Thinking Aloud: “After Gaza: Getting Back to the Peace Process,” Part III

Nov. 26, 2014 by Darius 

[Last week, I attended the Middle East Institute’s annual conference.  One of the panels was on “After Gaza: Getting Back to the Peace Process.”  All four panelists had interesting remarks.  In previous days, I shared the comments of Shlomo Ben-Ami, Daniel Kurtzer, and Khalil Shikaki.  Today, I’ll share the comments of the final panelist, Khaled Elgindy, who is a former advisor to the Palestinian leadership and is currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution.]

According to Elgindy, that the biggest violence in recent years has come from Gaza and now East Jerusalem is not a coincidence: they are the parts of Palestine that have been most isolated by Israel and most ignored by the peace process.

Elgindy explained that the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem feels under attack.  Since 1967, the Israeli government has revoked 14,000 residency permits – withdrawing permission for Palestinians to live in East Jerusalem – and half of these revocations have come in the last decade.  Moreover, there has been an explicit effort by the Israeli authorities to ban and otherwise eliminate any manifestation of Palestinian and Arab heritage in East Jerusalem.  Palestinian civic institutions in East Jerusalem, once strong, have withered and died.  Additionally, the Palestinian Authority does not operate in East Jerusalem; Palestinians there feel like they have been abandoned by their leaders.  According to Elgindy, the only thing Palestinians in East Jerusalem feel that they have left is religion, specifically Al-Aqsa Mosque.  This perception has led to a religification of the conflict and an interweaving of nationalism and religion.

Elgindy also spoke about the breakdown of the peace process.  He mentioned an old criticism of the peace process: that it is all process and no peace.  But, as he pointed out, right now we don’t even have a process.  There are no benchmarks or obligations to meet or anything else that has proved helpful in the past.

According to Elgindy, the situation now, devoid of any diplomatic process, is reduced to pure power.  Israel and Palestine are obviously and laughably unequal when it comes to pure power.  The US political situation means that US diplomacy is ineffective and muted—Elgindy said that even President George W. Bush criticized Israel more over causing civilian casualties.  As a result, Israel can and does do just about whatever it wants.

Elgindy also echoed the frustrations of Daniel Kurtzer and Shlomo Ben-Ami: the US isn’t doing anything when one side or the other takes an action that goes against the stated goal of a two-state solution.

Elgindy also felt that now is not the time to launch a new peace initiative.  Instead, he hoped that Palestinian leaders would use the current time to get their domestic house in order, so to speak.  That means fighting corruption, re-establishing a Palestinian consensus, and taking some lessons from the Arab Spring.  These steps would ensure that Palestine is a more cohesive and credible actor to fight for an independent state.  This cannot be imposed from the outside and in fact must be carried out in spite of outside actors: Elgindy felt there was no way for the US and Israel to attempt to strengthen the Palestinian Authority without causing a policy crisis back at home.

Finally, Elgindy joined all three of his fellow panelists in expressing frustration and confusion at the response to the PA’s UN initiatives.  After all, these initiatives are completely in line with the universally espoused goal of a two-state solution.  Blocking them and threatening retaliation is both hypocritical and silly in Elgindy’s view.

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