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Paris conference: Mourning the two-state solution

Throughout its tragic and tumultuous history spanning nearly a century (beginning roughly with the 1917 Balfour Declaration), the Palestinian national cause has never seen a more surreal and bizarre period as the one it finds itself ensnared in today.
One can describe the plight of the Palestinian people as an ongoing case of brash abandonment by the global powers of the day. No other nation has been made to suffer for so long, pay the price for historical injustice while enduring the longest episode of occupation in the modern era.
So it was not unusual that the Paris peace conference — which was held on Sunday with more than 70 delegates representing nations and international organizations, minus Israel and the Palestinians — underlined the obvious but failed to provide actionable measures to end the stalemate that has paralyzed bilateral negotiations for so long.
The final communique renewed the international community’s endorsement of the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. It called for an end to violence and to unilateral actions, including the building of unlawful settlements in Palestinian territories.
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu described the conference as “rigged” and “futile,” and the US lobbied so delegates would not seek another UN Security Council resolution that would be seen as anti-Israel. The UK sent a low-level delegation and refused to sign the final statement. The Palestinians, naturally, supported the conference’s outcome, with President Mahmoud Abbas describing it as a last chance for peace and for salvaging the two-state solution.
However, the meeting came at a somber and uncertain moment for the Palestinians. It would be reasonable to assume that we will not see another international gathering of this nature in the coming four years.
The elephant in the room in Paris was obviously President-elect Donald Trump, whose statements and reactions on the Israel-Palestine issue signaled tough days ahead for the Palestinians, and for international law and UN resolutions. That is why Netanyahu has stuck to his guns and promised brighter days ahead for Israel.
In reality, the Paris conference was not an attempt to revive the two-state solution, but to mourn its passing. So was US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on Dec. 28 on the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The incoming administration, as well as a pro-Israel US Congress, has an ideologically skewed and one-sided view of a complex conflict.
By promising to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem and holding a favorable view of Jewish settlement activities in the West Bank, the Trump administration will formally negate what previous US governments had committed to for decades, beginning with the Oslo and Washington accords all the way to Kerry’s recent speech and the US abstention at the UN Security Council in December.
It is shameful that the British government, trying to recover from the Brexit shock, is also veering from decades-old positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict in an attempt to court the new tenant in the White House. It is another example of how the just cause of the Palestinians is being sacrificed as a card in a largely cynical political game.
No one really knows how the world will react to Trump’s unilateral actions, which will pour directly into the coffers of Israeli extremists inside and outside Netanyahu’s far-right Cabinet. Few realize, or choose to ignore, that Israeli society is sharply divided over the future of the two-state solution, and on the proposal by some key Cabinet members, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of annexing substantial chunks of the West Bank.
News that about 200 former top officials from Israel’s security services have recently warned that Bennett’s calls would put the country on a course to lose its Jewish and democratic character do not make it to US lawmakers or the White House. By the same token, even American Jews are uncertain on such issues, with some movements such as J Street — which supports the two-state solution — being lambasted by hard-line Israelis as anti-Zionist.
The problem with the pro-Netanyahu approach by Trump and Congress is that it does not provide a workable alternative to the nearly defunct two-state solution. With the Arab world so divided and in turmoil, and with EU members going through an existential crisis, the Palestinian voice is slowly being muffled. Making things worse is the fact that Palestinian factions are disunited and suffering from a gross lack of leadership.
Thus it is surreal, even absurd, that amid this major challenge to the Palestinian national cause, and as major powers lean toward abandoning the Palestinians once again, a Hamas senior official would come out to suggest forging a federation between Gaza and the West Bank.
Bennett has used such statements to argue that a Palestinian state already exists in Gaza. This is a classic case of how some Palestinian leaders fail to understand reality, proving once more that they are their people’s worst enemy.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.