Palestinians look at the approaching September deadline as a very critical and decisive crossroads. It is the end of the one-year time-frame for the bilateral negotiations that started upon the initiative of the United States last September. It is also the end of the two-year plan of the Palestinian government for achieving national readiness for statehood.
This perception of this deadline is not only Palestinian. US President Barack Obama expressed in his speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly last year that he wished to see Palestinians as a full member of the United Nations by September.
But there are also much deeper reasons for this deadline that are appearing in the very vital and serious public debates happening within Palestinian society. Not least among these are initiatives from young activists that are getting more involved in Palestinian politics and discussing and presenting ideas on the way forward for the Palestinian people and how to end the occupation and achieve freedom and independence.
Palestinians have been negotiating bilaterally with Israel since the Madrid conference in 1991, 20 years ago. Since then, Israel has always pushed for bilateral negotiations and made sure to prevent any form or level of third-party involvement. Palestinians, on the other hand, have unsuccessfully tried to avoid being isolated with Israel in negotiations and sought to encourage different forms of international engagement.
It was the international community, after all, that initiated this peace process on the basis of international legality. The invitation for the peace process was issued jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union and the conference that launched Madrid included representatives of the most influential members of the international community. Among them were the European Union, China, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
After 20 years, Palestinians do not see themselves nearer to achieving their legitimate objective of ending the occupation–nor do they see the conflict nearing a settlement. Therefore, there seems to be a consensus that Palestinians need to return to the international community to report on the failure of this peace process and to discuss fresh ideas and approaches that might be more effective, based on our experiences.
One conclusion that Palestinians have drawn is that the absence of international community involvement has allowed Israel to apply the balance of power that exists on the ground (military, economic and so on) to the negotiations, thus exploiting Palestinian weaknesses and blackmailing them and their leadership. It has also allowed Israel to escape the applicability of the relevant stipulations of the United Nations, including Security Council resolutions and international law in general.
Accordingly, Palestinians want in September a more serious and direct role of the international community based on international law, possibly through the United Nations, in contributing to solving this problem. We ask for no less than the same standards the international community is using in handling other conflicts.
This is not an elementary exercise. The problem for Palestinians is that not only has this peace process that our leadership has gambled on failed to achieve our objectives, but continuous Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the consolidation of the occupation through settlement expansion have contributed to undermining the same Palestinian leadership. We find ourselves in a completely unsustainable situation.
The Palestinian leadership cannot allow the current distorted transitional scenario to be transformed into a de facto permanent solution, the Israeli strategy at the moment. Israel has unilaterally separated the occupied West Bank from the Gaza Strip, continued to control all borders and three-quarters of the West Bank, confiscated property and built a wall mostly on Palestinian land in order to create a defacto situation that is "comfortable" for its citizens, while completely unacceptable and unsustainable for Palestinians.
Allowing the deadline of September to pass without significant change will simply consolidate these unilateral and illegal Israeli steps.