A road to peace: Opportunities and challenges - Written by: Ahmed Qrei'a

The realization of the just and lasting peace in the Middle East is still possible. This is the primary conclusion that could be deduced from our long quest for peace, despite the scarce achievements and unlimited failures that marked the 18 years of faltering negotiations.
Achieving the desired peace, however, will only be possible when certain objective requirements are present and met. In fact, these requirements are already present and well-established in the principles of international
legitimacy and law, as articulated clearly in the UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions.
Despite the bleak climate and overwhelming pessimism that prevail in the Middle East, the peoples of the region continue to hold fast to the choice of peace and coexistence. Our peoples, who have for long suffered the scourge of wars and conflicts, realize that peace is the only choice capable of ending the ongoing bloodshed, and fulfill their legitimate need for genuine security, stability and prosperity.
However, the possibility of achieving peace continues to be challenged by hostile policies and realities on the ground. This possibility is further undermined by many subjective factors on both sides that curb the possibility
of moving forward on the road to peace that is gradually turning into a gloomy tunnel with a very dim light at its end.
Perhaps, the first and foremost challenge that confronts the peace process today, is the radical right-wing mentality that controls the Israeli decision-making, which is reflected clearly in the outright denial of the basic
human rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination.
This mentality is also reflected in the incessant practices that undermine the possibility of reaching the just and lasting peace, particularly the ongoing settlement activities and attempts to alter the demographic and geographicrealities on the ground.
These positions, expressed in Israel's policies and practices, are grounded in a colonialist expansionist mentality that not only denies the right of the Palestinian people to their land, but also denies them the basic rights that all the peoples of the world enjoy, including the right to freedom, independence, and to live in dignity.
It takes but a glance at the unprecedented Israeli violations in Jerusalem, to realize that Israel has no serious intentions toward peace. The incessant settlement activities, displacement, dispossession, and land confiscations, which seek the annexation of Jerusalem, clearly indicate the absence of any serious intentions to turn the page of this historic conflict. But to the contrary, it indicates a deep desire to prolong it.
It is true that the internal Palestinian situation is not ideal. We neither deny the problems and difficulties that confront our internal front, nor do we shirk our responsibility for this situation. But we are equally confident that
this situation is instigated by Israel's deliberate failure to fulfill its obligations under international law and its
incessant settlement policies that undermine all prospects for real peace.
These internal challenges are also the result of Israel's encouragement, and indeed its complicity, in the internal Palestinian division, which seeks a comprehensive and permanent separation between the West Bank and Gaza.
A panoramic portrait of the landscape of the peace process is not complete without recalling the role of the international community in this picture. The often intermittent international intervention led by the United States
to revive the peace process was never lacking in its bias and shortsightedness that not only turned a blind eye to the never-ending Israeli manipulations and breaches, but nevertheless, justified them.
While this one-sidedness has been a primary feature of the efforts of the successive U.S administrations, the EU cannot be exonerated from the responsibility for this unjust course.
The Palestinian division and the siege on Gaza are among the greatest challenges that continue to undermine the possibility of achieving the desired peace. While the siege on Gaza is gradually leading to a complete and permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank that will terminate the two-state solution, the internal division is facilitating this outcome.
Therefore, the international community is called upon to act decisively and promptly to lift the siege on Gaza,
and to support and accept any reconciliation agreement achieved based on the Egyptian paper, notwithstanding the interpretations of the conditions of the Quartet.
One cannot speak of opportunities for peace without recalling the Arab Peace Initiative, which provides a historic opportunity for achieving the just and lasting peace that ends the conflict in the Middle East.
The Initiative, which represents the consensus of the Arab and Islamic worlds, ensures the realization of the legitimate rights and aspirations of all the parties, and guarantees genuine coexistence and tolerance among all the peoples of the region.
The only return that the Initiative expects is for Israel to end its illegal occupation of all the Arab territories, and to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital, and accept a just and agreed solution to the issue of refugees based on UN resolution.
But Israel's rejection of this historic opportunity, and the contempt with which the initiative was met, reaffirm the immaturity of Israel's desire and political will to achieve peace and live up to its dues.
Israeli governments’ chronic failure to regard peace as a serious option has been, and remains, the greatest obstacle that undermined all the past negotiating rounds and impeded all the efforts exerted in the last 18 years.
The current Israeli government is no exception. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his radical right wing government, exemplify the continuation of this defiance at its height, as this government practically rejects the two-state solution, and outright denies the Palestinian people of their basic legitimate rights and aspirations.
It is true that all final status issues were put on the negotiating table revived by the Annapolis process. Despite the relative seriousness shown by former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and his government, negotiations were nevertheless extremely difficult and complicated.
We discussed all the issues of the final status, including borders and territories, security, refugees, and water. We have also presented the Palestinian position on Jerusalem.
But nevertheless, we were not able to close any of these issues in the eleven-month process.
If negotiations with Olmert's government were very difficult, then negotiating with Netanyahu's government is surely an impossible task, given its radical nature and extreme right wing composition, which is controlled by eight ministers from the settlement movement.
Negotiations are further undermined and prejudged by this government's radical positions that reject all the terms of reference of the peace process, and its denial of the legitimate Palestinian rights endorsed by international law, in addition to its negation of all previous progress made with its predecessors on some
It takes one but a quick glance at the Israeli violations on the ground to realize that Netanyahu's government is not interested in the peace process, unless this peace allows Israel to annex East Jerusalem and the settlement blocks, revokes the right of return, and deprives the Palestinian people of the
right to self-determination, independence and statehood.
This position is clearly expressed in Netanyahu's speech at Bar Ilan University on 14 June 2009. The
impossible preconditions to peace that he pronounced in that speech, not only render his verbal acceptance of the two-state solution empty, but also reflect the extent of this government's defiance of the international consensus and the efforts of the United States, the EU, and the Quartet.
The continuation of these attitudes and practices, will not only guarantee the failure of the ongoing peace efforts, but also the fading of the two-state solution. There should be no mistake that the siege on Gaza,
the incessant and accelerated settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the apartheid wall, land confiscations, among other violations, are all part of a comprehensive program that aims at imposing a permanent unilateral solution on the ground.
To many, the peace process has become merely a cover used by Israel to buy more time to complete its settlement agendas in the Palestinian territories. As a result, faith in the peace process is understandably at low ebb.
I am afraid that the obstacles and challenges that repeatedly derailed the process in the past are recurring today in a more complex manner. We have all witnessed the grave consequences of failed negotiations, and we
have all seen the confrontations that erupted more than once and put the entire region on the edge as a result. If these challenges are allowed to take hold of the process, then it is bound to meet the fate of its predecessors, and portends the return of the painful scenes of the past.
This approach must be guided by a clear vision that fully realizes the purpose and goal of this process. This approach must also be based on clear terms of reference and a binding timetable. Otherwise, this vicious cycle will exhaust our efforts, and we will continue to trot without direction and without purpose.

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