[Published 30 June 2010]
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is likely to be wound up at the end of the year according to PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat - if no agreement is reached with Israel on the so called “two-state solution” - the creation of a new Arab state between Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
Mr Erekat made the threat at a meeting in New York on 25 June hosted by the International Peace Institute (IPI) - which also featured Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister - Dan Meridor.
Mr Erekat warned that if by the end of this year there was no two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority then Israel will “sweat.”
He explained that the Palestinian Authority was founded to establish the institutions for a Palestinian state, not to keep Israel as a source of authority forever.
“If Israel insists on maintaining control the Palestinian Authority cannot stand - it’s irrelevant,”
Mr Erekat’s statement was a direct rebuff to Mr Meridor who had earlier stated:
“I hope that if we can’t get a full agreement on the outstanding issues regarding Jerusalem, refugees, final borders and security, we will not let negotiations collapse but alongside that build up from what we have now - a good economic growth - over 8% growth last year in the West Bank and I hope more this year - and an absence of terror - into more steps towards a Palestinian State."”
The New York meeting added a new dimension to the past direct negotiations and the current proximity negotiations that one might call “in your face public negotiations” - when two of the most senior politicians from either side of the conflict traded blows for two hours.
The gaps between them were wide and obviously unbridgeable by next December - especially given the fractured relations between Hamas and the PA and the division of the West Bank and Gaza into two separately governed areas.
Mr Meridor claimed that the PA had had 288 meetings with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 and that no response had been received to the offer made to the PA by Israel.
Brandishing two maps Mr Erekat angrily responded that Israel’s offer of a land swap of 6.5% of the West Bank in exchange for an equal area from Israel’s sovereign territory had been met by a counter offer by the PA of a land swap equal to 1.9% on 30 July 2008.
Absent was any mention of their hopelessly polarised views on Jerusalem, refugees and water or what was going to happen to 500000 Jews who had been living in the West Bank for the last four decades.
IPI President - Terje Rod Larsen - who chaired the meeting - is a veteran of past negotiations between Israel and the PA that have failed to achieve the two state solution more than 17 years after the fanfare which greeted its introduction and projected conclusion by May 1999 following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Mr Larsen came to wide international prominence as a key figure in the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords that created the PA. In 1993, he was appointed Ambassador and Special Adviser for the Middle East Peace process to the Norwegian Foreign Minister, and the following year, he became the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories at the rank of Under-Secretary-General. He served as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority from 1999 to 2004.
His understanding of the hopelessness of ever reaching a two state solution was apparent in his remarks to both Mr Erekat and Mr Meridor - when he said that this New York meeting between them had come at a crucial time in the Middle East process and continued:
“Nearly two decades have passed and we are in dire need of new hope and new energy and creative solutions in order for negotiations to move forward.”
Mr Erekat’s lack of any creative solutions became apparent when he told the meeting:
“Israel has three options - a two-state solution, a single state including Jews and Palestinians, or a continuation of Israel’s racism and apartheid system in the West Bank where Arabs and Christians can’t use roads reserved only for Israelis.”
Notably missing was a fourth option - that Jordan and Israel negotiate to divide sovereignty of the West Bank between their respective States.
If the PA implodes the Jordanian option will become the only option that can have any possible chance of ending the current impasse.
Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994 that deals with settling all the contentious issues mentioned by Mr Meridor - but which the PA seems unable to contemplate or accept.
Reunification of the major Arab populated areas of the West Bank with Jordan - as existed between 1948-1967 - will transform the lives of the West Bank Arab population. They will use roads reserved only for Arabs and Christians - not Jews. They will have their dignity restored to that existing at 4 June 1967 - again becoming citizens of an exclusively Arab country - no longer under or subject to Israeli occupation.
Certainly any such negotiations between Jordan and Israel will not usher in any final end to the ongoing conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. But their successful conclusion will end the current plight of the West Bank Arabs who remain stateless and separated from their Arab brothers across the Jordan River.
Under such a solution no resident of the West Bank - be he Jew or Arab - would have to leave his home or business.
Hopefully the PA will indeed dissolve itself in December - which could open the way to Jordan becoming Israel’s negotiating partner on the future of the West Bank.
The Six Day War in 1967 between Jordan and Israel originated the problems that have befallen the Arab population of the West Bank since then. It would indeed be real justice if those two former combatants - now at peace with each other - were to became part of the solution in 2011.
Organizations such as the IPI do have a role to play in seeing Israel and Jordan come together to solve the problems of the West Bank.
Bringing Mr Erekat and Mr Meridor to the public stage may have been the catalyst towards bringing this creative solution a little nearer to fruition.
Mr Larsen may well have - unwittingly - achieved the beginning of the real breakthrough in the 130 years old conflict between Jews and Arabs that has managed to elude him for so many years.