For more than two decades, the United States has tried to conclude a peace agreement between the PLO and Israel. In the beginning there were the 1993 Oslo accords, which was a difficult breakthrough. However, this was the agreement that allowed the opportunity to form much-needed state institutions on the Palestinian territories. Yet this did not happen both as a result of the influence of religious parties on both sides, and as a result of dozens of suicide attacks carried out by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, which disrupted all guarantees of security and reconciliation. However, the failure of the peace process cannot be attributed only to the actions of Hamas, but also due to a series of errors committed by the Palestinian Authority, most notably the militarization of the second Intifada, and due to the regional effort exerted by some parties in order to disable any settlement that would be capable of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps the important question here is: Will the latest round of negotiations fail to challenge the status quo?
The truth is that the U.S. administration has chosen the worst time, in the current era, to pressure the parties to sit at the negotiations table. It is true that many people both inside and outside the region were urging, and continue to urge the U.S. administration to revitalize the peace process, but mere pressure on the parties to sit at the table with the American president does not guarantee any tangible progress on the ground.
Why? The answer is clear. Whoever observes the situation inside the Palestinian territories and Israel will feel a (relative) sense satisfaction among the positions of all three parties (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas). Let’s start with Israel, where the construction of the dividing wall has achieved concrete results: suicide attacks have dropped to their lowest levels, and since the war in Gaza (September 2008), Israel has not suffered many rocket-propelled grenade attacks, at least from Hamas. In other words, the Israeli siege of Gaza, whilst keeping Hamas in power, has achieved a kind of calm on the frontline, due to Hamas’s commitment to the ceasefire. For Hamas, since it assumed control of the Gaza Strip in the wake of a coup (June 2007), it has proven its ability to govern and impose its full authority on the Strip. At the same time, a state of neither peace nor war has provided a strong popular rationale for the movement, which has allowed it to remain a resistance movement and reject the Israeli presence. As for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, it has consented to the status quo and now focuses its work on transforming the West Bank into a stable, secure and economic model, and then perhaps it will succeed in convincing the population to abandon the Hamas government in Gaza.
The U.S. vision of peace is still transfixed, to a large extent, upon Sadat’s model. Despite three decades passing since President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel (1977), many of those concerned with the issue of peace believe that what is lacking in the [current] peace process is a courageous Arab leader capable of taking the decision for peace in the face of opponents on both sides. For this reason, some believe that King Hussein was courageous when he signed the Wadi Araba Peace Agreement (1994) with the Israelis, and the late Yasser Arafat had missed a historic opportunity for peace when he was reluctant to accept the Clinton proposals (2000).
True, the Palestinians were wrong to miss the opportunity to establish the state promised by the Clinton plan, but the Palestinians’ biggest error was their failure for sixty years to build state institutions that could make the Palestinian state a reality today. Sadat’s model is applicable with regards to countries such as Jordan and Syria, where it is possible to restore land through serious negotiations, which require a degree of compromise (concessions), in what are considered negotiations from the ground up.
The Palestinian situation is different, as the Palestinian identity, which has formed in the Diaspora, is concerned with the dream to restore the land lost, but the dream of the an actual state does not resonate in a tangible manner with the Palestinian people. In other words, what unites the Palestinian movements and groups is a resistance to occupation, but there is no consensus on the essence of a Palestinian state. Certainly, under the leadership of Arafat, Fatah held the vision of what should constitute a Palestinian state, and the Oslo, Wye River and the second Camp David negotiations reflect that. But Arafat and his movement could not achieve a consensus amongst the Palestinians, domestically and abroad, on the principle of a Palestinian state living side by side with the state of Israel. Palestinian parties and groups have always remained hostage to their loyalties and a foreign agenda. With the exception of the slogan to ‘liberate the land’, which has long been exploited financially and morally, those rival movements and groups have nothing in common in terms of a dream for a united country. Therefore they will remain in competition and strive for funding from foreign sources, no matter how detrimental the agenda [of these sources], in relation to the project of [establishing] a civil Palestinian state.
In her wonderful book ‘I Hope For Peace’ (2009), Jehan Sadat speaks how her husband’s assassination created a void in her life, and after some time passed, she found she had a need to discover herself, and find a positive role that gave her life meaning. The utmost honour [she could give] to her husband was to continue the peace plan which led to his assassination at the hands of Islamic extremists. But at the moment of truth, according to her book, she recognised that it was necessary for her to come out of the ‘shadow of Sadat’, in order to discover herself. Therefore she embarked upon university studies and achieved a Doctorate degree, and worked hard to promote peace. She also contributed to the work of a charity that promotes respect between religions and cultures.
The U.S. administration also needs to come out of the shadow of Sadat, and the conviction that true peace will not be achieved by signing an interim agreement between the parties, as much as it would help Palestinians build the institutions and the foundations of a civil state. America needs to encourage the Palestinians to build a state by contributing to the improvement of Palestinians’ lives, and alleviating their suffering, including the Palestinians in Gaza. Even Hamas, which rejects peace with Israel, should convince them that building institutions and strengthening the rule of law are in their favour. It may not be possible for the U.S. administration to deal directly with Hamas until it abandons its military wing, but American civil institutions could be encouraged to invest in education and humanitarian infrastructure in the Gaza strip.
As for the Palestinian Authority, it must come out of the shadow of the past, and begin in earnest the construction of state institutions, at least in the West Bank, and eliminate corruption. Then the door will be open for Hamas to conduct a historic review of its position, for the need for a resistance movement is only temporary, whereas the need for a genuine state institution remains.