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Sixty years after the Palestinian Nakba and the establishment of the state of Israel, the faltering negotiations that are taking place these days between the Palestinian Authority (PA) - under the banner of the PLO - and the Israeli government could end in a settlement that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. It is possible that the two parties are secretly holding intensive parallel negotiations, ignoring the reactions of right-wing politicians in Israel or the disaffection on the Arab street.
American and Israeli decision-makers believe that engaging in these intensive discussions would suggest sufficient success for the achievement of peace in the region, after an agreement is reached regarding the conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state - a state whose borders will neither reach the 1967 lines nor include East Jerusalem as its capital, and that renounces the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. Israel and the American administration have worked hard to turn the demand for a Palestinian state into a package that diminishes all the Palestinian national rights and liquidates them.

Why Arafat Rejected Camp David

It is worth pondering the import of Yasser Arafat's rejection of a similar offer at Camp David. His rejection did not necessarily spring from his cleaving to the constants - although this is not to be discounted - but to his having grasped the fact that a solution of this type lacked legitimacy from an Arab and Palestinian standpoint. Arafat had tied his personal and political destiny to the negotiations, after the experience of the First Gulf War; after the confinement of the PLO in Tunis in the wake of its expulsion from Beirut; after the unraveling of the Soviet Union; and after the dead end reached by the intifada. He did not accept the offer even after he was held hostage under Israeli siege in al-Muqata'a. And he paid the price for his rejection. The official Arab mourning of his passing, including by a large part of the leadership in his entourage, was no doubt tinged with a sigh of relief. They were rid of the "obstacle" to a process whose wheels Arafat himself had set in motion and that resumed their turning after his death.
Perhaps a settlement will not be reached. However, one must not discard the possibility of the parties arriving at some form of guiding principle regarding a permanent settlement, in a spirit that had been rejected by Arafat, but which could serve as an election platform for Ehud Olmert and a subject for a referendum for President Mahmoud Abbas. If a settlement is not reached, the impact on the Arab and Palestinian arenas will be all too clear: the strengthening of the rejectionist axis that rests on the continuation of resistance, in spite of the fact that some will carry on with the peace process for years to come.
If a solution of the kind that is being negotiated is concluded, this does not mean that the conflict has come to its inevitable end. This settlement is not the two-state solution that enjoys a modicum of legitimacy, although it does meet with the satisfaction of some Arab leaders. The latter acquiesce to whatever the Palestinian leadership accepts because they want to be rid of the burden of the Palestinian question. What will emanate from these negotiations and will be passed off as the two-state solution does not enjoy Arab legitimacy on the popular or public opinion level; it is not considered as a settlement for the outstanding account with the Palestinian people and as reparation for the injustice that has befallen them.

A Settlement Lacking Legitimacy

This might seem a truism. The fact remains that such a settlement leaves many substantive issues outside the parameters of a solution, such as the question of refugees. It is at the heart of the problem, carries great qualitative and psychological weight and deals with the real suffering of millions of people. What this settlement offers the refugees is a change in name from "refugees" to "dependents" of overseas embassies or to "expatriates." Moreover, Israel will not stay put in Jerusalem once an agreement has been crafted, but will daily exacerbate the wounds by the continued Judaization of East Jerusalem, its lands and holy sites. Israel's Jewishness will deepen and so will its radicalism and arrogance vis-à-vis its Arab citizens. The latter will find themselves faced with the choice of total loyalty to Israel to the extent of serving in the army or doing national service, or that of disenfranchisement and inequality of rights. As for those who insist on maintaining their national identity inside Israel, they have seen ample expression of Israel's position regarding the matter.
In addition, the discrepancy will remain between the development and modernization of the nascent Palestinian state and its army and Israel as a state alien to its neighborhood, for Israel will be constantly concerned by and apprehensive of any development occurring within that Arab state. Israel's paradoxical democracy will persist in relation to the Arabs because it dreads the majority and its shifting public opinion.
If there is any question about legitimacy, it is the Palestinian people that can impart legitimacy to the settlement regionally. But the resolution that is offered is being concluded through an alliance with one Palestinian party against others - one of which won the local elections. Also, because it has discarded the refugee question, a solution along those lines does not enjoy legitimacy among the Diaspora.
Not only does this settlement lack legitimacy on the Palestinian level, it also constitutes a source of internal strife. Even its promotion before it has actually been concluded is taking place through the shelling of a part of the Palestinian people, starving them and debilitating them to a point where they won't have any stamina left to refuse. These are not indicators of legitimacy.

Arab Responsibility

Regionally, this type of settlement is being promoted through the American hegemony and the conflicting regional axes, one of which is bound to turn the absence of justice in this settlement into a battle-cry slogan. The settlement is being promoted without affecting the disillusionment of the Arab street with the peace process, its lack of faith in Israel's desire for a just peace, or its rejection of the privileges Israel enjoys among the international community.
The Arabs bear a large part of the responsibility for the predicament that is culminating in such a settlement, as well as for the American alliance with Israel and for international double standards. There is no doubt that the impunity with which Israel deals with the Palestinians to "dissuade" them from resorting to the resistance option and to persuade them to accept Israel's conditions is fostering resentment and fueling the sense of injustice. It is true that the Arab street is powerless against the system, yet it does not look with complacency upon the ongoing collusion of some Arab parties with Israel against the results of the Palestinian elections; it does not view positively the continuation of negotiations with Israel while it is besieging and killing the civilians in the heart of the Arab world. The Arab street also dismisses the claim that the settlements are an obstacle to negotiations as mere lip service in order to proceed with the negotiations in spite of the settlements, and as disregard for Arab public opinion on the part of Arab states that have it in their power to do much more.

Opting for an Impregnable Fortress

Thus, after the rejection by Israel of what is viewed widely in Arab and Palestinian circles as legitimate solutions, whether a solution is concluded or not becomes an academic question. For a settlement that takes place outside the framework of what constitutes a just solution can only mean that Israel has opted for the paradigm of perpetual conflict, which persists in spite of settlements and alliances. It is a choice the Arab region has known in the past - the example of the Crusader states. Israel has rejected the one-state option and the two-state option. And whether or not it succeeds in imposing the kind of settlement that is being negotiated secretly and overtly, it has chosen to live in permanent strife for the foreseeable future, without acquiring legitimacy from its neighbors.
The intention here is neither to draw parallels between this contemporary conflict and the Crusader invasions nor to search for areas of similarity between them; naturally, the historical context is entirely different. However, reference can be made to the alliances that proliferated between the Crusader states and their neighboring states, including with certain emirs against others in Egypt and Bilad as-Sham (Greater Syria). It won't be difficult to find similar examples in modern times.
We can even recall the burning of the Holy Sepulcher during the days of al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah that provided the impetus for later Crusader invasions. And if we mention the role played by the northern emirates in facilitating the passage of Crusader armies from Antioch and even Jerusalem, and the exploitation of religion for the purpose of mobilization and militarization… even if we did all that and found comparable examples in our age, we will always find those who will rightly retort that the international order now bears no resemblance to those Arab emirates and Crusader states. The solidness and stability of the modern Arab states and the Jewish state differ radically. The role of religion has changed, and Israel's relationship with the West is stronger and tighter than that of the Crusader states with their mother countries. Moreover, there is a big technological and scientific gap between the Arabs and Israel today, a gap that did not exist between the four Crusader states and their Arab, Turkish and Persian neighbors. By the same token, the Arabs were not like today's Arabs with their greatly enhanced national awareness, their shared preoccupations and their apprehension of colonialism. Therefore, one is not so naïve as to attempt to draw comparisons.
What is of interest in this paradigm is that a state foreign to the region was established through military and colonialist invasions. It settled without attempting to integrate with the inhabitants but through the erection of impregnable fortresses and the reliance on militarism, and through betting on the existence of rivalries and strife among political entities that are built on influence or vested interests.

A Protracted Conflict

This means that in the absence of a legitimate solution, Israel has chosen to remain an impregnable fortress behind an iron wall. It survives on the strength of deterrence, on the one hand, and on Arab-Arab discord on the other - which naturally comprises Arab-Israeli settlements. The road to permanent strife chosen by the Crusader states was also paved with settlements.
This is a permanent situation, and it is correct to say that, to date, it is a choice deeply rooted in Israeli public opinion and based on elements of strength predicated on a distorted and unwholesome relationship with the United States unparalleled among other states.
There does not appear on the horizon any possibility that Israel will accept either of the solutions: the one-state or the two-state. The Arab and Palestinian peoples have to expect a situation where attaining any rights could prove impossible. Nonetheless, these rights must not be relinquished and unfair solutions must be rejected. But alongside closing the door to unjust settlements, a solid democratic program should be put forward leading to a solution for the Arabs and the Jews within the framework of a comprehensive vision for the entire Arab region.
This entails the development and preservation of the means of livelihood by the Palestinians, resisting, at the same time, the consolidation of Israeli facts on the ground. This will achieve partial but significant gains that will prevent turning a colonial situation into a state of normalcy. But the buildup, in the long run, will be through the regional Arab (including Palestinian) challenge to Israel; the modernization of the Arab states, societies and economies; and the fulfillment of the elements of sumud (steadfastness), including growth, democracy and the power of deterrence.
This is a protracted conflict that has to be conducted correctly. Time is not on the side of Israel, but on the side of the one who knows how to exploit it properly. This is one of the most important morals of the past 60 years.

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