We have struggled for independence since the first half of the twentieth century, when Great Britain, then the mandatory power in Palestine, allowed for increased Jewish immigration to Palestine. The Jewish immigrants advocated for turning Palestine into a Jewish state, despite the fact that the majority of Palestine’s inhabitants were non-Jews. By the time the British Mandate ended with the departure of Britain’s troops in 1948, the Jewish population had grown from one percent at the beginning of that century, to approximately 30 percent, thus dramatically altering Palestine’s demographic balance. With increased calls by Jewish immigrants to colonize Palestine at the expense of our rights and aspirations, relations between our native Palestinians and the burgeoning Jewish immigrant population soured.
Recognizing that the potential for violence and wider strife had grown very high in Palestine, Great Britain referred the situation to the United Nations (UN) on April 1947 for their recommendations concerning the future government of Palestine. As a result, the UN adopted, in November 1947, the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181) which called for the division of Palestine into two states, with the majority of Palestine’s land allocated to the Jewish minority, at the expense of the Palestinian majority.
As conflict ensued, Palestine disappeared from the map as Jewish militias destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages and expelled more than 726,000 Palestinians from their homeland. The new, unilaterally declared, state of Israel denied us the right to return to our native land and instead seized our property. Thus, Israel condemned two-thirds of our people to life in exile and occupied 78 percent of Palestine, a percentage that far exceeded the 55 percent that had been recommended for allocation to a Jewish state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
Two decades later, in June 1967, Israeli forces militarily occupied the remainder of Palestine and displaced over 200,000 of our residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Soon thereafter, Israel began colonizing the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), in gross violation of international law. Systematic Israeli violations of our human rights and international law governing military occupation were, and continue to be, defining characteristics of Israel’s occupation, employed to maintain control over our population, territory and resources. For more than four decades, Israel has continuously confiscated our land to build illegal settlements and extensive supporting infrastructure, in an effort to permanently control large parts of the West Bank. In addition, Israel has illegally exploited our natural resources, especially water, and has deliberately hindered our economic development.
Despite these brazen Israeli policies and practices, we have maintained an unshakable national identity and connection to our homeland. Against our daily hardships, we work to realize our right to self-determination with an indefatigable passion, while simultaneously exerting every conceivable effort to achieve a sustainable peace with Israel.
In 1988, we made a historic compromise by relinquishing our claim to 78 percent of the territory encompassed by historic Palestine. We accepted to establish an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the remaining 22 percent of our territory occupied by Israel in 1967. We simultaneously recognized UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which reaffirmed the illegality of Israel’s acquisition of our territory by force. In 1993, we took one further step to engage in peace negotiations with Israel to realize our national rights to self-determination and statehood. Through such negotiations, we accepted to make further historic compromises in various temporary agreements, known as the “Oslo Accords,” (named after the city where PLO and Israeli negotiators conducted their negotiations). The temporary agreements were supposed to end five years from signing, in 1999, and lead to a permanent agreement. The permanent agreement promised to end Israel’s military occupation; to provide us with the opportunity to rebuild our country, including our economy, without Israeli interference; and to achieve a just resolution to our refugee issue based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194. This has not happened.
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords and during the multiple rounds of negotiations that have followed (1993 to 2001 and 2007 to 2008), significant progress was made toward reaching a consensus on the parameters of a permanent agreement. In parallel, we engaged in state-building, including establishing ministries and public institutions; providing social services; building our infrastructure; and assuming responsibilities over a wide range of civil and security responsibilities in our cities and towns in the oPt.
However, no permanent status agreement has yet been reached, despite nearly two decades of our persistent efforts to achieve it. Under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, we have solidified our call for the two-state solution, yet Israel has refused to engage in a credible negotiations process. Instead, Israel, as the occupying power, has taken unilateral actions to maintain and solidify its permanent presence in the oPt. A case in point of Israeli continued control over the oPt is the 2005 “disengagement” plan from the Gaza Strip. Contrary to Israel’s claims that its “disengagement” ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip, Israel has in fact perpetuated its occupation and stranglehold by its continued control over the Gaza Strip’s borders, including land, air and sea space. Further, Israel has imposed a long-standing siege on the movement of people and goods in or out of the Gaza Strip. Such unilateral actions do not produce peace agreements. Rather, unilateral Israeli actions in the form of human rights abuses have only distanced the possibility of achieving a durable and just peace.
In late 2007, the negotiations process resumed when President Mahmoud Abbas and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attended the US-sponsored Annapolis Conference in Maryland. The conference concluded with a “Joint Understanding” in which both parties agreed to launch direct negotiations and conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2008. The Annapolis Conference marked the first time in seven years that the PLO and Israel engaged in negotiations. However, the Annapolis talks did not lead to an agreement by the end of 2008 owing to Israel’s unrelenting, illegal colonization of the oPt. Further, on December 2008, Israel launched a large-scale military assault in the Gaza Strip, during which Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. This attack abruptly stopped, and eventually eliminated, the possibility of continued negotiations.
Despite past failures to reach a negotiated final status agreement with Israel, we remain committed to negotiations to achieve a permanent and durable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We also advocate for all regional states to maintain the call for a wider Middle East peace that ends the conflict between all the Arabs neighbors of Israel. For this reason, we support the Arab Peace Initiative (API), proposed by Saudi Arabia and endorsed in 2002 and 2007 by the Arab League. The API offers Israel normalized relations with the entire Arab world once Israel completely ends its military occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, and provides a just resolution to the issue of our refugees.
We continue to believe that a two-state solution is achievable but we must stress that the window for realizing this outcome may be quickly closing. For this reason, we participated in American-brokered “proximity talks,” during which we presented our positions on all the final status issues in an effort to restart direct negotiations and finally bring an end to our protracted conflict. With this belief, we agreed to once again engage in direct negotiations on August 2010, stressing that Israeli colonization policies in the oPt must stop.
Palestinians and Israelis are at a critical juncture. The choices made now will impact the region for generations to come. Israel’s continued military occupation is a recipe for continued violence, insecurity and loss of life, whereas the realization of our rights is a recipe for peace. The choice remains Israel’s—will it choose peace or occupation? A two- state solution can be realized, and the time to act is now.