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United Palestinian government may provide new opportunities for peace

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The US-led Middle East peace talks were suspended on 29 April. Writing in The Washington Post, Jimmy Carter argues that reconciliation between Palestinian factions could provide an opportunity for a new round of negotiations.

Although intensive Middle East peace efforts by Secretary of State John F Kerry have not produced an agreement, they have clarified the issues and still can produce significant dividends. His team of negotiators now is much more familiar with the complex disputes and obstacles to be overcome, as are the Israelis and Palestinians who have participated in the discussions.

It is obvious that both Israel and the Palestinians have a vital interest in a two-state solution, based on international law and UN resolutions approved by participating nations. President Obama has discussed some of these key factors, calling for no more settlements in the occupied territories and an adherence to the pre-1967 borders (with some mutually agreed changes). Previous US presidents have made other substantive proposals on sensitive questions involving mutual security, East Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinians.

Adhering to these commonly understood international assumptions, Kerry could issue a summary of his conclusions, as a “framework for peace.” It would be helpful to the general public, within the Holy Land and in other nations, and to anyone who makes future efforts for a comprehensive peace.

The Elders meeting with John Kerry in 2013.
The Elders meet with John Kerry to discuss Middle East peace, July 2013

With the suspension of US-sponsored peace talks on 29 April, dangerous unilateral steps are likely to continue. During the previous nine months of negotiation, 14,000 new Israeli settlement units were approved, more than 3,000 Palestinians were arrested and 50 were killed, provoking troubling examples of Palestinian retaliation, including the deaths of three Israelis.

The Palestinians’ plans for the coming months are relatively clear: to form a new unity government and expand involvement in the United Nations. Although condemned by some, the decision by the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas to reconcile their differences and move toward elections can be a positive development. In the past, similar efforts have been abandoned because of strong opposition from Israel and the United States, but the resolve to succeed is now much stronger among leaders in the West Bank and Gaza. This reconciliation of Palestinian factions and formation of a national unity government is necessary because it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.

In order for a united Palestinian Authority to remain viable with recognition of the international community, it will be necessary for all participants to accept the principle of peaceful resolution of differences and to recognise the right of Israel to exist within its pre-1967 borders as modified by mutual agreement.

The decision by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to have Palestine become more deeply involved in the United Nations can also be beneficial. The first 15 treaties the Palestinians decided to accept on 1 April were carefully chosen, being commitments to comply with the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, later protocols of 1977 regarding the laws of war and others related to discrimination against women and the rights of children. These are all idealistic and peaceful in nature and should cause no concern in Israel or Washington. All Palestinian factions within a unity government will have to accept these restraints.

Palestinians are poised to join other UN organisations that involve labour, health, tourism, agriculture, international property rights and justice. The organisations of most interest and importance are the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, within which the divisive legal issues regarding activities in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza might be more forcefully addressed than in the past. Joining these two courts may be the last actions to be taken by the PLO, since the United States and Israel would have strong negative reactions and Palestinians might be held to account for their violations of human rights or international law.

Kerry has mentioned the need for better realities on the ground or new leadership as requisites for progress. A united Palestinian government with wider international recognition, newly elected leaders and assured financial support from the Arab world may provide an opportunity for a new round of peace talks, permitting Israel finally to live in peace with its neighbours. The international community should take advantage of these opportunities.

This article first appeared in The Washington Post.

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