It’s been a week since an agreement was signed at Sharm al-Sheikh between senior Egyptian, Jordanian, US, Palestinian Authority and Israeli security officials.
The agreement was meant to “de-escalate tensions on the ground” and “pave a way forward toward the peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
There are two main problems with the agreement: It spells out no consequences for any party breaking its commitments – which Israel inevitably did almost before the ink had dried; and the fact of Palestinian participation in the first place.
The deal calls on the “two sides” to avoid any “unilateral measures” for the next few months, including inflammatory statements and actions, authorizing settlement outposts, talk of new settlement units and any change to the so-called status quo in Jerusalem during Ramadan, Easter and Passover.
It was signed on Sunday 19 March. That same day Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s extreme right finance minister, used a speech in Paris to claim that Palestinians do not exist.
On Monday (20 March), Israeli troops seized two floors of a home in Zeita near Tulkarm in the northern West Bank belonging to a former prisoner, Ibrahim Abu al-Ezz. His two sons were arrested the same day.
On Tuesday, Israeli parliamentarians lifted a ban on settlers returning to four settlement outposts in the northern West Bank that had been evacuated in 2005.
In raids across occupied territory last Wednesday, Israeli troops seized and detained dozens of Palestinians.
Also on Wednesday, Israel issued tenders for over 1,000 settlement units.
On Thursday, Israeli troops killed Amer Abu Khadijeh in a raid on his village near Tulkarm.
On Friday, Israeli soldiers used rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse a weekly protest against settlements in a village near Qalqilya. Five demonstrators and one foreign activist were shot and injured.
There will be, and have been, no consequences for Israel for all this.
This is all very predictable.
This was the story of the Oslo process.
Palestinians were punished for any transgressions, real or perceived. Israel was encouraged, rewarded even, with loans, military and financial aid, a carrot, more carrots, a bigger carrot and absolutely no stick.
It begs the question: Why did the Palestinian side participate?
Officials with the Palestinian Authority will say they had to act “responsibly” in order to protect Palestinians from Israel’s aggression and, in the words of Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah leader and the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, “defend the rights of our Palestinian people to freedom and independence.”
And certainly, considering the nature of the Israeli coalition government – with senior ministers using the kind of rhetoric normally associated with the language of genocide – there is reason to be extra cautious.
But if senior PA leaders think they will be recognized as the elusive “adults in the room” they will as usual be disappointed. The dynamics of the situation dictate that Israel will be rewarded merely for signing an agreement that it has no intention of honoring, while Palestinian accommodation is taken for granted.
Indeed, on Tuesday last week, Israel and the UK signed a trade deal that among other things makes clear the UK’s opposition to the use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s system of rule – which clearly discriminates between Jews and non-Jews in law and in practice – as well as attempts to take Israel’s occupation to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion.
Considering the impunity it enjoys, it is little wonder that Israel acts as if it is above the law. What is a wonder is why the Palestinians act as if Israel doesn’t.
Security coordination with Israel absent any final settlement was always a gigantic strategic blunder. It left the PA in the position of security subcontractor, with the responsibility to ensure “calm,” i.e., the absence of any confrontational response to Israel’s occupation, with or without a “political horizon.”
It creates competing interests among Palestinians, pitting security services against resistance groups, both in the ostensible service of Palestinian liberation.
Such divergence of interests must end because it only exacerbates division. Thus only Fatah, which controls the PA, supported the Sharm al-Sheikh talks.
Every other Palestinian political group opposed them.
PA officials and diplomats often wonder aloud why, with all the evidence in front of their eyes, western countries – the only ones likely to have traction in Israel – don’t intervene more forcefully.
The problem is that if the PA can be relied upon to always play the game, why should they?
It is the responsibility of the Palestinian side to change the dynamics. It can start by boycotting cosmetic talks that only serve to normalize the situation.
If Palestinians want Israel to be treated as the pariah it is, they must treat it that way.