Israel and Palestine: strong leadership and compromise needed to resolve conflict

2016-06-13 12:39

By Rabelani Dagada

In my previous essay, I indicated that the administrations governing Gaza and the West Bank have lost the support of other Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Egypt and Iran, countries that were the most staunch supporters of the Palestinians, have cut ties with Gaza and the West Bank. The Egyptian benevolent regime is more interested in asserting its authority nationally, while the Shi’ite Iranians are immersed in their quest of quelling the influence of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. On the other hand, Europe has bought into the anti-Israel rhetoric and thus there is a wedge between the continent and the State of Israel. Being deserted by friends can be very painful, but the Israelis and Palestinians can console themselves with the fact that they are currently living in the most peaceful region in the Middle East.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The lack of support from Egypt and Iran will drive Hamas to seek a peaceful and democratic solution. One of the factors that contributed to the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa agreeing to negotiate with the South African apartheid regime was the fact that three things were coming to an end: firstly, the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); secondly, the end of the Cold War; and thirdly, military and financial support from the USSR. Gaza, the West Bank and Israel have lost some traditional allies. Other than Europe accusing Israel of being an aggressor, the next commander-in-chief of the United States of America, Hilary Clinton, will continue President Barack Obama’s tough stance on Israel, and thus Israel will become more eager to resolve its differences with the Palestinians.

There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a peaceful solution and two sovereign states (Israel and Palestine) in our lifetime. I have predicted in my previous essay that this will happen during the next ten years. There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Be that as it may, certain measures should be taken by Israel and the Palestinian authorities. These include the following: firstly, there can be no winner takes all; there must be an election of legitimate and strong leadership; there must be an end to all violence; and the immediate withdrawal of the settlements must be agreed.

No winner takes all

Both Israel and the Palestinians should be prepared to compromise. They can learn some lessons from the peaceful settlement in South Africa. The main protagonists were F.W. De Klerk representing the white population, and Nelson Mandela who was mainly representing the black population.  As part of negotiating the settlement, the South African white population lost political powers, but retained massive economic powers. On the other hand, as part of crafting the ‘new’ South African deal, Nelson Mandela relinquished his stance on nationalisation and the continuation of sanctions against South Africa. The desire expressed by Hamas for the total destruction of Israel will remain a fantasy; they should accept the reality that the State of Israel is there to stay. The Palestinians should give up on their ambition of co-governing Jerusalem with Israel or taking over East Jerusalem – it will not happen. They should take solace from the fact that they have full access to their sacred and holy places and their places of worship. Conversely, the erection and/or expansion of new Jewish settlements and appropriation of new land in the West Bank should be halted. It is provocative, repressive, and takes away Israel’s moral high ground. This is the sort of behaviour which alienates and angers Europeans, Americans, South Africans, and other like-minded people.

During the negotiations of the ‘new’ South Africa, De Klerk had to convince his people about the need to compromise while Mandela had to persuade his constituency to give up on the armed struggle. De Klerk and Mandela should be commended for telling their constituencies not only what they would have wanted to hear, but also the bitter truths. When we were in Palestine, we met two prominent Fatah leaders in Ramallah who indicated that they respect and accept the existence of the state of Israel. Later I learnt that most Palestinian leaders will never say this to their constituency. They would rather, in Arabic, tell their people that the Jews should leave the region or be pushed into the sea. It is this kind of rhetoric and incitement which leads to some Palestinians violently and militarily attacking the Israeli-Jews. The Palestinian leadership should cease such populist talk and tell their people the bitter truth – including the compromises that should happen. I should hasten to indicate that it is not only the Palestinian leadership which is populist; the reason there is an expansion of illegal Jewish settlements is because somebody does not want to lose elections in Israel. However, populism does not build nations.

Election of legitimate government in Palestine

Both the Fatah and Hamas administrative authorities in Gaza and the West Bank are no longer legitimate because their terms of office have long expired. This includes the presidency of Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. When we were in Ramallah, the Palestinian leaders were highly critical of the manner in which Israel withdrew and left Gaza. They argued that Israel should not have left Gaza so abruptly and that they expect Israel to negotiate with them when they eventually leave the West Bank. If the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, pronounces Israel’s readiness to leave the West Bank to pave the way for the establishment of the sovereign State of Palestine, it is unclear who he will negotiate with in the absence of legitimate Palestinian leadership.

When we were in Ramallah, the Fatah leaders informed us that they are negotiating for reconciliation with Hamas and the possibility of free and proper Palestinian elections. If and when these elections happen, Hamas will lose. An analyst told us that Hamas won elections incidentally in 2006: “Most people in Gaza say they would not have voted for Hamas if they knew Hamas would win. The votes to Hamas were protest votes to give the then governing party a wake-up call”.

Some analysts are starting to doubt that Gaza and the West Bank will ever become one state and thus there is talk of a three-state solution in the region comprising Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. I am confident that Fatah and Hamas will find each other and there will be a single Palestinian state. Gaza is geographically too small for the 1.85 million people who live there; it is 41 kilometres long and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide and thus there is a need for people to move freely between the two Palestinian territories. As part of negotiating a compromise and reaching a peaceful settlement with Israel, the Palestinians should request an underground road and railway line which runs through Israel’s territory to enable movement between Gaza and the West Bank. In exchange, Israel can keep some of its roads which cut through the West Bank.

End of violence

Israel and the Palestinians can learn some vital lessons from the ANC and the then apartheid regime. When the opportunity to negotiate the deal for a ‘new’ South Africa presented itself, the warring parties seized it. The ANC knew that its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, would never successfully defeat the then South African Defence Force. The apartheid regime was also aware that their white constituency would never live peacefully as long as black people were oppressed. Fatah and Hamas will also not succeed in defeating Israel through military means. There is optimism in the ending of the Second Intifada (the violent uprising by Palestinians against Israel) in 2005. Unfortunately, there has been a series of low level violent attacks in Jerusalem, including the recent stabbings of Jewish Israelis. Notwithstanding the existence of a powerful and sophisticated military army, the Israelis will not live in peace as long as Israel still occupies the West Bank and the Palestinians have not yet achieved statehood and some normality in their lives. The enclosure of Palestinians in Gaza has the potential to breed yet more violence. I should hasten to indicate that I am not blaming Israel for the enclosure, but the truth is that it will not be sustainable in the long term.

Immediate withdrawals of the settlements

One of the things that Israel can start to do as a gesture to signal its intention to negotiate a peaceful settlement and the statehood of Palestine is to withdraw the settlers from the West Bank. This will of course be costly for Israel and elections may be lost. Most Israelis, analysts, and scholars describe Mr. Netanyahu as a right wing politician. He is a strong leader who has served as prime minister for more than ten years. He is also financially self-sustainable and thus he does not have much to lose politically. In my view, Netanyahu is the man who can actually start to withdraw the settlements from the West Bank. The United Nations and the Palestinian leadership should assist him to do this by agreeing to some of Israel’s conditions regarding security.

Withdrawing settlements from the West Bank will not be the headache only of Israel’s government. These settlements are providing reasonably well paying jobs to many Palestinians. The departure of the settlements may lead to some Palestinians embarking on an uprising against the Palestinian Authority. At some point at the beginning of this year, Israel prevented the Palestinian workers from entering the Beit Horon settlement after two Jewish women were stabbed and critically injured. The Palestinian Authority had to urge Israel to allow workers to enter the settlement to avoid an uprising by the Palestinians who work there.

If Israel and Palestine implement some of these proposals, we may indeed witness a peaceful solution and the two-states solution becoming a reality sooner than previously imagined. In my next three essays, I will deal with Israel and South Africa.

Another version of this opinion piece was published by the Politicsweb.

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst, and consultant. In February Dagada visited Israel on the Israel Now Economist Tour 2016, funded by South African philanthropists. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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