Israel’s occupation is its Achilles’ heel
With the region witnessing a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit next month, there was a firm stand on one particular issue: The Palestine question. That position was reiterated during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent regional tour, as well as in talks between Jordan’s King Abdullah and the leaders of the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. And while the region is facing multiple challenges — from conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya to the effects of climate change and food security, not to mention the controversial role of Iran and nonstate actors — the Palestinian issue remains central for most countries, as it should be.
Both in Cairo and Amman, Riyadh underlined its commitment to a negotiated peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in line with the two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Saudi position, which has been unrelenting, preempts media speculation about its unwavering support of the Palestinian right to self-determination.
The fact that the West is focusing on Russia’s war in Ukraine and its long-term ramifications on European national security notwithstanding, for the people of this region, failure to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories represents a major threat to the stability of the Middle East and beyond.
Two years after two Arab countries signed treaties with Israel under the Abraham Accords, the Palestinian issue remains an obstacle to full normalization. What the events of last year proved is that, even if the world ignores the Palestinians and their struggle for liberation, Israel itself can never achieve full security and a state of normality as a result of its occupation.
The need for a just resolution to the Palestinian issue is not only in the interest of Arab countries, but also in the interest of Israel itself if it wants to be viewed and treated as a normal country. It is inconceivable that its occupation and aggressive annexation of Palestinian territory can ever be accepted by the rest of the world.
The problem with the Israeli occupation and illegal settlement building is that it is rendering the two-state solution impossible to implement. This is driving both the Palestinians and Israelis toward difficult, if not perilous and self-defeating, alternatives. Either to include more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank into the state of Israel as full citizens or continue with an open-ended, but eventually unsustainable, military rule.
Even if the world ignores the Palestinians and their struggle for liberation, Israel itself can never achieve full security and a state of normality as a result of its occupation.
Israel itself has not provided an answer to this dilemma. So far, it is in violation of every single convention, international law and UN resolution on the conflict. International and Israeli human rights organizations have labeled it an apartheid state. It is facing serious charges of genocide and war crimes at the International Criminal Court. Not a week passes without its soldiers and radical settlers murdering Palestinians in cold blood. How long can this go on before the world takes action?
Far-right Israeli politicians, who are getting stronger with every election cycle, are contemplating extreme, not to mention illegal, measures that include the forced transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank. Others opt for milder solutions, such as annexing major chunks of the Occupied Territories and leaving disjoined Palestinian urban areas, more like Bantustans, to fend for themselves. One proposal suggests handing the responsibility of running these population clusters to Jordan.
While Israel is yet to find an answer to this crucial issue, the impasse is turning its occupation into an embarrassment for international law enforcement. The question that keeps popping up is about double standards and how the West is reacting to Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory, while turning a blind eye to Israel’s five-decades-old occupation of Palestinian lands.
Biden’s visit to Israel and Ramallah in mid-July will not change the reality that faces the Palestinians. While the current US administration says it supports the two-state solution, it has opted not to get involved in reviving peace talks or to put pressure on Israel to stop its illegal settlement building. Making things more difficult, Israel is pushing ahead with plans to defund UNRWA and bury the right of return once and for all.
The Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel continue to support the two-state solution and consider the West Bank to be occupied territory. While such a position is symbolic, it remains important. This is the same position that Biden will hear from Arab leaders during his visit.
While Israel is trying to impose its own regional agenda and deflect attention from the Palestinian issue, the reality is that, the longer its occupation lasts, the more difficult it will be to find a solution. The Palestinians will never give up on their right to self-determination and both Israel and the Palestinians have passed the point of no return on the two-state solution, leaving them with impossible options. The hard truth is that, even if the world continues to ignore the Palestinian issue, in time it is Israel that will be forced to seek a solution. Occupation is a ticking time bomb and is Israel’s Achilles’ heel.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.