Do elections offer hope for change? Peace remains absent in Israel and Palestine

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Elections in Israel took place on 9 April 2019. Elections are a key element in any democracy. Citizens have the final say. Do elections bring hope for change? Is there a new beginning or is it just the same as before or worse? The voters opted for the status quo and for the continuation of a right-wing policy. They choose to continue the conflict instead of making peace with their Abrahamic cousins. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to form within a limited given time a new government and it is decided to have new elections in September 2019. Israel is a much-divided society. Palestinian citizens of Israel (22%) failed to bring out the vote.

Minority rights in Israel

A fifth of Israel’s citizens are being delegitimized in the past and that is one reason why so few Arabic citizens went to vote. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel are law-abiding ones who contribute to the building of the state. They work in all parts of the country, pay their taxes, follow the laws, contribute to the economy, teach in the universities and care for all Israelis in the hospitals and clinics. They are part of the Israeli society so why is there that discrimination? We only can support the Arabic citizens to go voting in September.

Religion and nation

Israel continues to move to the right. The majority is silent. Israeli society is becoming more and more religious and conservative and less and less tolerant. The aspiration of being a society based on equality no longer exists in reality.

Since the adoption of the Jewish nation-state basic law of 19 July 2018[1], division and exclusion has more deepened. Israel should be the nation-state of the Israeli people, with full political, civil and individual rights for all its citizens. A non-Jew cannot become a member of a Jewish nation-state without changing their religion. Being Jewish is not only being a member of a nation – it is also being a member of a religion. This is a fundamental problem. Religion and state should be two different identities and be separated in functioning. Belonging to a nation should be inclusive. Freedom of religion and belief is a human right. All citizens should be equal!

Peace is not an issue!

Peace is not only missing in reality, it has disappeared from the political agenda, both on the national and international level. The result of the elections will not bring a new dynamic certainly not in the direction of a constructive peace process with the Palestinians. On both sides of the conflict, there is a firm assertion that there is no partner for peace on the other side.

The acceptance of the non-existence of a partner allows the current and future leaders to escape from dealing concretely with the primary existential issue facing Israel – the question of its borders, and the human makeup of the people living under the control of Israel and their basic political and human rights.

The main drive of Israeli politicians has to do with the prevention of war and terrorist attacks and to keep Israel safe. Security of the Israeli population comes first. The Israel government has the right and the duty to protect its people. Defending your population is a moral duty. However, defence does not mean expanding your territory through the further development of new settlements and the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories. Safety for your/one people is only possible if there is also safety for the other neighbouring people.

The current leadership in Israel and the one in Palestine will not bridge the gaps between them on the fundamental core issues that must be agreed upon. The main question is the acceptance of the two nations as a reality. The acceptance of each other’s existence is the start of a peace process towards a situation that offers sufficient guarantees for both peoples.

There have not been any genuine Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations during the entire previous two terms of the past Israeli governments. It is almost a generation that has seen the reality not changing, just opposite, more settlements, more injustice and inequality and continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Division on all sides

There is a growing gap between the Arabic population and the Jewish majority in Israel. At the same time, racism is on the rise, part because of hate speech and preaching of fear. We see a much more divided society, lacking social solidarity and with a declining vision of a shared society. Arabic citizens of Israel have been delegitimized and categorised as second citizens. The Arab people of Israel should be counted as full citizens.

Jerusalem is also more divided than ever and becoming more conflictual with ongoing government plans to remove Palestinians from their homes.

The continued division between Fatah and Hamas remain a serious impact on the lack of a consistent approach of the Palestinian leadership and its people as a whole in the direction of a peace process and a final two state solution. Elections should be held in Palestine as well and new leadership should be able to start a process of contacts and networking with Israeli politicians in order to unblocking the immovable situation.

If you’re not with us, you’re against us

Each time you criticise the policies of the Israeli government you are categorised as a “leftist” and in some cases blamed for “anti-Semitism” or “Arab lover”. If you talk about peace, you are a leftist! Such a way of responding to not having to take criticism seriously was embraced by other (Western) governments and in May last by the national parliament in Germany, the Bundestag, in stating that support for the BDS campaign[2] is an expression of anti-Semitism.[3] Any citizen has the right to be critical of Israeli policies. There are alternatives!

March of Return

The situation in the Gaza Strip is constantly tense. The weekly nonviolent action “March of Return” continues to be held already more than one year. Many Palestinians believe that nonviolence is the path to follow towards the end of occupation and possible self-determination.

The nonviolent protests launched by Gaza civil society activists, and quickly taken over by Hamas (which resulted in violence also because of retaliation by the Israeli army), are meant to be a constant reminder that Palestinians are not going anywhere, and that the situation in which they live is very unacceptable. Israel and Egypt have enforced a siege and closure on Gaza since 2005. Cycles of violence between Hamas and Israel continue with ups and downs until today.

When Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005, Israel demolished all of the settlements, not leaving anything, not one stone, that could have been used, for example, to resettle Palestinian refugees or to offer housing for Palestinians still living in camps.

Can young Palestinians live in hope?

Some 35.000 young Palestinians left Gaza in 2018.[4] The young Palestinian generation are the most non-political generation of Palestinians since the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. This is probably a result of lost hopes and emigration, failed peace processes and unfulfilled promises. There is indeed little belief that peace is on the horizon.  Young people have no chance to build up their own society (politically) and a lot of anger, hatred and a loss of hope have replaced that.

Deal of the century?

The USA administration will soon present their so-called “deal of the century”. So far, it seems the talk of a new deal seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.

No doubt, that expectation for the deal is very much in favour of Israel. There might be some positive elements in the plan for the Palestinians. At the same time, they cannot accept further Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank along with their continued statement that east Jerusalem is Palestinian while west Jerusalem is Israel.

The Palestinians are expected to reject that deal.[5] Any deal that leaves Al-Aqsa (meaning all of Arab east Jerusalem) in the hands of Israel will be rejected by the entire Arab and Muslim world. The Palestinians will confirm their ultimate wish for independence and sovereignty.

Jerusalem is not for sale!

A step in the “deal of the century” is an economic workshop-taking place later in June in Bahrain.[6] Palestinians believe that their national agenda will be bribed out. Aspirations will be further delegitimised. “Jerusalem is not for sale”! Palestinians will never leave Judea and Samaria for a pocket with money. You cannot buy out Palestinians from their homeland. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.

Who has given the USA a mandate to present a deal? It can be assumed that the international community will also reject the suggested deal if it is not be based on the two-states solution and allows Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, but offers no political solution for Jerusalem. It should be the responsibility of the United Nations to accompany a peace process. The international community should protect the Palestinian people from punishment through financial and political isolation.

Call for human dignity and common good

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land made a statement[7] in May 2019 saying that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks. Continuing difficulties in Palestine and Israel have caused many people to question, “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will,” “Many in Palestine and in Israel feel that since the launch of the peace process, their lives have become more and more unbearable.” “Many have left; many more consider leaving and some are resorting to violence. Some die quietly and others are losing faith and hope.”

Conclusion

It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive with a strategy of peace that focusses on their own right of self-determination. Endless occupation is not the option. The hope is that the two peoples can live in each own land, side-by-side. The two-state solution should be made again relevant.

Any resolution must be based on the common good of all who live in the Holy Land without distinction. All people in the region have to learn to live together as equals and human dignity in the Holy Land.

____________

[1] https://www.timesofisrael.com/final-text-of-jewish-nation-state-bill-set-to-become-law/
[2] https://bdsmovement.net/
[3] https://www.rt.com/news/459605-germany-bds-anti-semitism-motion/
[4] https://www.timesofisrael.com/35000-palestinians-left-gaza-in-2018-via-egypt-and-turkey-report/
[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-mideast-plan-insight/palestinians-say-u-s-deal-of-the-century-will-finish-off-their-state-idUSKCN1T124F
[6] https://beholdisrael.org/first-phase-of-deal-of-the-century-to-be-released-in-bahrain-at-the-end-of-june/
[7] https://www.lpj.org/assembly-catholic-ordinaries-invites-people-of-the-holy-land-to-build-bridges-of-respect-and-love/

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