Thirty years have passed since the beginning of the so-called “Oslo peace process,” and yet Palestinians are no closer to statehood than when they started the process in 1993. To the contrary, the Oslo peace declaration and its subsequent negotiations have produced far more violence than peace.
During the last three decades Israel has continued and accelerated its settlement building campaigns in Area C, which constitutes 61% of the West Bank and was placed under temporary Israeli control as part of the Oslo deal. There are currently 132 approved settlements in the West Bank, with an additional 147 “illegal” outposts on their way to becoming “legal” settlements, encompassing over 300,000 additional settlers in the West Bank since the Oslo process began, for a current total of nearly 500,000 settlers.
The expansion of settlements, complete with adjacent security zones and access roads, has subjected Palestinians to settler violence, intimidation, and disruption of life and farming activities. It has also led to the fragmentation of Palestinian communities, especially in rural areas where farmers are separated from their farmlands, making it difficult to commute to cities and commercial centers. Moreover, major Palestinian cities are disconnected from each other by blocks of Jewish settlements located in between them. These developments have effectively stifled economic development, while obstructing national capacity building and disrupting the geographic contiguity of Palestinian communities.
Israel has also planned new Jewish residential settlements in East Jerusalem, where over 200,000 Jewish settlers already live, encircling Palestinian city residents and cutting off the city from the West Bank, effectively integrating the entire Holy City into Israel. What’s more, inside Jerusalem, Israel is actively implementing a campaign of house demolitions that aims to shrink the Palestinian population of the city.
On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is losing credibility among Palestinians to run their daily affairs or provide leadership to Palestinian society due to lack of vision, no effective leadership in institution building, and widespread corruption at various levels of government. At the same time, Israel has been pleased with a weak PA. It is no secret that corruption is in part a manifestation of PA leadership, but also partly by design and manipulation from Israel.
As Israel controls all borders for Palestine, it is the party, under the Oslo agreement, that collects tariffs and tax revenue on the PA’s behalf on Palestinian imports. For the PA, this tax revenue constitutes a substantial portion of PA budgets, making up hundreds of millions of dollars in monthly revenue. While serving as the intermediary, Israel takes the liberty to withhold these funds in order to subject the PA to their own political manipulations. Such measures put the PA under further pressure by undermining its capacity to meet its obligations to pay employee salaries for governmental institutions such as teachers, doctors, and ministerial departments.
The new ultra conservative Israeli government is keen on implementing Israeli law in Area C, effectively annexing these areas by confiscating more land, demolishing more homes, and accelerating settlement construction. The Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank have also intensified their campaigns against Palestinian operatives in civilian spaces. Already this year, 89 Palestinian have been killed and there has been daily damage, terror, and disruption of life for Palestinian civilians.
This expansion of Israel into Palestinian lands happens while the PA remains helpless and seems, to the average Palestinian, hamstrung from being able to resist Israel’s takeover campaign. This expropriation is leading Palestinian individuals to take matters into their own hands, bringing tensions to an unprecedented level.
For example, the Palestinian gunman that killed seven Israeli worshippers exiting a synagogue on January 27th, in the Israeli settlement of Neve Yaakov, was an individual acting on his own. Other such incidents include the Palestinian that rammed a car into pedestrians in the Ramot settlement in East Jerusalem on February 10th and the killing of two settlers in Hawara, the Palestinian town southeast of Nablus, where settlers in the area normally shop. In response, a mob of 400 settlers—all civilians—attacked the entire town of Hawara, assaulting residents, burning dozens of homes, shops, and cars, all under the protection of the Israeli army that failed to take action to protect Palestinian residents from the settlers’ rampage.
The current situation is easily the most dangerous since 1948. Palestinians and Israelis are quickly moving towards a Civil War with dire consequences for both peoples. Israel is in the midst of internal turmoil with continued popular protests against the new government’s plans to diminish the powers of the Israeli judicial system, and the PA is in its own turmoil with sustained national strikes by various sectors of society, including school teachers, doctors, lawyers, and engineers.
The situation on the ground calls for serious international involvement to bring calm and lay the ground for an effective political solution and see it through. The true peace process begins after the occupation ends. There is really no way out of this impasse without a viable Palestinian state governing over the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Palestinian statehood is overdue and is the key ingredient to achieve peace for Israel and Palestine as well as the wider region. The ideological push within Israel for a “greater Israel”—a Jewish nation that stretches from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea—is stripping the country of its democratic commitments, further dividing the country and pushing it towards internal strife.
The time has come for Israel to roll back the settlement program and move from being an occupier to becoming a neighbor to the Palestinians. Israelis would be much better off if Palestinians had an effective government that is respected by the public, since it would lead to greater stability and prosperity for both peoples. Such an arrangement would require an international presence to provide protection for Palestinians and mitigate security risks for the Israelis to pave the way for a peaceful transition to a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel.