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.
As a byproduct of this political conflict, Palestinians have been deprived of some of their basic human rights as well. Refugees have lived miserable lives in neighboring 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 recognizing 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 paralyzed 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 neglecting to promote 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 radicalization process in both Israel and Palestine. The radicalization 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.
That this is extremely unhelpful is backed up by any number of reports by independent humanitarian and development agencies working in the occupied territories, including the UN and the World Bank. These 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.
Other independent studies come to the same conclusion, but it is really only common sense to suggest that progress in reversing the worsening humanitarian situation can only come about with progress in realizing Palestinian political rights, thereby also stalling the radicalization 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.
Ghassan Khatibis coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org