Peace after Gaza?
In the aftermath of the most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, the question on everyone’s mind is what comes next. Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs of the United Nations, joined Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, in a discussion on Peace After Gaza: A New Framwork for a Changing Landscape.
The seven week conflict devastated the Gaza Strip, while consolidating Hamas popularity and causing support for the Palestinian Authority to wane. The question now is whether the change in the Palestinian political sphere will pave a way for peace or hinder the peace process.
Fayyad emphasized there is a growing number of voices calling for immediate peace talks. He is hesistant because there have not been adequate preperations on either side for a constructive dialogue. There must be a way to address the factions and political pluralism within the Palestinian political environment. In order for there to be peace, there must be reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Fayyad does not believe in rushing back into negotiations. Critical adjustments must be made on the Palestinian side first. On the one hand, there is the issue of the representativeness of organisations claiming to speak for Palestinians. The de jure power of representatation lies with the Palestine Libertion Organization – but this has lost much of its legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians, especially in the wake of the recent land-grab by the Israeli government in Bethlehem. This occurred in spite of the PLO’s cooperation and collaboration in intelligence gathering.
On the other hand, factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad hold de facto legitimacy with large swathes of the population (opinion polls suggest a surge of support for Hamas in Gaza in the wake of last month’s conflict). These groups do not recognize the commitments of the Oslo accords, whereas the PLO does. If any sense is to be made of these disparate positions in the name of negotiating both with the Israelis and the world at large, an intra-Palestinian dialogue must first occur.
According to Fayyad, such a dialogue must include a serious discussion on building a unified leadership framework in which a forum of factions might convene in order to come to a common view of how to proceed as a whole. Without such a forum the Palestinian Authority will struggle to regain legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Palestine – removing peace negotiations further and further from the will of the people it claims to represent.
While Fayyad focused on disunity within the the Palestinian parties he also noted the lack of balance between the occupied (Palestine) and occupier (Israel) in terms of leverage in the peace process.
Feltman acknowleged that the United Nations is still stuck on the “old paradigm” as it still supports Palestinian unity in accordance with PLO commitments to the Oslo Accords of 1993. The two main stipulations included recognition by the PLO of Israel’s right to exist as well as the renunciation of violence. While the UN’s immediate focus is on the reconstrution of Gaza and addressing humanitarian needs, Feltman noted it will take serious and real commitment from both sides this time around to return a sense of normalcy. Fayyad added that Oslo was not meant to be an open ended process and future negotiations should come with clear time-frames for completion that must be adhered to.
There is a growing push from Israelis and Palestinians to deviate from recurring patterns. Fayyad reiterated the need to set an end date for the occupation and work backwards from there, but PLO weakness militates against this course of action. While the question was raised of going to the Security Council, Fayyad noted the inevitability of a veto.
Upcoming months will determine whether either side is serious about a long-term solution. Fayyad and Feltman both called for a strong and unified Palestine that can build lasting solutions in partnership with Israel and the United Nations.