anything to end America’s bias toward Israel, but it also did nothing to maintain even the smallest ties with Washington.

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Perhaps the most serious issue nowadays is that Abbas himself had nothing to say to the group of Palestinian figures he recently met in Egyptian capital Cairo, except that there will be no independent Palestinian state in the next 15 years and that anyone saying otherwise is a liar. This is a realistic and true statement by a man who knows full well that the two-state solution no longer exists. What the PA president failed to say, however, is what will change in the next 15 years that will make talk of an independent Palestinian state acceptable and raise the hopes of the Palestinians that the two-station solution can be turned into reality?

The answer is that nothing will change. There are hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank now, a number which will increase over the next few years. Settlers will decide in the general election to be held in April who will be prime minister. Whether Netanyahu stays or not is no longer a relevant question. Israel has become a hostage to the settlers of its own volition. However, the strangest thing is that there is no alternative Palestinian national project to the two-state solution, which Israel has basically rejected.

More than ever, there is a need for an alternative Palestinian national project that takes into account that the two-state project has become a thing of the past. This project, which Israel played a role in killing, is based on the Palestinians holding on to their land. They resist the occupation daily and refuse to turn the West Bank into a land that expels its own people. They have withstood what no other nation could and they know full well that Israel’s settlement policy will never be able to erase Palestinian identity.

We cannot do anything but welcome Palestine’s chairmanship of the G77, but the welcome would be greater if there was anyone willing to admit that foreign policy is one thing and travelling abroad is something else, and that there is no alternative at the moment to searching for the formation of a new Palestinian national project given the death of the two-state solution.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Al-Arab on 18 January 2019.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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