With the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military and colonial occupation of Palestine coming to a head, we have reached a critical juncture within the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. For over 20 years, bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine failed on account of Israeli intransigence over its refusal to recognize Palestinian national rights and the continuation and expansion of its settlement enterprise.
In fact, the number of Israeli settlers transferred into occupied Palestine has nearly quadrupled since the beginning of the “peace process,” yet Israel continues to enjoy impunity and is not held accountable. It is now critical to move from an imbalanced bilateral track between an occupied and occupier refusing to uphold basic principles of international law, to a broader framework whereby the international community assumes its responsibility to implement international law and see the realization of the two-state solution through sustained and effective engagement.
The French Initiative is the flicker of hope Palestine has been waiting for and we are confident that it will provide a clear framework with defined parameters for the resumption of negotiations. The international conference should be viewed as an opportunity to create a negotiating environment in which power is equalized and law and human rights prevail. The conference should not concern itself with how to grant impunity for Israeli violations but rather, with how to respect and uphold the principles of the UN Charter and of peace-loving, law abiding nations.
Palestine seeks the same rights and responsibilities enjoyed by other states, and accordingly, any negotiations and permanent status agreement should reflect that. Specifically, the conference must embody the basic principle of sovereign equality, and focus on the implementation and the materialization of Palestinian independence on the ground within a clear framework and timeline. Although a ray of hope, we are under no illusions that this conference will miraculously result in the immediate end of Israel’s settler-colonialism. Rather, we see this conference as a long overdue commitment by the international community to compel Israel to accept its responsibility as the occupying force and recognize that the way forward is to implement the two-state solution before it’s too late.
This means that Israel freezes all illegal settlement activity in Palestine, that Palestine must have control over its borders, East Jerusalem is and remains the capital of the Palestinian state, sovereignty is divided along the 1967 border, Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem are reopened and able to operate freely, our refugees scattered worldwide are treated with respect and in accordance with international law and UNGA Resolution 194, and Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are released.
We support the French Initiative with the aim of securing our freedom from belligerent Israeli occupation, and thus independence for the State of Palestine, including its capital East Jerusalem. The solution to our colonial problem is not to reshape the Israeli occupation but to end it. Nothing short of full Palestinian sovereignty, with no Israeli interference inside the independent State of Palestine, will bring the just and lasting peace that we seek.
We envision a future where two sovereign and democratic states can live side by side in cooperation, peace and security – two states that will provide equal rights for all their citizens without discrimination. We call upon the conference to provide a clear path toward this goal.
This path should be clear and unambiguous whereby both parties are required to fulfill their obligations emanating from past agreements. The implementation of past agreements will serve as a means toward confidence building between both sides and will prepare the ground for social and political acceptance on both sides for a two-state solution. The international community of states should make it clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot linger any longer and should not be a source of instability in a region that is already unstable. The fact of the matter is that the parameters of a permanent and final status agreement between both parties are well known.
It is the responsibility of the world to ensure that Israel may not continue to deny a people of its most fundamental and precious rights, including the right to be free. Let us make next year an anniversary to celebrate, rather than mark yet another anniversary of collective international failure to place Palestine firmly on the map and for peace to reign.
Dr. Saeb Erekat is the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.