Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv rightly drew international condemnation, yet criticism of Israel’s relentless shelling of civilian population centres in the occupied Gaza Strip has been blocked by the US at the UN Security Council. This month alone, Israeli forces have killed more than 30 Palestinians, including at least six children, and injured 130 others, while about 200 shells have been fired into the Gaza Strip every day.
While prominent members of the international community call on Hamas to make statements in support of a two-state solution, their own policies are rapidly foreclosing that option. Following Hamas’s accession to the Palestinian Authority, the EU and the US seem more intent on punishing the Palestinians for the results of their exemplary elections than on persuading Israel that peace and security will only materialise through negotiated political accommodation.
Ostensibly, the US-led decision to cut funding to the PA is designed to penalise Hamas for failing to renounce violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist and publicly commit to previously-signed agreements. But this approach is certain to backfire. One million of the estimated 3.8 million Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories rely on PA salaries for their livelihoods. Impoverishing and embittering our people will not only exacerbate the existing humanitarian predicament, it will likely worsen the security crisis for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
The real threat lies not in the rhetorical positions of the PA - an institution with limited powers administering a stateless people under occupation - but in Israel’s deluded faith in unilateralism. Now rebranded as Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan”, unilateralism still translates as the sustained colonisation and occupation of Palestinian land.
It is true that Olmert intends to dismantle some failed settlements in the occupied West Bank, but only so as to bolster the more strategic blocs. This would entrench, not solve, the problem. As Israel’s illegal settlement and wall construction on occupied Palestinian land continues, the possibility of establishing a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state is being destroyed.
To the east of the wall, Israel still insists on retaining control of the Jordan Valley, more than a quarter of West Bank land. To the west of the wall, Israel intends to annex areas that are essential to Palestinians for their fertile lands, water resources and economic potential - most notably areas in and around East Jerusalem. Allowing Israel to seize this 9.5% of West Bank territory would alone defeat the viability of a Palestinian state. And without a viable Palestinian state, there can be no viable peace.
This looming tragedy is further compounded by its needlessness. Contrary to Israel’s claims to be bereft of a partner, it is the Palestine Liberation Organisation, not the PA, that represents Palestinians in final status negotiations. The results of January’s Palestinian elections alter neither the PLO’s mandate nor its desire to resume negotiations with Israel immediately. Hamas itself publicly supports the resumption of talks. And despite Israeli shells raining down on his Gaza Strip compound, Mahmoud Abbas, PLO chairman and PA president, continues to hold out the promise of peace and historic reconciliation.
If the world truly wants peace, it must seize this final opportunity. As Olmert forms his coalition government, the international community, including Israel’s closest friends, must steer Israel away from the illusory benefits of unilateralism and towards the resumption of negotiations. As even the Likud parliamentarian Uzi Landau recognised, permanent borders cannot be drawn by one party alone.
Manuel Hassassian is the Palestine Liberation Organisation representative to the United Kingdom. This article first appeared in The Guardian on April 19, 2006.