If there was ever a year when the international community needed to find a way out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, 2013 might be it. Indeed, if the world lacks the will or capacity to push both sides to the table in a tough but fair minded way, the two-state solution may no longer be a viable option.
2012 turned out to be a rough period for the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas. Peace negotiations were stalled for the entire year, due in part to Abbas’ unwillingness to talk without preconditions. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just last month, infuriated the Palestinians by increasing Jewish settlements by more than 10,000 units; a number that is almost as high as that the previous ten years combined.
The only success that Abbas has had in the last year was the upgraded status he achieved for the Palestinians in the United Nations. Even that victory was marred with consequences, however. In retaliation, the Israeli government kept hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue that would otherwise have gone to the Palestinians.
The collective result for the Palestinians, which include a severe cash shortfall and an incredibly weak negotiating position, is nothing short of shocking. The Israelis, with the strong backing of the United States, remain unbowed despite global pressure over their expansion of settlements. Abbas finds himself in a predicament that even he may not have anticipated. In comparison to a few years ago, when he was labeled the most amicable Palestinian leader for a peace agreement, the president is now a politically damaged man whose patience is being steadily chipped away.
It would be simple to poke and prod the international community to do something for the region. But when the two sides that are needed for an agreement are so divided and untrusting of one another, even the mighty weight of the Security Council may not be enough to resurrect the peace process.
While it is difficult to say, the reality is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as far away as ever from being resolved. When compared to the electorates of the past, when making peace was seen as a strategic priority for Israel, the Israeli voters of today are far more conservative and risk adverse.
It was not long ago when both Israelis and Palestinians viewed the two-state solution as the best alternative. Now, average Israelis find it hard to grasp the notion of living side by side in peace and security with their Palestinian neighbors. If the latest survey from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is to be believed, prolonging the occupation and keeping vital areas of the West Bank for “strategic depth” is considered to be more important than hammering out a comprehensive peace agreement that everyone can live with.
Officials in the Arab League are growing restless at the lack of progress on the Palestinian track but the real impatience is no doubt in the hearts and minds of Palestinian civilians who find themselves living a life that is severely restricted, knowing in the back of their minds that the possibility a unified, strong, independent and contiguous state of their own resembles a dream more than a reality.