Little change for Palestinians

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The formation of a new Israeli government coalition that includes the Kadima party was a dramatic development in Israeli politics and took many politicians and observers by surprise. It was not, however, very exciting for Palestinians. Despite their increasingly difficult conditions, and despite their interest in any change that might revive the comatose peace process with Israel, Palestinians could not find any reason to feel hope after this shift.

Like Shaul Mofaz’s victory in the elections to lead Kadima, the participation of Kadima in the government coalition will not by itself produce a meaningful peace process that can end the occupation and consequently move towards peace and a two-state solution. The most convincing analysis concludes that this new coalition in Israel is aimed at achieving internal political objectives for Binyamin Netanyahu and the rest of his coalition. Among other things, it is meant to address proposed legislation that created tension within the previous coalition and made Netanyahu anxious. Also, it is meant to strengthen Netanyahu’s control over his own party, given rancor he faced from far-right activists after calling for early Israeli elections (which have now been postponed).

Some analysts also expect that the coalition might be related to the prospect of war with Iran, but no one believes that this coalition will bring anything new to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The contents of Netanyahu’s written reply to a letter sent by President Abbas seemed to confirm that assessment by more or less reiterating the same lines presented by the previous government coalition.

Rather, this new coalition indicates that Netanyahu is trying to take advantage of the regional environment and is getting comfortable in the reality that international actors are just not interested in investing politically in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The coming presidential election in the US, the financial crisis in Europe, and the "Arab spring" are leaving the Palestinians and their cause to the mercy of Israel’s right-leaning governments. This prolonged situation is enabling Israel to continue its practices, creating new facts on the ground that will close the window of opportunity for the two-state solution.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian political scene is ripe for a solution, despite the conflict between Fateh and Hamas. This internal division is deepened, however, by the absence of any prospects for peace, making the future uncertain.

The only glimmer of hope in this gloomy situation arrived last week from Brussels in the statement of the Council of the European Union, which indicated that Europe may be moving away from verbal condemnation and critiques of Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and international law to practically holding Israel accountable. The statement’s reiteration of the EU’s official position on the illegality of Israeli settlements and their products was a constructive message for the Israeli and European publics. It was followed almost immediately by moves by both Denmark and South Africa, which decided that products originating with Israeli settlements in the West Bank must have different labels than those produced in Israel and should not enjoy preferential trade arrangements. This follows a similar policy step by the United Kingdom.

It is in Israel’s long-term benefit to be reminded by its friends and allies that relationships with them will suffer if it continues breaking international law and circumscribing Palestinian rights in the occupied territories. Israeli positions and practices on the settlements specifically should be linked to the extent of its cooperation and friendship with other countries.

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