No peace in Palestine in 2014

As violence escalates, the hope for peace between Palestinians and Israelis in 2014 has disappeared.

The Israeli army has arrested hundreds of Palestinians since the disappearance of three Israeli settlers [EPA]

Even though the United Nations has declared 2014 as the year of solidarity with the Palestinian people, there are indications that this year will not bring the peace that Palestinians and Israelis have long sought. While the Arab region is dipping into sectarianism, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is also spiralling out of control with no end in sight to the cycle of violence, revenge, killings, kidnappings, bombings, rocket attacks and so on.

The peace process was already on shaky ground when it began in September 2013 without consensus on two crucial issues: the general basis of the talks; and the need to suspend settlement activities in the occupied territories. A rowdy settler population and the absence of clear borders for Israel and Palestine has proved to be a formula for disaster.

Palestinians had demanded that the talks be based on a nearly universal reference, aimed at fulfilling the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. After all, the entire world, including Israel’s prime minister, had accepted the two-state solution as the basis for peace.

US president Barack Obama had supported in 2011 an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders (with small land swaps). The second most crucial and logical issue was that Israel should refrain from building any exclusive Jewish settlements in the areas that are meant to be part of the Palestinian state.

US sponsors of the negotiations agreed to bypass these essentials, due to the claim by Israel’s prime minister that they would cause the fall of his own government. Nine months later, the Americans themselves admit that this may have been a mistake, and that the settlement issue became an easy deal-breaker for settlers outside and inside the government every time the talks were about to produce change.

Escalating aggression

The settler issue is now making headlines again after three Israeli settlers were apparently kidnapped in areas under Israeli control and their bodies were later discovered. The Israeli public was frenzied, with incitements to violence and revenge, starting from the prime minister down, to ministers and even media pundits and columnists.

Netanyahu and his right-wing settler-supporting government used the disappearance of the three settlers to launch a blistering attack against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, demanding that he abrogate the unity government based on flimsy evidence that Hamas was behind it.

Al Jazeera World – Area C

With the discovery of the bodies, some Israeli analysts are admitting that the operation was never sanctioned by the Hamas leadership and that a rogue element possibly carried it out.

A gag order on news that the Israelis suspected earlier that the settlers were killed, ensured that the campaign against Hamas was prolonged.

The attack on Hamas was clearly politically motivated and was implemented irrespective of whether Hamas was genuinely behind the alleged kidnapping or not. Thus, as soon as the media announced the discovery of the bodies, the Israeli military hit Gaza with a series of air raids.

The situation has been further exacerbated by the arrest of over 400 Palestinians, among them, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and other elected MPs. The Israeli authorities went as far as demolishing the homes of Hebron residents, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, who were said to be suspected of killing the three settlers. The actions and rhetoric of the Israeli authorities has fuelled aggression within the Israeli public. Within a day of the air strikes, the body of a Palestinian teenager was found in a forest near Jerusalem; the case was a suspected revenge killing.

No peace

This escalation of violence comes at a time when peace in Palestine seems to be nothing more than a mirage. The peace talks are now suspended based on a decision of the Israeli government. The Palestinian unity government has been unable to change this situation.

The Israelis who have often ridiculed Abbas for not being able to speak for all Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, all of a sudden revolted against the capitulation of Hamas, and their agreement to join the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in a reconciliation pact based on Abbas’ demands . The new unity Palestinian government, as Abbas said, will adhere to the international conditions that Hamas had rejected in 2007, including the recognition of Israel, renouncing terror and a commitment to previously signed agreements.

The absence of ongoing negotiations has resulted in a sense of desperation that triggered an increase in violence and protests. Even before the case of the missing Israeli settlers came to the fore, tension was on the rise. A hunger strike was launched on April 24 by Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, which prompted a response in the streets. Protests increased, as did the aggressive response of the Israelis, which led to the killing of two teenage Palestinians in May.

Politically, 2014 doesn’t look like the year that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had hoped for:  to usher peace and an end to decades of exile, occupation, and colonialisation. 

Israel was experiencing the longest period of quiet until recently, but without a political solution that includes an end to occupation, there is no telling when the current violent cycle will end.

Daoud Kuttab an award-winning Palestinian journalist,  is a former Ferris professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab