Former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Salam Fayyad argues that the path to peace can only begin when Gaza is reintroduced into the Palestinian fold.
For Palestinians the quest for statehood begins with Gaza. But wait, is there still active regional or international interest in the cause of Palestinian statehood? I submit that whatever residual interest remains in the possibility of making yet another attempt at reviving the "peace process" finds expression these days largely in the phrase "let's first see what March 17 brings", with that being the date for the next Israeli elections.
I also argue that, irrespective of the outcome of those elections, all concerned, but especially Palestinians, will find themselves having to first deal with what arguably is the worst state of marginalisation, both regionally and internationally, to ever befall the quest for Palestinian statehood.
Two main reasons underlie this marginalisation. The first relates to the broadening, in the aftermath of the failure of the most recent round of diplomacy, of the base of an already deep sense of scepticism regarding the capacity of the Oslo framework to deliver on its promise after more than two decades of futility. The second relates to the virtually complete regional and international preoccupation with the present and fast-mushrooming threat posed by ISIL and like-minded non-state actors in the region and way beyond it.
Even though the weaker of the two parties in the highly asymmetrical balance of power between the occupier and the occupied, the Palestinians still do have a shot at cracking the marginalisation nut if they start from where it matters the most, namely, with Gaza. This happens to be the right choice, both because of the urgent need to deal with the catastrophic human conditions there, but also strategically, given the necessity of reintegrating Gaza into the Palestinian fold as a key requirement on the path to sovereignty.
(L-R) Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian National Council Salim al-Zanoun, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo, Egypt, February 2012. Photo: Khaled Elfiqi | EPA
This reintegration requires taking serious steps towards beginning to manage Palestinian pluralism effectively, with respect to the requirements of both national governance and international engagement. This, in turn, requires the immediate convening and activation of the Unified Leadership Framework (ULF), ensuring that the Palestinian government is fully empowered and representative of the entire political spectrum, and reconvening the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
The ULF – a hitherto largely dormant forum – consists of leaders of all Palestinian factions, with membership in it not conditioned on acceptance by non-PLO factions of the PLO's political platform, as amended to comply with the requirements of the Oslo framework. However, by tasking the ULF with collectively informing PLO decisions on matters of high national interest, non-PLO factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are assured of genuine partnership in the Palestinians' pursuit of their national aspirations, while still enabling the PLO to retain its platform and speak on behalf of all Palestinians.
The government, which is to be empowered to the fullest extent afforded by the Basic Law and the participation and backing of all factions, should be primarily charged with the multi-year dual task of reconstructing Gaza and reunifying Palestinian institutions and legal frameworks across the West Bank and Gaza. And, it should do so with the full accountability that comes with the immediate reconvening of the PLC.
The above measures could set the stage for beginning to make a serious dent on the state of marginalisation if they are accompanied by the ULF’s adoption of a time-bound commitment to nonviolence. The ULF would then task the PLO with communicating that commitment to Israel and the international community on behalf of all factions, while working on securing agreement – to be enshrined in a United Nations Security Council resolution – on a date certain for ending the Israeli occupation by the end of the term of that commitment, keeping in mind that it would make sense for that term to correspond to the time needed to unify state institutions and laws after nearly eight years of separation.
Taken together, and with a firm commitment to holding free, fair, and inclusive elections no later than six months before the end of the aforementioned time period, these measures would represent a highly determined act of Palestinian self-empowerment that could be of a sufficient transformative potential as to address, both directly and indirectly, at least some of the basic weaknesses that are either inherent in the Oslo framework, or caused by the expiry of its timeline.
For that potential to be realised, however, continued insistence on the part of the international community on a rigid application of "the Quartet principles" should be abandoned in favour of expecting Palestinian adherence to the less exacting time-bound commitment to nonviolence. For one thing, that is about the most that all Palestinian factions can realistically be expected to agree on; and, for another, the conceptual equivalent to those principles on the Israeli side, namely, acceptance of the Palestinians' right to statehood, was never formally expected of the various Israeli governments since Oslo.
Last, but not least, if the cause of peacemaking in the Middle East is to regain traction amidst the tidal wave of extremism engulfing the region, it is of paramount importance for the key deliverable of the "peace process", namely, the State of Palestine, to hold, and fulfil the promise of being a qualitative addition to a region that has long been known for a time-honoured tradition of "strong men and weak states." This should mean, as can only be befitting and worthy of the great many sacrifices and aspirations of the Palestinian people, that the Palestinians' quest for freedom must be inspired by an overarching vision of a democratic state governed by the rule of law; guided by the universally shared progressive values of equality, liberty, and justice, with full and nondiscriminatory constitutional protection of the unabridged individual and collective rights and privileges of citizenship; and run in full accord with the highest standards of good governance.
With such attributes, the State of Palestine cannot but be seen as an integral part of the longer-term response to the disenfranchisement-and-despair-driven ideology of "rejectionism" that has been the lifeline of extremism and violence in the region for much of this century.
- Oslo framework – The Oslo Accords of 1993–95 were agreements between the government of Israel and the PLO (see below). They resulted in the recognition by the PLO of the State of Israel, and the recognition by Israel of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and as a partner in further negotiations. The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority, but not a Palestinian state.
- ISIL – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham – broadly, the Levant), its Arabic acronym, Daesh, and the ‘Islamic State’.
- ULF – "ULF" is used here as a term to describe the framework for national Palestinian dialogue and, potentially, decision-making that was ultimately agreed as a transitional leadership framework in the context of the Cairo reconciliation agreement of 2011. Its aim has been to find common ground that all Palestinian factions can live with, or a formula for expanding the membership of the PLO. It was most recently referred to formally in the unity agreement reached in the round of reconciliation talks that took place in Gaza in April 2014.
- PLC – The Palestinian parliament, which serves as the legislature of the Palestinian Authority, but which has been unable to meet and govern since 2007.
- PLO – Founded in 1964 with the aim of liberating Palestine, the PLO is dominated by Fatah and has a number of other secular Palestinian parties as members. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not members of the PLO.
- The Quartet principles – The three principles set out by the Quartet (the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States – a group established in 2002) are: (1) a Palestinian state must recognise the state of Israel without prejudging what various grievances or claims are appropriate; (2) abide by previous diplomatic agreements; and (3) renounce violence as a means of achieving goals.
- Palestinian Basic Law – The Palestinian Basic Law functions as a temporary constitution for the Palestinian Authority until the establishment of an independent state and a permanent constitution for Palestine can be achieved. The Basic Law was passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1997 and ratified by President Yasser Arafat in 2002. It has subsequently been amended twice, in 2003 and 2005.