The following guest post is by Harry Sanders, a content writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors based in the UK and Ireland.
From the comparatively privileged perspective of the western world, the scale and brutality of foreign conflicts often seem alien in contrast to our own experiences of comfort and safety. Such barbarism and inhumanity was once equally as alien a concept to the people of Palestine. But decades of violence and failed attempts at a resolving the protracted conflict have left the prospect of peace an unattainable ideal and have left Palestinian asylum seekers scattered across neighbouring countries.The potential for elections between rival factions Hamas and Fatah have been touted as a ray of hope to restore some order to the region. Given the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, can peace realistically be propelled at the ballot box? And if so, what obstacles stand in the way?
It is fundamental that forthcoming elections make it possible for lasting peace be achieved. Since the election of a Hamas majority to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, Palestinian politics has been deeply fractured. An international boycott of the Hamas government, followed by the 2007 Civil War in Gaza, left the already fragmented country even more divided. Attempts at reconciliation have been ongoing for years, such as in 2017 when talks over the contested control of Gaza were brokered in Cairo.
With this in mind, ensuring that elections fulfil their potential of bringing a long-absent sense of unity to the Palestinian cause is crucial. For this to happen, Fatah and Hamas must agree on a unified strategy prior to ballots being cast. This will help avoid a repeat of the 2006 elections which, as touched upon above, sowed the seeds for the division that has blighted the Palestinian cause ever since. Further to this, it is heartening that the elections are planned to be conducted via proportional representation. Ensuring no party forms an overall majority will avoid ill-feeling and enmity.
National unity is still far from reach, and despite the agreement between Hamas and Fatah to hold elections, there are several barriers to their success. The upcoming elections are being viewed with ‘cautious optimism’, with leader of the Palestine Liberation Front and a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, Wasel Abu Yousef, explaining the ‘tripartite assault’ which threatens to push the situation beyond repair.
The first assault is the Trump administration’s ‘Middle East plan’, which would see a two-state solution with Palestine holding onto most of its territory in Gaza and the West Bank. Despite Palestinian claims on East Jerusalem – where Palestinians outnumber Israelis by roughly 150,000 – the plan states that “Jerusalem will remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel, and it should remain an undivided city”. This proposal, as well as the delineation of borders which would see Palestine lose swathes of territory which it deems sovereign, have been met with resistance and criticism from Palestinian lawmakers. With Joe Biden’s victory in last month’s US Presidential Elections, however, it remains to be seen how closely his proposals will mirror those of Trump in the next four years.
A second assault is the ongoing and escalating threat of further annexation by Israel of Palestinian territory, and, specifically, Israeli-occupied areas comprising roughly 30% of the West Bank. The West Bank has been occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967 and for over half-a-century its status has been left undecided. Despite claims by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that his plan is “not annexation”, these claims are factually unsound as – in keeping with the definition of annexation – he would be applying Israeli sovereignty to occupied Palestinian lands. Palestinian claims for sovereignty comprise the entirety of the West Bank – to which Palestine does hold an historical right – making any compromise extremely difficult.
Finally, Palestine must contend with the normalisation of Israeli-Arab relations, most recently furthered by an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates due to growing concerns over Iran’s presence in the Middle East. While it may be argued that the agreement has halted Israel’s annexation of territory and has therefore proved beneficial to the Palestinians, this ignores the fact that it may leave Palestine in a weakened state within the wider Middle Eastern context. As any annexation is further politically legitimized, so too are alleged war crimes against Palestinian civilians, creating a regional and International geopolitical environment inhospitable to the notion of Palestinian independence.
The death and destruction inflicted upon the people of Palestine has raged for far too long. The world will watch the Palestinian elections hoping for a return to the normalcy and peace that have eluded the region. In this pursuit of peace, however, it is fundamental that the suffering of the last three-quarters of a century not be forgotten, as only by recognizing the failures of our past may we lay the foundations for a more promising future.