By Saeb Erekat
Published: June 19 2011 22:50
There is new cause for hope among Palestinians. National reconciliation, following a recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah, has provided a sense that anything is possible. Before the US Congress, however, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, recently laid out his vision of an Israel-Palestine peace – a peace he claims is prevented by our unity agreement. Having heard from Mr Netanyahu, we believe that our case for reconciliation and statehood should now be heard.
There are important reasons for the US and the international community to support Palestinian reconciliation. First, if supporting democracy in the Middle East is important, as President Barack Obama stated in his remarks before Mr Netanyahu’s speech, it must be recognised that we cannot conduct fair and inclusive elections in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, unless all Palestinian factions are represented. Palestinians want democracy to take root: in this they are no different than their Arab brothers and sisters in Tunisia and Egypt. In recent months, our young people have also made their voices heard: they are clear that they want an end to political division.
Second, if the international community is serious about peace, there must be a Palestinian side able to speak with one voice. As a result of reconciliation, the Palestine Liberation Organisation has been reaffirmed as the Palestinian negotiating partner – which means that meaningful negotiations can take place. Israelis have used our division in the past as an excuse not to negotiate. That excuse no longer exists – so now they have made reconciliation the excuse instead.
Third, reconciliation will facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza, bringing hope to its 1.5m residents. Since Israel’s bombardment in 2008-2009, which destroyed thousands of homes and decimated the civilian infrastructure, little reconstruction has been permitted. This collective punishment of Gaza must end.
Fourth, reconciliation will have an important moderating influence. Hamas has already agreed both to a cessation of violence and a political platform that supports an establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital – an important and welcome development.
Rather than respond positively, however, Mr Netanyahu set out a new litany of “take-it-or-leave-it” conditions: Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state; no refugees will return; a Palestinian state must tolerate Israel’s military presence; Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty; and Palestinians must concede larger settlement-colonies to Israel – meaning a “no” to the 1967 borders.
This message is easily summarised: Israel is not interested in peace; it wants to maintain apartheid. The PLO recognised Israel back in 1993, in an exchange of letters between Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian president, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister. Eighteen years later, it is time for Israel to recognise Palestine.
In our vision for peace, Jerusalem will be a shared and open capital, and a Palestinian state will be framed by the internationally recognised 1967 border with minor modifications in our interest, and not to legitimate illegal settlements. We believe a just and agreed solution to the issue of refugees can be based on UN resolution 194, as stated in the Arab Peace Initiative. With these principles, we are prepared to return to negotiations.
Mr Netanyahu’s gamesmanship aside, we are pleased that Mr Obama recognised that Palestine must be based on the 1967 border. If Israel continues to choose colonisation over a two-state solution, we hope that the US will support our peaceful efforts to realise our national rights at the UN this September. As Mr Obama noted, the transformations taking place in the Middle East provide “a moment of opportunity”. We ask that this not be missed: it is truly an opportunity for Palestinians, Israelis, and world peace.
The writer is chief Palestinian negotiator, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation