While the ceremony took place in front of the White House on September 15, militant Palestinians fired rockets at Israeli cities, to remind them that it is the Palestinians Israel is in conflict with.
“Have we signed a peace agreement with the right people?” Haaretz commentator Anshel Pfeffer asked the day after the Israeli prime minister smiled and posed with foreign ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia’s plan
Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu was saddened to see the ceremony.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia put a peace proposal on the table. In return for Israel withdrawing from occupied territories, the country was to establish diplomatic ties with all the Arab countries.
Israel never responded to the invitation, but with this autumn’s agreement, the 2002 plan may seem dead.
– I thought about how different this could have been. In fact, we could have seen a real peace agreement with all the countries of the Arab world. All that was needed was for Israel to end its military occupation and colonization, Diana Buttu told NRK.
She was an adviser to the PLO’s negotiating team between 2000 and 2005 and to President Mahmoud Abbas. She now teaches negotiation techniques and international law at Harvard University in the USA, and is also a commentator and writer.
– The Palestinian leadership has followed the same recipe for a quarter of a century. They follow the Oslo trail. But remember that the Oslo agreement was not a peace agreement, but the beginning of a long process that has failed. The reason is that we have a one-way occupation of Palestinian land and not the other way around.
Buttu believes that the Palestinian leadership must now focus on holding Israel accountable for violations of international law. But much else must also fall into place. The Palestinians need both democratic elections and a new leadership.
When the Oslo agreement was 25 years old, Diana Buttu wrote that she regretted that she was involved in the negotiations. Negotiating with your occupier is like asking a hostage to negotiate with his hostage-taker, she believes.
– The UN created the problem, not us
Israel, and not least President Donald Trump in election campaign mode, hopes that more Arab countries will enter into agreements with Israel.
– Should Saudi Arabia’s peace plan from 2002 be rediscovered so that the Palestinian cause is also mentioned?
– The core of the problem is not about peace or not in the region, but that a colonization is taking place. Every year, a state that wants to be a “peacemaker” launches a new plan. But the question is and will be how we end the annexation and development of settler colonies, says Mariam Barghouthi, who writes for The Guardian, the New York Times and Al Jazeera.
The Palestinians are struggling with a leadership that is aging and unpopular. Since 2007, the Palestinians have been divided between Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which rules the West Bank. That is, the land between Israeli settlements, checkpoints and settlement roads.
The fact that the Palestinians have no unified leadership and decided to boycott Trump and Kushner’s peace plan harms them, Baharein’s foreign minister believes. He asked the Palestinians to be more constructive.
– What cards do the Palestinians have to play now?
– Well, the world should stop asking Palestinians what we can do. Both the British and the UN supported the creation of an Israeli state. They created the problem and they must take responsibility for solving it, Barghouthi says to NRK.
She believes that the international community must abide by UN resolutions and respect international law.
Journalist Mohammed Shehada from Gaza believes that a tired and disillusioned Palestinian leadership has made a mistake in seeking support from European governments. They should rather lobby in Arab capitals. Diana Buttu completely agrees.
– In any case, the Europeans will not put pressure on Israel. We must spend time with our natural allies in the Arab world, in the Muslim world and in developing countries.
Anyone who visits the West Bank and sees the large number of Israeli settlements that divide the country wonders where the Palestinian state really should be. European leaders are still hopeful about a two-state solution.
– We must get rid of the notion of a two-state solution. It’s like believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. We need to talk about the actual reality on the ground now. We live in apartheid, says Buttu.
A majority of 61 percent of Palestinians no longer believe in a two-state solution, due to the constant expansion of settlements, according to the polling institute Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR). On the other hand, more and more people were talking about a one-state solution. With more than 600,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the train for a Palestinian state has passed, they believe.
Will become a political party
A common state is soon the only alternative, says Buttu, who is active in the “One democratic state movement” which works for a common state for both peoples.
– We are very active. Both Palestinians and Israelis are involved. Our movement will eventually become a political party.
New opinion polls show that more and more people support a one-state solution rather than a two-state solution. The support is growing especially among young people.
But a one-state solution, called the ODS (One Democratic State), in which the Palestinian demands equal rights, citizenship and the right to vote, stands as a nightmare for most Israeli leaders and Israelis. But Palestinians are also skeptical, because they do not want to live with the Israelis.
The world has many recent conflicts to deal with and is tired of the eternal Palestinian problem. Among other things, the Syrian war and IS pushed the Palestinian cause away. Dealing with a divided and rival leadership has diminished interest in the Palestinians.
Norway, which heads the international donor country group for the Palestinians, has been experiencing donor fatigue for several years.
When the agreement between Israel and the two Gulf countries was signed, the Palestinians were present only as the elephant in the room. It has made Fatah and Hamas think anew. Now the two rival factions have agreed to hold elections, for the first time in 14 years.
The Palestinians need to keep their own choices in order to influence their own future, Buttu believes. But she is still a pessimist. She is afraid that there will be no election this time either, partly because Palestinian politicians have no personal interest in elections.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is 84 years old and no one knows who will take over from him. Regardless, all the candidates are in their 70s.
– Is it time for a new generation of politicians?
– Yes, we really need new blood. We need new thoughts and ideas. 75 percent of Palestinians are under the age of 35. If you were born after 1989, you have never had the opportunity to vote in a Palestinian election.
Violence works …
Ignoring the Palestinians will have the consequence and can strike back like a boomerang, Buttu believes.
In 1987 and in 2000, the Palestinians took to the streets and started violent uprisings in frustration over Israel’s occupation, most recently with suicide bombers as weapons. Every bloody intifada ended in peace talks.
– So violence works in a way?
– Yes. But I do not support another violent uprising. But there must be unrest. We can not sit still and watch the occupation. When South Africa administered its apartheid system, the world imposed sanctions, stopped buying goods and gave South Africans travel restrictions. The Israelis must also notice that it has a price to occupy another people, says Diana Buttu.