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Abbas should embrace bi-national state if Israel goes ahead with annexation

Feb 04,2020 - Last updated at Feb 04,2020

Less than a week after President Donald Trump, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, released his now infamous vision/plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians at a White House ceremony, the US administration got its answer. It is a resounding “no” from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Arab League and Muslim nations. The show of unity, especially by Arab states, is of fundamental importance for the Palestinians. President Mahmoud Abbas was reassured of the support of key regional players, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

but what happens now? The Trump administration has asked Israel for a four-month pause before taking any unilateral action under the proposed plan. The fact remains that annexation of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley, just like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is a clear violation of international law, Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions. Such moves, if taken, will not advance the cause of peace nor will they bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer to a just and lasting settlement.

That is why the plan was rebuffed by Russia, France and the UN, among others. President Abbas will head for New York next week to plead his case before the Security Council. The US will foil his efforts to pass a resolution rejecting the plan. But applying diplomatic pressure is one way of resisting the one-sided plan that gives everything to Israel and nothing to the Palestinians short of a cluttered entity enjoying limited self-rule.

But there is more that the Palestinians can and must do. Chief among them is the restoration of unity and ending the conflict between Hamas and Fateh. This is a true test for the Palestinian leadership if it is to foil attempts to change the parameters of the conflict with Israel. Unfortunately, the signs are not encouraging as the two sides continue to distrust each other and cling to power.

Abbas will also need to restore his own credibility. At the Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday he declared that he had sent letters to Israel and the United States informing them of the suspension of contacts, including security coordination. He went further to say that the PA has cancelled its commitment to the Oslo Accords. But such threats were made in the past only to be discredited by Israel itself. Abbas has the legal backing of Palestine Liberation Organisation institutions to carry out such threats. But he hesitates from taking the ultimate and decisive move of disbanding the PA and declaring the West Bank as an occupied territory.

While the Palestinians should continue to back the two-state solution as reiterated by the Arab League on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002, they should also prepare themselves for the fact that Israel might still go ahead and annex its settlements and the Jordan Valley. Such steps, aimed at legitimising occupation under Trump’s plan, would almost certainly close the chapter on the viability of the two-state solution.

This is why the Palestinians should be ready to change course and adopt a new approach: demand full legal and civil rights in a bi-national state in historical Palestine. In fact, the Trump plan has polarised the Israelis in more than way. There is a growing fear that the Trump vision will lead to one of two realities: Making Israel a de facto apartheid state ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians, or even worse for Israel’s far-right, forcing an end to the Jewish state and making the only possible alternative a bi-national state.

So far, Trump’s plan has failed to help a beleaguered Netanyahu improve his chances at the polls. Fear of forced transfer of Israeli Arabs will almost certainly result in an unprecedented Arab voter turnout in the upcoming March elections. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, who, while welcoming Trump’s vision, said that he will deal with it once he forms a government and only after discussing it with the Palestinians and Jordan. A poll of polls published by Haaretz this week shows that Gantz’ Blue and White coalition leading by at least two seats.

Abbas must seize the moment and appeal to the Israelis directly ahead of the crucial March vote. He should stress the point that once annexation takes place, the PA will disband itself and declare the West Bank as territory under Israeli occupation. The death of the two-state solution will affect Israel as much as the Palestinians. Annexation will be a game changer and a path towards unwanted outcome that is anathema for Israel’s right-wing. It will polarise Israel for years and turn the country into a supreme ruler over millions of Palestinians under occupation living in Bantustans. Trump’s plan is a disaster for Israel as well as the Palestinians.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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