On November 15, 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation declared statehood by passing the Palestinian Declaration of Independence while exiled in Algiers. That declaration constituted the Palestinian people's historic compromise for peace as they limited their national aspiration towards the establishment of the Palestinian state over 22 per cent of historic Palestine, thus tacitly recognising Israel over the remaining 78 per cent.
Disregarding our historic compromise, Israel has instead strengthened its occupation through an illegal settlement enterprise. Throughout a negotiations process lasting over 19 years, the Israeli settler population has nearly doubled, from 236,000 in 1993 to over half a million today.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), created after the Oslo agreement with the mandate of governance in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has also been sabotaged by the Israeli occupation. Created as an interim body to last five years, the PA, now on its 16th year, lacks any authority. The PA has no control over Palestinian border crossings and thereby the import or export of goods, the passage of tourists or the issuance of identity cards, all of which are carried out by Israel. Further, on a daily basis, Israel undermines the PA's security forces through military raids.
The Israeli government does not believe in peace. How will a coalition government unable to commit to a settlement freeze be able to discuss the thornier issues such as Jerusalem or refugees? The Madrid Conference established the terms of reference for the peace process 19 years ago, yet Israel still will not recognise the 1967 borders as the basis of any future agreement. If they do, some people say, their coalition will fall apart. And so the excuses go on and Palestinians continue to pay the price with our own freedom. Without any real international pressure, it will be a short time before we must begin to dig the grave in which the last semblance of the peace process will be buried.
Arab countries have already taken the first step towards regional peace through the Arab Peace Initiative, which revitalises the idea of "land for peace" and regional involvement. But regional stability is not something Israel seeks, otherwise why would Israel dismiss an offer to be recognised by 57 Arab and Islamic countries in exchange of a return to the 1967 border and a just and agreed resolution to the Palestinian refugee issue? Instead, Israel continues to destabilise the region through its continued illegal policies in the Occupied Territories, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel's lack of interest in peace is also obvious through its refusal to provide us with any confidence-building measures. Not only do they refuse to freeze settlement construction, they also refuse a release of political prisoners, a removal of movement restrictions, or a halt to home demolitions, evictions and the stripping of residency rights. The current situation is perfect for Israel.
Alleviating this bleak situation requires a willingness to change the way in which the Middle East negotiations process has operated in the past. Successive Israeli governments, including the current government, have been unable to make the strategic decision to conclusively halt settlement activity in exchange for peace. Instead, they have been motivated by a cynical and politically opportunistic blame game contrasting our aim to achieve justice and regional peace. The current Netanyahu government continues to play a public relations game as if there is time to waste, instead of recognising the inevitable folly of its colonial ways.
Israel's unilateral policies are pushing us off the negotiating table. But if Israel believes that we have no alternatives, it is mistaken. Palestinians will give the Obama administration more time to convince Israel to freeze settlements. If that does not happen, we will seek American recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 border. If Americans are not willing to do so, we will apply for full member status in the UN.
If these alternatives are unsuccessful, the Palestinian leadership will be at a crossroads where we will have to ask ourselves whether the principles under which the peace process was based are still relevant. If the answer is negative, it will make no sense to continue in a process where the occupying power is not willing to implement previous obligations and the third parties involved do not have the will to apply international law.
Twenty-two years after our historic compromise, we are still waiting for an end to the Israeli occupation. The status quo cannot continue.
Dr Saeb Erakat is the chief Palestinian negotiator