In a perfect world Palestinians would have been enjoying independence and freedom in their own state a long time ago. While this is not a perfect world and just because the Palestinian cause is a just one, this is no guarantee for Palestine to exist. This week, a local newspaper revealed U.S. intelligence predicting that Palestine will be free by 2030, whether through peace or not.
I’m not sure I will be alive to witness this momentous American prediction, but I would like to propose my own prediction.
Since it is Christmas time and Jesus was born in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem one can dream a little. The stars are lining up for Palestine at the turn of the year and unless someone or some group puts a spoke in the wheel good things might actually happen. I believe that 2013 will witness a major breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Why am I so hopeful?
I am cautiously optimistic for a combination of reasons; they are personal and political. While some believe that strategic issues are resolved based on national interest considerations, I think that a lot can be accomplished by individuals who have passion and commitment. On the personal level we have some key political leaders who have matured over the years and have adopted more pragmatic postures vis a vis the other. Furthermore, the fact that a number of politicians have publicly declared that they are not planning to run again, or are constitutionally unable to run for office, means that they are not bound by considerations that a person running for office has to worry about.
Pressure from lobby groups, or the need for a more rhetorical posture, have in the past ruined plans to reach a political solution.
Edward Djerejian, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria and special assistant to former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, spoke this week about U.S. President Barack Obama being in a unique position to move the peace process forward. Speaking to France2 English language TV, Djerejian, now a professor at Rice University, admitted that Obama started his first term in the right direction but had to abandon his position due to domestic political pressures.
However, the former U.S. diplomat said he believes Obama can effectively move the process forward in his second term. He noted that breakthroughs have taken place in the Middle East in the past when the U.S. was actively engaged.
On the Palestinian front also stars are lining up in favor of a possible historic agreement. President Mahmoud Abbas has delivered on his promise to seek the status of a U.N. observer state for Palestine based on the 1967 borders and he continues to state that he has no plans to run in any future Palestinian elections. Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal is also on a high after his movement fended off an Israeli attack that witnessed Palestinian rockets reaching the heart of Israel. Mishaal, who is not seeking re-election as the head of the Hamas politburo, supported Abbas’ efforts at the U.N. and continues to indicate that his movement will accept what Palestinians approve. Mishaal, who spent four days in Gaza, told a large Palestinian gathering, which included Fateh members and other nationalists, that his movement will join a reinvigorated, reformed Palestine Liberation Organization. By joining the PLO Hamas will be bound by any political agreement reached by the organization as long as it is put to a popular referendum.
While U.S. and Palestinian leaders appear to be in a strong position to make and push for some historic agreements the jury is still out on what the Israeli people will decide on January 24 and what will happen if Netanyahu is re-elected, especially with the more radical list created by his Likud Party along with Lieberman’s party. Naturally some might say that with such a right-wing list any agreement made will be supported by the vast majority of Israelis, but the key is to find such an agreement.
The preparedness of key political figures to make a historic agreement notwithstanding, it is important to have the political environment to make such an agreement possible. The strong European reaction to Israel’s attempts to create the two-state busting settlement in the E1 area sends a powerful message to the Israelis. The EU, which is Israel’s largest trading partner (not the U.S.), can play a crucial role in pushing the Israelis to a reasonable political position as well as in nudging the second-term Obama administration into acting more forcefully to carry out what the world community has for years accepted as the framework for a Palestinian-Israeli agreement. A Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with land swaps (equal in size and quality), an agreed-upon resolution to the refugee issue and resolving the status of Jerusalem based on the Clinton parameters are now the reference point to any agreement.
If the star of Bethlehem can bring good tidings this holiday season, by next Christmas we will be able to sing along with the angels:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”
(Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, former professor at Princeton. Twitter: @daoudkuttab. The article was first published in The Jordan Times on Dec. 13, 2012)