RAMALLAH, West Bank — Twenty-four years into the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians are still betting that the United States will sponsor the peace process between Israel and Palestine. This was evidenced by President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 20.
“We will grant every chance for the efforts being undertaken by President Donald Trump and the Quartet and international community as a whole to achieve an historic agreement that brings the two-state solution to reality," Abbas said in his UN address.
Ahead of his speech, Abbas met with Trump in New York on Sept. 20 to discuss the possibility of resuming the negotiations. Abbas expressed his reliance on the United States, saying that his meeting with the US president showed that “Trump is serious about finding the deal of the century in the Middle East, be it this year or in the days to come.”
He added, “We are confident that President Trump is determined to achieve peace in the Middle East, and this gives us reassurances that we will reach a real peace.”
After taking office on Jan. 20, Trump formed a team to discuss the peace process. While the team met with Abbas and Palestinian officials about 20 times in the West Bank and Jordan, and Trump met with Abbas three times, the US administration did not issue any stance on the two-state solution or the Israeli settlements.
Trump had held his first meeting with Abbas in Washington on May 3. Back then, the US president said, “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.” The second meeting was held in Bethlehem during Trump's visit to Israel and the West Bank on May 23, during which Trump said he would “do everything” to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East. The third meeting was held in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 20.
Despite the failure of the Oslo Accord and the US sponsorship thereof, and despite Washington’s continuing bias to Israel for 24 years, the Palestinian reliance on the US role has not seemingly subsided.
Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, told Al-Monitor, “Due to its bias to Israel, the US sponsorship has dealt a blow to all chances of making any step in the direction of a political settlement. President Trump did not mention in his Sept. 19 speech to the UN a single word about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, let alone the rights of Palestinians. This led Benjamin Netanyahu to say that in over 30 years in his experience with the UN, he never heard a 'bolder or more courageous speech'."
He added, “The US role in the peace process must come to an end so that the UN could deal with it and serve as a sponsor for the settlement process through an international conference held in compliance with international resolutions, with the aim of setting a timetable for the establishment of the Palestinian state."
Khaled explained that “the successive US administrations have played for time in a bid to manage the Palestinian crisis instead of resolving it. The evidence is that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in one of her hacked emails that launching an illusory ‘Potemkin’ process is better than nothing.”
Mohammed al-Hourani, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “The current US administration is adopting a vague position on the two-state solution and the peace process, and we are waiting for it to issue its position so that we subsequently decide on our stance thereon.”
He said, “The failure of the US peace process sponsorship lies in [the US] failure to place sufficient pressure on Israel to commit itself to the peace process in accordance with international resolutions.”
Hourani added, “The Palestinian leadership wants to give the US administration a chance to resume the peace process, although it knows full well that the doors have been closed to political solutions because of Netanyahu's policies."
At a time when the Palestinians were hoping to establish their state on the 1967 borders, they found themselves 24 years into the Oslo Accord before a state of settlers that is constantly building settlements on their lands.
The number of settlers in the occupied West Bank has increased sevenfold since the signing of the Oslo Accord, from 111,000 to 750,000.
The year 2017 can be dubbed as the year of settlements. In June, Israel announced that it had drawn up plans to build the largest number of settlements since 1992. Plans were made to build 8,345 housing units, including 3,066 houses to be immediately built. Meanwhile, Netanyahu said following Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in May that he would build the first full-fledged new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in 25 years. Work on this settlement started on Sept. 11.
On Aug. 29, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved a decision granting 1,000 settlers within the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank the right to form a municipal council that is independent from the Palestinian Hebron municipality.
Although the Palestinian leadership is waiting for Trump’s plans for the peace process, pessimism seems to be the name of the game.
Hani al-Masri, the director general of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies - Masarat, told Al-Monitor, “Trump will only advance the Israeli perception of the solution, which is not to establish a Palestinian state but a self-rule in the West Bank along with some economic temptations.” He noted that the Palestinian leadership does not have the will to abandon the US peace process sponsorship.
“Whenever a political process fails, we wait for another one to start,” he said.
Ghassan al-Khatib, a former member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and a former participant in the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiations that were subsequently held in Washington from 1991 to 1993, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still hoping that the United States would sponsor the peace process despite the fact that it is no longer relying much on the US role.
He added that the Palestinian leadership is keeping pace with the Trump administration not out of its conviction in the US role, but to avoid seeming intransigent or hindering peace efforts.
Khatib added, “The Trump administration is different from previous administrations. It is more understanding of the Israeli vision of the peace process. This vision consists of establishing a Palestinian self-rule instead of a state, all the while supporting the regional peace plan, which consists of normalizing Arab-Israeli relations. This would be achieved by establishing Arab-Israeli peace that eventually results in Palestinian-Israeli peace, a plan rejected by Palestinians.”
The PA’s continued reliance on the US peace process sponsorship will not achieve the desired Palestinian results, and this has been evidenced by the passing of 24 years since the signing of the Oslo Accord. In other words, the PA has to search for other options and alternatives. It has to chart a new vision and a new national, comprehensive and struggle-based strategy capable of establishing a Palestinian state.