The myth of the two-state solution

Israel declared its independence in 1948. Less than twenty years later it expanded its territorial control across the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai).

What has subsequently come to be referred to as “The Occupation” has referred to the status quo which (with a few modifications) has endured for the overwhelming majority of Israel’s existence.

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and the so-called “peace process” which followed, have merely provided political cover for the relentless expansion of Jewish settlement and Palestinian dispossession across the West Bank.

What right-wing Zionists refer to as Judea and Samaria is not an aspiration — it is the political reality of a state in which full democratic rights are granted to Jews but not Palestinians.

While the mantras of ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements have tirelessly been repeated, year after year, the settlements have grown.

Both the terms settlement and occupation, mask with seeming impermanence a reality that has been set in reinforced concrete.

Given that over the course of more than twenty years, no progress whatsoever has been made towards the implementation of a two-state solution, the fact that it has now been rejected by Benjamin Netanyahu is a non-event. Yet this is a non-event that is deeply upsetting to many American Jews.

It’s not that they believed that peace was just around the corner. On the contrary, the value of the two-state solution has never derived from expectations about the future. Instead, its value is based very much in the present.

For liberal Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the two-state solution ideologically sanitized Israel by ostensibly embodying the desire that the political aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians could be recognized. If this promise is taken away, liberals are deprived of a fiction that allowed them to avoid confronting the illiberal nature of the Jewish state.

Americans want to be able to say they support Israel and democracy and Israel is forcing them to choose between the two.

Noam Sheizaf provided a reality check for participants at the J Street conference in Washington DC this week, when he said:

In Israel, we’ve got to the point where arguing for a state for all its citizens — equal rights for everyone — is a form of ‘Arab nationalism’ that should be made illegal. While arguing for an ethnic state that gives privileges to one group over the other is ‘democracy’…

I am 40 and I only know one Israel — and that’s from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. And in which there live Palestinians and Jews, roughly the same size of populations — they’re totally mixed with each other. They’re mixed in the Galilee, they’re mixed along the coast, they’re mixed in the West Bank by now, they’re mixed in the Negev — everywhere Jews living next to Palestinians.

One group has everything — all the rights — the other one has privileges given to it according to a complicated system of citizenship and where they happen to live and where their grandparents were in ’48…

I think we need to start looking at this in civil rights issues, if that’s what we believe in — and that’s the kind of activism I’m looking for. Not redrawing maps in a way that will keep some people in and some people out so that we can call themself [a] democracy.

Sheizaf also took J Street to task for its failure to talk about Gaza:

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What it feels like to be a ‘demographic threat’ to Israel

Yousef Munayyer writes: I am a demographic threat.

I am a demographic threat; I am the son, grandson and father of demographic threats; and I am the husband of demographic spillover. I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and this is the language that the State of Israel, its leaders and its elites have sanctioned within their discourse to refer to me and to millions of other human beings.

And once you have defined a threat, what action is there to take other than to attack it, marginalize it, contain it or eliminate it?

It is refreshing to see that so many are appalled at the rhetoric Benjamin Netanyahu used in Israel on election day, when he mobilized ultra-right-wing voters by saying “right-wing rule is in danger” because “Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” Some have likened it to the “Southern Strategy” in the United States, when the Republican Party appealed to racism among white Southerners in the late 1960s to draw them away from a Democratic Party that had come out in support of civil rights.

But Netanyahu’s language was not just an electioneering tactic. Indeed, as Palestinians — whether citizens of Israel, residents of Jerusalem or those living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza or in refugee camps or in the diaspora — know, this demographic fear-mongering is rooted in the foundation of the Zionist project in Palestine. The origin and maintenance of Zionism has relied on demographic engineering to ensure that political power remains in the hands of one ethno-religious group, Israeli Jews. This isn’t about an election tactic; this is about Zionism itself. [Continue reading…]

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Under Israeli rule, Palestinians are destined to remain subject to a regime of state terror

David Shulman writes: Benjamin Netanyahu has won again. He will have no difficulty putting together a solid right-wing coalition. But the naked numbers may be deceptive. What really counts is the fact that the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement with the Palestinians and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.

Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. He made it clear that Israel would make no further territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.

And then there was his truly astonishing, by now notorious statement on election day itself, in which he urged Jewish voters to rush to the polls because “the Arabs are voting in droves.” One might have thought that those Arab voters were members of the body politic he headed as prime minister. Imagine a white American president calling on whites to vote because “blacks are voting in large numbers.” If there’s a choice to be made between democratic values and fierce Jewish tribalism, there’s no doubt what the present and future prime minister of Israel would choose. [Continue reading…]

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Dear Mr Netanyahu: Sorry we dared to dream. Yours, Israel’s Arab population

Sayed Kashua writes: For a moment I was optimistic.

For one moment this week the hope I had utterly lost last summer – a summer suffused with racism, hatred, blood and devastation – came back. For one moment, after I left Jerusalem with my family for life in Illinois, I thought that maybe there’s still a chance, maybe there are still enough people in Israel who refuse to rule and oppress another nation.

The last pre-election polls in the Israeli media predicted a loss for the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the head of the Arab parties’ Joint List, the young lawyer Ayman Odeh, gave me hope that it was not too late to stop the fascism. Odeh took part in a television debate with Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who as usual called Odeh and the rest of the country’s Arab citizens – people like me – a fifth column, the spearhead of the terrorist organisations in the Knesset.

Odeh smiled tranquilly, and spoke about unity, cooperation, terminating the occupation in the Palestinian territories and forging a future of equality in Israel. The young lawyer succeeded in cutting Lieberman down to size, and showed him exactly for what he is: a benighted, pathetic racist.

For a moment I no longer felt afraid of Lieberman and of his threats against the Arab citizens; for a moment I wanted to believe it was still possible. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s win is good for Palestine

Yousef Munayyer writes: The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity. Two years ago Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the maximum time left for a two-state solution was two years. Mr. Netanyahu officially declared it dead this week in order to drive right-wing voters to the polls. The two-state solution, which has seen more funerals than a reverend, exists today only as a talking point for self-interested, craven politicians to hide behind — not as a realistic basis for peace.

The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, but also free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.

Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian leaders see validation of their statehood effort

The New York Times reports: Under most circumstances, an Israeli leader’s frank admission that he would never agree to a Palestinian state would be a disaster for the Palestinian leadership. But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said precisely that in the heat of the recent election campaign, it seemed to have the opposite effect, validating the unilateral approach the Palestinians have decided to follow.

“We will continue a diplomatic intifada. We have no other choice,” said Assad Abdul Rahman, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council and executive committee, its top decision-making body.

With Mr. Netanyahu having dropped, for now at least, the pretense of seeking a two-state solution, the Palestinians can argue to Europe and the United States that they no longer have a negotiating partner, strengthening their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations, as well as membership in important international bodies. They are already members of the International Criminal Court and Unesco.

“If somebody said, ‘We are with two states, and real negotiations,’ we would return to negotiations,” said Assad Abdul Rahman. “But there is no partner for that.”

In addition to considering seeking full statehood at the United Nations, the Palestinians may now curtail security coordination with Israel, reducing Israel’s ability to seize suspected militants in the West Bank, two P.L.O. officials said.

“There is a feeling that if there really is no hope for the peace process, the best thing they can have is an Israeli government that will advance its own isolation,” said Nathan Thrall, senior analyst with the Middle East and North Africa Program of the International Crisis Group. [Continue reading…]

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Arab alliance rises as force in Israeli elections

Diaa Hadid reports: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s nationalist foreign minister, stared coolly at the Arab politician sitting at the opposite end of a glass table during a televised election debate.

“Why did you come to this studio, why not to Gaza, or Ramallah? Why are you even here?” asked Mr. Lieberman, who frequently calls Israel’s Arab citizens traitors and suggests that their towns be transferred to Palestinian control. “You are not wanted here; you are a Palestinian citizen.”

The politician, Ayman Odeh, the leader of an alliance of Arab parties formed to contest Israeli elections on Tuesday, appeared unruffled.

“I am very welcome in my homeland,” he said, a subtle dig at Mr. Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. “I am part of the nature, the surroundings, the landscape,” he said in Arabic-accented Hebrew.

The clash in late February on Israel’s popular Channel 2, during the only debate of the election season, was a sideshow to the larger electoral struggle unfolding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief challenger, Isaac Herzog. Neither Mr. Netanyahu nor Mr. Herzog appeared at the debate. But it was a breakthrough moment for Mr. Odeh, 40, a little-known lawyer from Haifa who has never served in Parliament yet is suddenly poised to be a power broker in the formation of Israel’s next government. [Continue reading…]

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B’Tselem’s battle to be Israel’s conscience

Eve Fairbanks writes: On 15 August last year, five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, appeared on a morning radio show to discuss the conflict. Throughout the fighting, B’Tselem did what it has done for 25 years since it was founded during the first Palestinian intifada: document human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. It compiled film and testimony gathered by volunteer field researchers on the ground, tallied daily casualty figures that were used by the local and international press, and released names of individual Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

B’Tselem’s founders intended it to serve a purpose unlike any other organisation in Israel’s fractious political atmosphere: to provide pure information about the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians, without commentary or political agenda. But by last summer, this stance had become a source of controversy. For many Israelis, identifying human-rights violations by the Israeli military, but not its enemies, was tantamount to treason. When B’Tselem tried to run radio ads listing the names and ages of 20 Palestinian children killed in Gaza, Israel’s national broadcasting authority banned them on the grounds that they constituted a political message masquerading as neutral information. A group called Mothers of Soldiers Against B’Tselem was formed; Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, endorsed one of their protests.

That morning on the radio, the host, a journalist named Sharon Gal, pressed El-Ad over and over to agree that he believed Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. El-Ad reminded Gal that B’Tselem, by its very core principles, declined to make that kind of characterisation because it believed doing so would be a political act. “We’re talking about armed Palestinian organisations; that is the professional term, and we criticise their activities when they are illegal,” he said. Gal responded that Israel was locked in a battle for its survival; at such a moment, he argued, refusing to call Hamas a terrorist group was a political – and disloyal – act. Newspaper columnists were still talking about it a month later. “Hagai El-Ad has essentially become a Hamas apologist,” one declared.

Three and a half months after the end of the Gaza war, in early December, I met El-Ad at Talbia, a wine bar beneath the Jerusalem Theatre. Forty-five years old, he looks barely over 30. He has a soft, almost hushed voice, glasses that press down on the tops of his ears, making them flop over like wings, and a frequent, mirthful smile. “Don’t sneeze,” he laughed, as a waitress propped a cork under a wobbly leg of our table, creating a fragile balance. El-Ad arrived at B’Tselem last May after spells as the director of Jerusalem Open House, Jerusalem’s premier gay-advocacy group, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

B’Tselem, in Hebrew, means “in His image,” from the line in the Book of Genesis: “And God made man in His image.” El-Ad possesses a fierce belief in Israelis’ ability – and duty – to live up to their human godliness by being just and manifesting an expansive empathy. “I self-identify as a Jew who cares deeply about the Jewish future and the Jewish identity,” he told me. “To be Jewish is to treat people with dignity.” He grew up in Haifa, on the Israeli coast, and takes as the basis for his personal creed an anecdote from a visit Golda Meir paid to the city during the 1948 Israeli war for independence, when she noted that scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes reminded her of images of Jews fleeing Poland before the second world war. “If Golda Meir could notice the similarities,” he said, smiling, “then anybody can recognise Palestinians as human beings who ought to be treated with equal rights.” [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian issue mostly ignored in Israeli elections

Reuters reports: In a rare TV debate ahead of Israel’s tightly contested election on March 17, eight party leaders from across the political spectrum held forth for 90 minutes in a noisy, argumentative discussion of Israeli policy.

While social issues and the economy were grappled over at length, the conflict with the Palestinians and efforts to forge a two-state solution to the crisis — the issue which much of the world has looked to the region to resolve for the better part of 30 years — drew little new comment or insight.

The word “peace” was mentioned five times, three of those by the only Arab candidate taking part, while Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, declared he would never let the Palestinians have their own state.

In part, the focus was understandable — Israeli voters are most concerned about house prices and the cost of living. But it underlines how dim prospects now are for any progress in resolving perhaps the world’s most intractable conflict.

“The Palestinian issue, as much as it is crucial, is not perceived as existential, which is the case with Iran,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University and a specialist on the Middle East.

“And it is not perceived as manageable over the next three years, which something like the economy is.”

Instead, the election has become a two-horse, two-issue race, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth term, emphasizing the threat from Iran and regional Islamist groups, and the center-left opposition criticizing his perceived failures on social and economic policy.

The latest polls published on Tuesday put the center-left ahead, predicting it will win 24 or 25 seats in the 120-member Knesset, against 21 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Other polls show a tighter race, with each of the main parties expected to win 23 or 24 seats. As has always been the case in Israel’s 67-year history, no party will secure a majority, making coalition negotiations critical.

Given his experience of cobbling together partnerships and the fact that there are more parties on the right around which to build an alliance, Netanyahu could still return as prime minister, even if his party does not win the election. [Continue reading…]

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Italy migrant boats: Palestinian boy tells harrowing story of journey from Gaza to Europe

The Independent reports: A Palestinian boy who fled Gaza has told his harrowing story of being kidnapped, beaten, imprisoned and starved in his battle to reach Europe for a better life.

Yusuf, not his real name, is one of more than 8,000 migrants have made the treacherous crossing to Italy in boats run by ruthless traffickers since the start of this year alone.

Save the Children cared for the 17-year-old when he arrived in the port of Lampedusa last month. Despite the horrors of his long journey from Gaza, Yusuf said he knew he was lucky to have made it.

Almost 1,000 migrants had to be rescued by Italian authorities during a 24-hour-period last week, when at least 10 people died after their boat capsized. [Continue reading…]

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Do Israelis have any idea how bad it is in Gaza?

Haggai Matar writes: “I’m extremely concerned that if you leave Gaza in the state it’s currently in, you’ll have another eruption, and violence, and then we’re back in a further catastrophe, so we’ve got to stop that,” warned Quartet envoy Tony Blair during a visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday. It was his first trip to the Gaza since the last war, and Blair spent his time meeting with ministers and surveying the progress – or lack thereof – toward rehabilitating the Strip.

The scope of destruction in Gaza remains enormous. According to the UN, over 96,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed by Israeli air strikes. The donor states that have pledged to transfer money have yet to do so, re-building is going nowhere, many are still seeking refuge in UNRWA schools and the winter storms have only increased the damage to the homes and neighborhoods that survived.

The Israeli blockade, which prevents exports, economic development and importing building materials not previously approved by Israel, and which includes firing at fishermen, continues to choke the Strip. Furthermore, the Egyptian government has only tightened the blockade on its end over the past months. Egypt has destroyed all the tunnels into Sinai, keeps the Rafah crossing closed on a regular basis, and has destroyed large parts of Rafah in order to create buffer zone between the city and its Gaza counterpart. And all this after the Egyptian government banned Hamas’ military wing, calling it a “terrorist organization.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s plight grows worse

The Washington Post reports: In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave.

Reconstruction of the tens of thousands homes damaged and destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the cease-fire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed.

The economy is in deep recession; pledges of billions in aid have not been honored; and the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the enclave, refuses to loosen its grip and is preparing again for war.

Diplomats, aid workers and residents warn of a looming humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence.

“After every war, we say it cannot get worse, but I will say this time is the worst ever,” said Omar Shaban, a respected Gaza economist. “There is no sign of life. Trade. Import. Export. Reconstruction. Aid? Dead. I’m not exaggerating when I tell my friends abroad: Gaza could collapse, maybe soon.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza suffers in growing isolation

Zvi Bar’el reports: “What do they give us here? Three pitas and a little food; it’s not enough even for a small child,” Alaa Kullab complained to the Palestinian news agency Safa. He said his eight-person family, which has been living in a school in Rafah ever since this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, received only five beds.

“We have no heaters, and we’re forbidden to use hotplates,” added Kullab, who began a hunger strike along with another resident of the school a few days ago.

More than 20,000 of the 450,000 people displaced by the war still live in schools or other shelters arranged by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last month, UNRWA announced that it would no longer pay displaced families’ rent or fund reconstruction of their houses, because it was out of money, having received only $135 million of the $725 million it needs.

“People come to our offices crying and threatening, but we have no way to help them,” an UNRWA employee told Haaretz. “Children are freezing cold, they suffer from malnutrition and even the little food they get is unsuitable.”

Next week, cleaning workers at Gaza’s hospitals are expected to strike again, since the Palestinian government hasn’t produced the back pay it promised to persuade them to end the last 16-day strike. Some 45,000 government employees in Gaza have yet to receive their January salaries, and they may get only 60 percent, as they did last month, because Israel has frozen tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The PA says the transfers amount to over half the costs of these salaries.

In October, a donor conference netted pledges of $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but only about 2 percent of this amount has arrived. Both the reconstruction and the reopening of the border crossings, especially with Egypt, depend on implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but due to disputes between the rival organizations, this still has not happened. [Continue reading…]

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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A Labor win in Israel will only entrench the occupation

Gideon Levy writes: Only one scenario is worse than the reelection on March 17 of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and that’s the election of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (and his political partner Tzipi Livni). Another term for Netanyahu would be a disaster, but a victory for Zionist Camp could be a worse disaster.

Yes, it’s true there’s no comparison between Herzog and Netanyahu — or between their parties. Herzog is a moderate, modest, fair person who’s much more liked than Netanyahu; the same can be said for Livni.

And Zionist Camp’s Knesset slate is of much higher quality than Likud’s. Not only does Zionist Camp not have thugs like Likud, it doesn’t have people with nationalist and racist views inciting and agitating. The CVs of most Zionist Camp candidates are much more impressive.

Now let’s assume Zionist Camp wins. Jubilation; Netanyahu will be ousted and a new day will dawn in Israel with a Herzog-Livni government. Actually, the first and most dramatic change will come from abroad — a global sigh of relief. [Continue reading…]

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ICC opens examination of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Reuters: The International Criminal Court has launched an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, opening a path to possible charges against Israelis or Palestinians.

In a statement on Friday, prosecutors said they would examine “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. This allows the court to delve into the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 during which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed.

The U.S. State Department said it strongly disagreed with the move. The United States has argued that Palestine is not a state and therefore not eligible to join the ICC.

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Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, recently wrote an op-ed in Arabic appearing on Arabic websites and which has now been translated into English and published with his permission by the Times of Israel: I was very hesitant before I wrote this “harsh” title. I erased it time after time and rewrote it. But every time I reread the article, the title jumps to my mind and drags me towards it.

The title hit me while I was attending a meeting of some political powers. I was listening to them talk for more than three hours and it seemed futile, lost, insipid.

It was not the first meeting I left feeling aggravated. I had previously taken part in discussions, be it bilateral between Hamas and Fatah or “national” dialogue that brings everyone together. I attended tens of conferences, seminars and workshops for “brainstorming.” But this time a profound sadness overcame me and feelings began to consume me. What are they saying? What are they doing? What time are they wasting? What world are they living in? Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind, unbidden: Now do you understand why Palestine is lost?

It was dangerous, frightening and scary. I no longer have any doubt that these sterile seminars and workshops that were repeated a thousand times, were nothing but blabbering, rumination of the past and fleeing from facing the facts.

I recalled many of these summits, agreements and understandings that have been signed since 1993 until the Shati Agreement in 2014… they passed in a moment and disappeared.

It seemed to me that we had lost dozens of years in haggling, disagreements and differences over texts that did not bring us anything but more resentment and fragmented, failed solutions. And because of the devolvement of these issues, I look at where we have arrived after a twenty year political process of failure and searching for success on paper, and I look at the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of its weakness and attenuation, and I look at the political and societal division and how our divisions have sharpened until it became an indispensable tradition?

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel… But what is our share in bearing responsibility? [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian statehood: a lost cause?

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