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Israeli-Palestinian stalemate likely to persist amid Israel’s improved ties with Arab countries

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Israeli-Palestinian stalemate likely to persist amid Israel’s improved ties with Arab countries

By Emad Drimly, Saud Abu Ramadan (Xinhua) 13:50, December 26, 2021

RAMALLAH/JERUSALEM, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) — The leadership changes in both Israel and the United States in 2021 had little impact on moving the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward. Furthermore, a bloody conflict in May also failed to lead to renewed diplomatic push to break the protracted stalemate.

These events revealed a harsh reality that the Palestine cause, once at the core of achieving Middle East peace, is increasingly marginalized by the fast unfolding of geo-political changes in the region, featured by the accelerated normalization of Israel’s ties with Arab states since last year.

The U.S. lack of resolve and attention as well as the easing of pressure from the Arab world have further weakened Israel’s willingness to yield to the Palestinians’ demands, not to mention return to the negotiation table.

LEADERSHIP CHANGES’ LITTLE IMPACT

The change in leadership in both the United States and Israel failed to bring about what the Palestinians had hoped for: a breakthrough to the impasse over the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

On Jan. 20, Democrat Joe Biden was inaugurated as the new U.S. president, rekindling the Palestinians’ hope for the United States to revise the anti-Palestinian policies by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who recognized the disputed holy city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

However, despite the resumption of the U.S.-Palestinian contacts and Biden’s positive remarks, no concrete steps have been taken by Washington so far to pressure Israel into resuming the peace process stalled since 2014.

The Biden administration has yet even delivered its promises to reopen the office of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington D.C. and the American consulate in East Jerusalem, said Hani al-Masri, director of the Ramallah-based Masarat Center for Researches and Studies.

“The U.S. ended up saying it believed in the two-state solution, but… any bet on the U.S. during the era of President Joe Biden is a wrong bet, because he is known for his pro-Israel positions,” al-Masri said.

Chen Kertcher, a lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies/Political Science at the Ariel University in Israel, said the United States is not interested in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because Washington’s main focus now is on East Asia.

The leadership change in Israel also failed to break the political impasse on the Palestine issue.

In June, a group of Israeli parties formed a coalition to oust Israel’s longest serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s successor, has not sent out signals about reviving negotiations with the Palestinians or changing his previous opposition to an independent Palestinian state.

Israeli analysts said the rise of right-wing parties in Israel, as well as their positions against a Palestinian state, represents a stumbling block in the way of achieving a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, said it would be difficult for Bennett to accomplish anything meaningful with the parties because he is from a right-wing party.

PALESTINE ISSUE SIDELINED

Despite the Palestinian opposition, four more Arab countries, namely Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sudan and Morocco, have started normalizing ties with their old foe Israel since 2020.

Before then, Israel had signed peace deals with only two of its Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. Now, more Arab countries have opened arms to Israel as they aim to form a united front against their common rival Iran.

In 2021, Israel continued to improve its relations with Arab countries, though failing to secure more peace deals. In December, Bennett paid a historic visit to the UAE, the first by an Israeli prime minister.

The rapprochement between Israel and Arab countries has been a major setback for the Palestinians who have always relied on Arab support in confronting the Israelis, analysts said.

“The restoration of relations between Arab countries and Israel is a trend that appears to continue and puts the Palestinians in a very difficult position,” said Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

Even during the May 10-21 conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which killed over 260 people and wounded more than 2,000 others, the Arab world largely kept a low profile, in stark contrast to its past one strong voice in condemning Israel’s violence and brutality.

Not surprisingly, neither the United States nor the European Union, two major mediators, was motivated to take major steps to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to prevent repetition of such bloodshed.

ABSENCE OF PALESTINIAN UNITY

Since 2007, the Palestinians have been suffering from internal division, with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) taking control of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank.

Israel usually uses the absence of a unified Palestinian partner as the pretext to refuse to proceed with the negotiation process.

Kertcher said the deep Palestinian division remains one of the major problems hindering the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are talking about a Palestinian society that is geographically, demographically and politically divided. You have Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip and you have the Palestinian Authority controlling parts of the West Bank,” he explained.

Though Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed meetings in 2021 after years of severed ties, they only discussed security and economic issues rather than the issue of reviving the peace process, noted Khalil Shahin, a political analyst at the Ramallah-based Masarat Center for Researches and Studies.

“This is because of the lack of any possibility to launch a negotiating process, aside from Israel’s expansion of settlements and its refusal to resume the peace talks,” he said.

Egypt, a traditional mediator, made efforts in the year to reconcile Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party with Hamas through hosting unity talks in Cairo, but failed once again to bridge the gaps.

Hamas, angered by Abbas’ decision in April to postpone indefinitely the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 22, denounced it as “a coup against the path of national partnership and consensus.”

STATUS QUO LIKELY TO CONTINUE

Looking forward into the new year, analysts are generally pessimistic about a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, as Arab countries are expected to continue to improve ties with Israel at the risk of marginalizing the Palestine cause.

Ghassan al-Khatib, a lecturer at the Beirzeit University in the West Bank, believed that the Palestinian division will continue to ensure the survival of the Palestinian Autority and the status quo will persist.

With regard to the alternative Palestinian options, al-Khatib ruled out radical policy changes by the Palestinian leadership, “since the room for manoeuvre is very small because the regional and international situations don’t easily allow for breakthroughs.”

“The current Israeli government believes that it doesn’t need to engage in a peace process with the Palestinians as long as it gets what it wants by seizing more West Bank lands and expanding settlements,” said Ahmed Rafig Awad, a lecturer at the Al-Quds University in the West Bank.

“2022 will bring another year of stalemate,” Awad lamented.

(Web editor: ZhangWenjie, Bianji)