Palestine: ‘Shrinking the Conflict’ vs. the Status Quo

Needless to say, the only means of shrinking the conflict is by shrinking the occupation and the settlement enterprise. But the Israeli government’s understanding of the approach can only produce the opposite outcome. ■ Would the PA be content with modest diplomatic measures in which it accepts what crumbs the Israeli government might be willing to offer?

Khalil Shikaki
Critical Policy Brief, Number 7/2021
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR)

Abbas’ declared policy:

In his 2021 UN speech Abbas asserted his conviction that the “policies of the international community and the UN organizations have so far all failed” in resolving the conflict or forcing Israel to abide by international law. Yet, in an obvious contradiction with this assertion, which is fully endorsed by an internal Palestinian consensus, the president stated that he intends to seek support from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “to issue a decision on the legality of the occupation of the territories of the state of Palestine and the responsibilities of the UN and its member states in this regard.” He further added his belief that “all sides must abide by the resolution that will be issued by the ICJ because colonization and apartheid are banned by international law and they are crimes that must be confronted and dismantled.”[1] It is certain that the president fully understands the contradiction in his declared policy. This contradiction fades if we realize that the actual policy of the PA is not to rely on the international community and the UN to end the Israeli occupation and that it only seeks their support in managing the conflict and preventing further deterioration in the status quo.

“Shrinking the conflict:” the policy of the current Israeli coalition

The current Israeli policy towards the Palestinians indicates a continuation of the previous right-wing policy with small adjustments. The policy is comprised of three elements that form what seems to be the maximum understandings binding the current ruling coalition. They address the position on the two-state solution and the political process or negotiations, the modalities of progress in the settlement enterprise, and the search for confidence building measures. In the Gaza Strip, there does not seem to be any significant differences with the policy of the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu which sought to keep the siege the blockade in place, promote a continued split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and ensuring a situation in which Hamas poses no real military threat to Israel but without threatening a humanitarian disaster or the collapse of the Hamas role or its ability to keep security and civil conditions under control.

A new equation

A new equation emerges from the discussion so far: a temporary Palestinian interest in maintaining the status quo confronted by a more hardline Israeli government lacking any serious interest in reviving the political process but showing greater openness to engage in confidence building measures. It is clear that the Israeli policy is not satisfactory to the PA or the international community, but no one is questioning the shrinking of the conflict. Rather, the opposition to the idea is centered on the making it a substitute to a viable political process. Since the U.S. and most players in the international community share the view that the prevailing conditions are not ripe for a resumption of negotiations, there is no real resistance to the Israeli policy. The U.S. has positively viewed the Israeli confidence building measures and encouraged the two sides to engage in further mutual steps in the same direction. Similarly, the Palestinian side too has shown interest in the Israeli measures seeing them helpful in shoring up support for the weak PA. In fact, a majority of the Palestinian public itself (56%) expressed support for the such measures that aim at improving daily living conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including such steps as family unifications or providing the PA with additional financial resources; only 35% expressed viewed them negatively.[11]

Conclusion: shrinking or expanding the conflict?

Needless to say, the only means of shrinking the conflict is by shrinking the occupation and the settlement enterprise. But the Israeli government’s understanding of the approach can only produce the opposite outcome. Major settlement plans will advance and along with them the consolidation and deepening of the occupation. Would the PA, given its interest in self-preservation, be content with modest diplomatic measures while engaging in confidence building measures in which it accepts what crumbs the Israeli government, given its interest in maintaining the cohesion of its parliamentary coalition, might be willing to offer?