The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is in essence political. It started as a result of where Israel was established and how Palestinians were consequently forced from their homeland in 1948. The conflict was further aggravated when Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, the West Bank, including east Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, in 1967. Palestinians now are either under occupation or refugees. In some cases they are refugees under occupation. In all cases they have been denied their political rights, primarily their right to self-determination and statehood.
Ghassan Khatib is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former minister of planning of the Palestinian Authority
Also by Ghassan Khatib in openDemocracy:
"The view from Palestine" (15 October 2001)
"An international solution?" (9 May 2002) - with Yossi Alpher
"The Arab League summit: two challenges" (28 March 2007)
"Palestine: this occupation will end" (7 June 2007)
"Hamas's shortsighted manoeuvre" (18 June 2007)
As a by-product of this political conflict, Palestinians have been deprived of some of their basic human rights as well. Refugees have lived miserable lives in neighbouring countries, while those under occupation have suffered the iniquities of belligerent Israeli military rule and all that that has entailed - including collective punishment on a massive scale.
The last decade of the last century witnessed the first internationally-supported political attempt to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by recognising Palestinian political rights and allowing a Palestinian leadership to negotiate for a solution. Since then there has been a constantly growing accumulation of peace efforts, political negotiations, schemes, proposals and initiatives that have all had as their one common denominator the two-state solution, i.e., giving Palestinians the right of self-determination in an independent state on the part of Palestine that was occupied by Israel in 1967.
But the first decade of this century has witnessed a series of setbacks and eventually the complete collapse of these political efforts. The international community became completely paralysed and remained on the sidelines, an almost silent witness to this deterioration and the reversal of the political efforts. Together with Israel, the international community has instead tried to compensate for its neglect of any promotion of a political solution, by attempting to deal only with the symptoms of the conflict - i.e., the economic deterioration and the worsening humanitarian conditions.
This shift in policy accompanied and was partly a cause of the radicalisation process in both Israel and Palestine. The radicalisation of both publics led first to the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel and then to the election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority. Both events helped erode any political prospects and further diverted the international community to focus solely on humanitarian aid.
Also in openDemocracy on Palestinian troubles:
Khaled Hroub, "Palestine's argument: Mecca and beyond" (6 March 2007)
Mary Kaldor & Mient Jan Faber, "Palestine's human insecurity: a Gaza report" (21 May 2007)
Rosemary Bechler, "Palestinians under siege in the West Bank" (6 June 2007)
Omar al-Qattan, "The secret visitations of memory" (14 June 2007)
The evidence that this is extremely unhelpful is found in and reinforced by any number of reports from independent humanitarian and development agencies working in the occupied territories, including the United Nations and the World Bank (see, for example, "Two years after London: restarting Palestinian economic recovery", 24 September 2007). These (and other independent studies come to the same conclusion) have repeatedly found that the causes of the economic and humanitarian deterioration are indeed political. These causes include the annexation of land by Israel, the establishment of new and expansion of existing illegal settlements, as well as the fragmentation of Palestinian land and the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and their goods within and beyond the occupied territories.
It is really only common sense to suggest that progress in reversing the worsening humanitarian situation can only come about with progress in realising Palestinian political rights. This would also have the effect of stalling the radicalisation of public opinion. The vicious circle cannot be broken by emergency humanitarian aid. It can only be broken with a political solution of the kind that ends the economic deterioration and humanitarian suffering in a substantial and sustainable way, by showing that political negotiations are more effective than violence in achieving the legitimate objectives of the Palestinian people.
Until then, and in spite of the necessity to continue humanitarian and economic support, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will only deepen and continue to negatively influence regional stability.