Saeb Erekat is secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The strong international statements on the issue of Israel’s settlements, particularly from the U.S. State Department, are an indication of the lack of international recognition of Israel’s settlement enterprise in occupied Palestine. However, for the Palestinians, who have continuously suffered from Israeli settlements and its associated regime for more than half a century, those statements are nothing else than a repetition of recycled positions, lacking any genuine action on the ground.
The last statement by the State Department, openly questioning Israel’s willingness to achieve a two-state solution, is not only a reminder of Israel’s active sabotage of U.S. policies for peace in the region but also raises questions about whether the United States is willing to take any action after the November election in America.
Next June will mark 50 years since the Israeli military occupation began in 1967. I was 12 years old when the occupation came to Jericho, my hometown. The longest ongoing military occupation in modern history is one of two experiences that generations of Palestinians share.
The other shared experience of Palestinians is exile, with millions of Palestinians not allowed to return to live in their homeland because they are not Jewish. This is not only the case of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria and the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, but also of thousands of Palestinian Americans. Though honoring the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including self-determination, has been a stated goal of the international community, Israel has been able to continue violating international law and U.N. resolutions with full impunity. The United States has played a pivotal role in allowing the continuation of Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian rights.
The point is clear: Almost a century after the Balfour Declaration, the symbolic beginning of the denial of our rights, we are not asking for statements or for the usual warnings about the end of the two-state solution. We are reminding the world of its responsibility. The Palestinian people were violently dispossessed from their homes and exiled from their homeland in 1948, endured the occupation in 1967, only to be forced into the historic compromise recognizing the 1967 border as the borders of the state of Palestine. We recognized Israel over 78 percent of historic Palestine in what has been the most significant concession made by any party in the context of Middle East peace. To embrace the two-state solution on the 1967 border was the Palestinian adoption of an international position.
This was part of a discrete U.S.-Palestinian dialogue that began in the 1970s, including renowned Palestinian American intellectuals such as Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu Lughod. The two-state solution and a full rejection of Israeli settlements were presented to be the official U.S. policy. It was ratified with American abstention in several U.N. Security Council resolutions that referred to the illegality of Israeli settlements and the “null and void” status of Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem. However, after the Palestinian endorsement of that internationally endorsed vision, successive U.S. administrations, as well as the European Union, viewed the policy of impunity for Israeli crimes as an encouragement for Israel to remain engaged in the “process,” while concurrently rewarding Israel to continue to build settlements. Rather than a “peace process,” we ended up having an eternal process with no major results other than the destruction of hope in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians.
A two-state solution is impossible with the presence of Israeli settlements. A sovereign state must have control over its territory and natural resources, something impossible with more than 200 illegal foreign settlements. Today, there are more than 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied state of Palestine. This includes East Jerusalem, our capital and an integral part of the state of Palestine. Our demand for full sovereignty in our territory is not directed against the Jewish people, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has cynically portrayed, but against the illegality of a foreign colonial enterprise. Neyanyahu, the prime minister of a country responsible for the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian Christian and Muslim villages and the ongoing process of forcible displacement in occupied territory, has accused us of “ethnic cleansing” for advocating to respect U.N. resolutions and international law that call upon Israel to withdraw to the 1967 border.
If Israel is willing to announce a new settlement just a few days after receiving the historic package of $38 billion in military aid from U.S taxpayers, it is only because Netanyahu knows that there will be no consequences to such actions. A “strong condemnation” is not something that the right-wing Israeli government fears. What is needed are actions, including those conducted by civil society, to totally cut ties between Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine and the rest of the world, including recognition of the state of Palestine on the 1967 border as well as to allow the U.N Security Council to fulfill its mandate for Palestine.
The statements delivered by several U.S. officials about Israeli settlements are not something new. However, President Obama has the opportunity not to be remembered as the U.S. president who allowed the two-state solution to disappear. Rather than a new set of parameters, what’s needed is decisive action for the implementation of the internationally endorsed vision: free Palestine from the occupation that began in 1967, hold Israel accountable to its commitments under international law and implement the Arab Peace Initiative as a regional framework for peace. “Strong statements” are not going to move us toward that direction.