The recent events in Israel and the West Bank that are still unfolding in some cities of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque pose important questions pertaining to the Israeli position: what does Israel set its sights on? What does it wait for and anticipate? What are the reasons for the recent acts of violence? Will these violent acts be the last or will they escalate?
To be impartial, I pose the same questions to the Palestinians: What do the Palestinians want? What are their demands? What is their vision for the future?
Moving away from focusing on the causes and motives of the recent escalation –whether in Israel or in the Palestinian territories– I am addressing the issue more profoundly to identify the root causes of the crisis and how it could be tackled to avoid the recurrence of violence and ultimately bring about peace to the region.
Starting with the Palestinian position, I can definitely tell, without any prejudice, that the demands of the Palestinians are clear, well-defined, and legitimate, with no exaggerations. The Palestinians’ utmost ambition is to have an independent, sovereign, and contiguous state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a state that lives side by side with the state of Israel in security, peace, and stability, and this goal shall be achieved through negotiations.
In theory, the envisaged Palestinian state is projected to extend over 22 percent of the historical area of Palestine. However, showing flexibility, the Palestinians don’t, in principle, oppose that Israel annex some Palestinian territories on which Israeli settlements are built, provided that the Palestinians, in return, annex some Israeli territories within the framework of the so-called “land swaps”, provided that such swaps are at the same value, percentage, and don’t exceed 2 percent at most.
It is fair to point out that the Palestinians have shown significant flexibility over long years of negotiations, starting from the Oslo Accords that were explicitly accepted by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the 2007 Olmert-Abu Mazen understandings, to the comprehensive peace vision that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forward during his speech before the Security Council in February 2018 that included realistic solutions to all issues, including Jerusalem, the refugees, security, and borders. So far, the Palestinians still adhere to this orientation towards peace and renouncing violence and terrorism.
Turning to the Israeli position, we find that all the policies and positions of the Israeli leadership suggest that the question of peace has been pulled off the agenda of successive Israeli governments, including that of Bennett. What’s more, there is no indications of a positive change in the Israeli position, particularly with the growing influence of the right-wing and extremist trends and the helplessness of the left-wing in the current government, at a time the opposition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting for the opportunity to take over power again, which would keep things spinning in the same vicious circle.
Strangely, Israel has not yet articulated its vision of peace. Additionally, Tel Aviv rejected the moderate peace initiative put forward by the Arab countries at the 2002 Beirut Summit, which endorses normalization and comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories.
All that we can draw from the positions and statements of the Israeli leadership does not go beyond opposing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and rejecting the two-state solution in conformity with the international concept that has been recognized by many decisions and initiatives. Israel even rejects the one-state option, which I myself go against completely for being unrealistic, as it will end causing the Palestinians to become second-class citizens.
Undoubtedly, one of the negative aspects of Israel’s position is that it has not yet capitalized on the moderate Palestinian leadership headed by President Abu Mazen, a peace-oriented man who renounces violence. This raises a parallel question: What does Israel see coming in the post-Abu Mazen era? Is Israel delaying its steps in anticipation of the post-Abu Mazen era? I believe the Israeli leadership would be too delusional if it believes any official Palestinian leader, president, or official would give up any of the well-established Palestinian constants. No single person can make these constants their own; they shall remain the property of the Palestinian people locally and in the diaspora and no one will dare to cause them to wither away under any circumstances.
In my opinion, time has come for Israel to review its policies in the Palestinian territories, ranging from arrests, land confiscations, killings, house demolitions, to frequent incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has a special religious importance, not only for the Palestinians or the Arabs, but also for the entire Islamic world. Israel must draw on the lessons learned from all the previous developments, i.e. the two uprisings in 1987 and 2000 and the four wars on the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, the consequences of these events, and their impacts not only in terms of the human and material losses but also in terms of deepening hatred, vengeance, and revenge between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples –negative traits that are deepened by time and will end only through the establishment of just peace.
The Israeli leadership should realize that complete stability and comprehensive security that it hopes for will never be possible without voluntarily agreeing to grant the Palestinians their legitimate right to establish their independent state. Israel should also recognize that all the peace treaties it has concluded with Arab countries will not grant it true security, notwithstanding the economic, political, and other advantages these treaties may provide.
Further, Israel should be aware that its iron fist policy in the West Bank hadn’t and won’t prevent the recurrent operations by the Palestinian youth who don’t see any hope in the future, have nothing to lose, and see these operations as the only way to express their position. As a principle, violence isn’t desirable from any side and is condemned against the innocent but the Israeli leadership should, for only one time, take a firm stand with itself and think seriously and substantively about the real reasons for these operations. I believe that such a substantive view that I call for will take Israel to only one conclusion: the political stalemate is the only reason why such operations could develop at a later stage, giving rise to ominous consequences.
What is needed from the Israeli leadership –today rather than tomorrow– is to abandon all the extremist policies it has pursued towards the Palestinians, particularly with regard to settlements, annexation of territories, and storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to think seriously about initiating a political process and resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, bringing all permanent status issues to the negotiating table. If this is to happen, the stalemate will be broken and the Palestinians will start to sense hope for the future and be more keen to create an environment conducive to the success of negotiations as long as these negotiations will pave the way for the establishment of their independent Palestinian state, a state will not pose a threat to anyone but will be a cornerstone of stability and security in the region. Notably, Palestinians have repeatedly expressed their willingness to grant Israel the reasonable security guarantees it requests, provided that this does not affect the sovereignty and contiguity of the Palestinian state.
Resuming serious negotiations that are based on acceptable grounds and terms of reference will help achieve the security and interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinians, bringing about satisfactory results for both parties, no matter how difficult the negotiations may be. This solution could be possible if the Israeli leadership came to the realization that preserving Israel’s national security requires the establishment of a Palestinian state, not the contrary.
Without this political solution, the Palestinians will have no choice but to use all the available means, whether licit and illicit, to express their positions and attract the attention of the international community, letting it know there is still an occupied population whose hope is to have an independent state, just like any other country in the world.
In short, if the third Palestinian uprising is to set off, heavy losses will affect everyone, particularly Israel. This requires Israel to expeditiously show the required flexibility towards the Palestinians whose hands are still extended for peace. For Israel, there is no chance for peace or lasting normalization with Arab countries –whatever multiple normalization agreements are signed– without going through a single gateway, i.e. an independent Palestinian state.