We often complain that the Palestinian people do not demand enough of their own leadership. We argue that they have not built up an economy that is worthy of statehood, or that simply they are not a state because they do not take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them. We criticize them for “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” However, it is on days like today, that Israel needs to look in the mirror and wonder if it too is missing an opportunity.
For the past week, throughout the West Bank, Palestinians are rising up to their leaders and demanding more. In something akin to last summer’s tent protests in Israel, the Palestinians in the West Bank are protesting the rising cost of living, and their dwindling economy. They are not only blaming the Israelis for this plight, but their own leaders. They want to improve their standard of living, and they want their government to get them there. This is a moment of change that Israel should capitalize on.
If in 50 years we want to tell our children about the historical conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, there is a vague, yet obvious, shape that the resolution will take. There will, at some point, be two states for two people. That is an inescapable reality. The question is not whether this will happen, but rather on whose terms. When Palestinians demand more of their own leadership, they provide a glimmer of hope for the future of two states functioning side by side with thriving economies.
The Paris agreement, which is also referred to as the Paris protocol, determined the system of taxes and levies that Israel would collect on behalf of the PA mostly on goods entering the PA. Of course, reopening the Paris agreement is not simple. It is a complicated process, and after 18 years of implementation, it is difficult to reassess the system. However, it is absolutely necessary. By reestablishing some form of dialogue about the Paris agreement, Israel legitimizes the leadership of PM Salam Fayyad, and gives the Palestinians in the West Bank a chance at establishing a functioning economy, with Israel to thank for it. I don’t think that this will simply resolve all conflict, but if opportunities like this one are taken advantage of, then there is a chance that real progress can be made. We can criticize the PA and its leadership, but the fact of the matter is that under Fayyad’s guidance and through the support of the US and Israel, the West Bank has a functioning police force, and a developing civil sector, something that was never the case before, and absolutely must be the case before there can be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The alternative is not too difficult to imagine. Newspaper headlines are already highlighting Israel’s fears of a third Intifada and anarchy. Whether or not Abbas and Fayyad survive this current series of protests with any political capital intact, it will not take long before the growing number of young, highly educated Palestinians with little job prospects or access to economic development begin pointing their fingers at Israel and opening up to radical and violent expressions of that blame. There are already calls on the part of the Palestinian protesters to entirely cancel the Paris agreement, something that would destroy another step in the direction of peace that was made during the Oslo process. If Israel is unwilling to open discussions about amending the agreement, the Palestinian leadership will have no choice but to accept the call of the protesters, and close another avenue towards peaceful relations.
Opening discussions about the Paris Agreement is an opportunity to take a step in the right direction. If popular protests could get us to that point, perhaps we could curtail a more violent alternative.