- Conferences and Seminars
Strategic Assessment #45: The West Bank: Between the Palestinian State Project and Israeli Settlement
For more than 18 years, the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to establish the Palestinian state through political negotiations with Israel have failed. Thus, the Palestinian leadership has merely become an authority tasked with some functions which the occupation accommodates according to its desires. At the same time, Israel creates facts on the ground in a way that undermines any chance for establishing a Palestinian state and that allows it also to unilaterally impose a peace settlement on the Palestinians. Despite the Israeli concern with the Arab revolutions and their possible ramifications, Israel does not yet feel the pressure that urges it to speed up the solution with the Palestinians.
From the Dream of the State to Functional Authority
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel has been working on undermining the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, and the chances in this respect have become very slim.
In the West Bank (WB), Israel has consistently worked to prevent the establishment of the Palestinian state in order to impose its vision of the peace settlement. Since 1967, Israel pursues settlement building and Judaization policies in order to create facts on the ground. It seeks also to transform the PA into a functional authority serving specific functions, especially on the security and economic levels.
The Israeli facts on the ground render the establishment of a Palestinian state in the WB extremely difficult in terms of geography, as by the end of 2011, the number of settlers has reached 554 thousand living in 160 settlements. In addition, the Separation Wall isolates 12% of the WB area and detaches Jerusalem from it, while 80-85% of the settler population is included to Israel. On top of that, Israel controls 87% of East Jerusalem, including al-Aqsa Mosque and the Old City together with the Jordan Valley, the areas classified C within the PA territories which represent around 60% of the WB area, and 85% of WB water sources.
As for the PA’s functional authority, Israel has controlled all junctures of the PA work. It restricts the PA’s work to the security and economic activities, while it enjoys a “five-star” occupation of the WB. At the same time, Israel has limited the development of the PA institutions thus assuring that any Palestinian entity that would come to life would lack any resources, would be isolated from its Arab environment and is under Israeli control.
The Israeli Alternatives
Israel will continue to impose its own vision of the peace settlement, where the Palestinian state is always associated with a set of conditions that are rejected by the Palestinians. Thus, Israel may seek several options:
1. Unilateral solution: Attempting to prolong the status quo for the longest possible period while benefiting from time factor to create facts on the ground. This would ultimately allow Israel to urge the Palestinians to accept a state with temporary borders in accordance with its perception of the borders and exchange of land and population while retaining most lands and resources, including East Jerusalem and major settlement blocs, with the least Palestinian population.
2. Temporary state offer: Trying to push the Palestinians towards accepting an agreement which grants them a state with temporary borders on 60% of the WB, while postponing final status issues to a later stage where Israel would try to transform the interim situation to final one. This option was offered by many Israeli leaders including Shaul Mofaz and Giora Eiland.
3. Recourse to a “third party”: Seeking to restore the role of third parties in managing the Palestinians’ issues in the WB and GS. This means that, if Jordan and Egypt accepted to interfere, the former would restore its role in the WB and the latter in Gaza.
4. Persistence of the status quo: Continuing to create facts on the ground without trying to reach a solution with the Palestinians. This is primarily due to the lack of consensus among Israelis regarding the final peace settlement and the lack of genuine pressures pushing in this direction. In addition, it is due to the increased inclination towards religious and rightist extremism in Israel which makes it difficult to present any concessions to the Palestinian side.
The acceptance of any of the above options is subject to some domestic factors besides international and regional variables. Thus, unilateral solution has returned after it had deteriorated in 2005 and 2006, while the idea of temporary state, which has been popular since 2009, started to decline due to Palestinian rejection. However, Israel is not in a rush to figure out quick solutions unless the changes in the Arab world urge it to do so.
The PA and PLO leadership seem to be convinced that the continuation of the current stalemate on the negotiations track, together with Israel’s intransigence on proceeding with its settlement policy, precludes the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state through an agreement with the Israeli side. For the ultimate Israeli offer does not match with the minimal Palestinian conditions despite the lapse of 18 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords. Thus, this leadership finds itself obliged to resort to alternative options in order to overcome the current political impasse. These options are mainly focused on the following:
1. Dissolving the PA: The PA was supposed to serve for an interim period till the formation of the Palestinian state. However, in light of the current conditions which make it a mere functional body, the PA has become an Israeli need rather than a Palestinian one. Hence, taking things back to square one might urge Israel to face its responsibility as an occupation authority. It might also put the international community before its responsibility towards the Palestinian issue.
2. Dealing with the PA as a tool of national work: This option does not accept the PA to continue as a functional authority, it seeks to impose new conditions on its work in accordance with the Palestinian national project. It seeks to relent some of its security and economic functions in order to achieve the national project’s objectives through the PA.
3. The continued attempt to resort to the UN to get state recognition: This alternative is summarized in the Palestinian attempt to get state recognition either through the General Assembly or Security Council. Nonetheless, any attempt in this context would face American and Israeli opposition similar to that witnessed in September and it might even face the same fate. Consequently, the Palestinian leadership is confused how to tackle this file.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Hasan Ibhais for authoring the original text of this strategic assessment which was based on a panel discussion held by Al-Zaytouna Centre in its headquarters in Beirut with participation of a number of specialists and experts.