US support for two-state solution must be more than 'lip service'

As a participant in the Madrid conference in 1991, which preceded Oslo, and subsequent negotiations, I regret to say that current U.S. officials seem to have learned little from more than two decades of failed U.S. peacemaking efforts. Today, as fragile talks between Israelis and Palestinians have restarted after three years of inactivity, Israel once again seems intent on using negotiations as a cover to expand Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, and once again it seems that the U.S. will take no serious action to prevent Israel from doing so. In just over a month, Israel has advanced plans for the construction of 3090 new settlement units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This ongoing escalation of illegal settlement activity gravely threatens the success of negotiations and the realization of the two-state solution that is the ostensible endgame of the current talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry invested much time and effort to restart negotiations. However it is not enough to simply bring the two sides to the table. It is imperative that the U.S. not only pressure Israel to halt all new and existing settlement activity, but that it stop tacitly endorsing Israeli claims regarding the legal status of East Jerusalem and the future of large settlement “blocs.” International law and relevant UN resolutions must form the basis of any negotiations. Otherwise, Israel, the much stronger party, will simply attempt to impose its will on the Palestinians. Any approach that is not based on international law and the redress of Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights, including theft of land and resources for settlements and denying Palestinian rights, is doomed to failure. If the U.S. is unwilling or unable to stop settlement growth, Palestinians have no other recourse than to pursue membership in multinational agencies and organizations and hold Israel accountable by judicial means.

For decades, every U.S. Secretary of State has told the Palestinians that negotiations are the only way to end Israel's occupation and relentless expansion of settlements. Yet, in practice, negotiations have served the cause of expanding Israel’s settlement project, not ending it. During the 1990s, while the Oslo Accords were being negotiated, Israel nearly doubled the number of settlers in the West Bank, destroying Palestinian faith in the peace process and our hopes for an independent state and freedom from decades of Israeli military occupation. Today, there are more than half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The huge network of infrastructure that Israel has built to serve the settlements, including Israeli-only highways that dissect the West Bank, which, along with the settlements themselves, isolate Palestinian population centers from each other and the outside world, are expressions of Israeli extraterritoriality and essentially make the settlement enterprise permanent. Israel has already annexed East Jerusalem in a move regarded as illegal by the international community, including the U.S., and has de facto extended Israeli sovereignty over large areas of the West Bank.

After the collapse of Oslo and the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that, during his first term as prime minister from 1996-1999, he “de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords,” adding, "America is a thing you can move very easily.” Based on the actions of his current government, Netanyahu seems intent on sabotaging the current negotiations as well, and evidently still believes that he can manipulate the US and continue to undermine its policies with impunity.

If the Obama administration truly wants to broker a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as opposed to forcing an unjust and unworkable agreement on Palestinians, it must learn from the mistakes of Oslo. Secretary Kerry’s recent statement that the U.S. "views all of the settlements as illegitimate" must be reflected in U.S. policy in overseeing the conduct of negotiations. The real test is whether Secretary Kerry and President Obama will translate their words into action, or whether they will continue to pay lip service to peace and the two-state solution while failing to take concrete measures to prevent Israel from destroying both.

Ashrawi is a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee and a former Palestinian negotiator.

More in Foreign Policy

Need more than lip-service from Pacific Partnership

Read more »