Beyond Negotiations: the Cost of Unilateralism in Israel & Palestine
November 18, 2014
Dr. Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director, Center for Middle East Policy
Dr. Natan Sachs, Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy
Mr. Khaled Elgindy, Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy
This past summer, a sustained conflict between Israel and Hamas effectively doomed Secretary Kerry’s most recent attempt to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Dr. Wittes and pundits around the world asserted that, “the Oslo process had come to an end.” As both sides left the table, it appeared that mediated discussions had exhausted themselves. Despite overwhelming support for a two-state solution amongst Israeli and Palestinian citizens, political leaders on both sides are unwilling to negotiate in good faith and make the concessions needed to bring about a lasting deal.
However, in the wake of John Kerry’s failed talks, things have only gotten worse. Absent of hope for a negotiated solution, both Israeli and Palestinian citizens have seen increased fermentation amongst their political bases and violent unilateral actions are quickly becoming the new norm. This week’s brutal attack at a synagogue in West Jerusalem was only the most recent in a series of spontaneous attacks that have inflamed the sectarian and ethnic dimensions of the conflict. While the violence has not divided the communities along sectarian and ethnic lines to the degree seen in neighboring Syria and Iraq, it is clear that an unambiguous hate for each parties’ respective “other” is increasingly driving the conflict. The fact that this most recent attack was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that—until now—had refrained from using violence since the second Intifada, demonstrates just how quickly sentiments on the ground are changing.
In response to the most recent synagogue attack, Mr. Elgindy is “not one-hundred percent convinced” that the PFLP is to blame. Rather, he believes the group may be taking advantage of the situation in order to “reassert itself and gain stature” amongst a Palestinian base that is increasingly misrepresented by its two most powerful political factions, Hamas and Fatah.
Even as Mahmoud Abbas meets with PM Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry, and King Abdullah in Amman to discuss the recent violence, Mr. Elgindy is skeptical that the leaders will be able to make any meaningful progress. As he stated, “negotiations aren’t the problem…there is no process to speak of…[negotiations] need to be rooted in something.” At this point, negotiators from either side know each other’s positions; the problem is that neither side able to act. On the ground, Mr. Elgindy sees a “huge and growing” gap between the Palestinian public and the Palestinian Authority (PA)—which lacks the power and resources to develop institutions and policies at the local level. It is for this reason that he believes Palestinians are increasingly turning to spontaneous attacks and the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement—as these movements are immune to any leadership body.
A similar attitude is seen amongst Israeli politicians, whom Dr. Sachs described as being “not eager at all to change the status-quo,” largely due to the country’s growing right-wing/nationalistic fervor. The recent violence is only further stoking this sentiment. National news stations have been emphasizing the religious rhetoric espoused by Mahmoud Abbas and right-wing politicians have been quick to carry out politically motivated visits to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif —a contested religious site that sparked the Intifada in 2000.
This growth in Israeli nationalism is occurring at the same time that Palestinian nationalism and identity are suppressed. In 2009, when the Arab League designated Jerusalem its “Arab city of the year,”almost all its cultural events were berated and suppressed by Israeli activists. Since then, Israeli authorities have continued to carve out and segregate areas of Jerusalem by building walls and constructing large-scale settlement projects. As U.S. mediation becomes increasingly ineffective in curtailing Israeli actions, the Palestinian people are finding themselves less and less capable of responding to this suppression.
While Mr. Elgindy believes that the ongoing civil wars in Iraq and Syria have so far scared the bulk of Palestinian’s from enacting large-scale resistance or carrying out a third Intifada, it is clear that the people feel that they are being pushed into action.