Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Blog

By Kristyn Acho
Fall Intern, 2014

The Aspen Institute’s Middle East division hosted an event on Monday which addressed existing political challenges in Gaza.

Dr. Salam Fayyad, Palestinian politician and former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Jeffrey D. Feltman, American diplomat and the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spoke with Aspen Institute President and CEO, Walter Isaacson in a moderated conversation.

To begin the discussion, Fayyad stated that two elements need to be addressed to ensure that the 51-day war in Gaza (known as Operation Protective Edge) does not happen again: first, the question of Palestinian representation, and second, the original agreement to end occupation in 1999, as outlined in the Oslo I Accord.

Today’s Palestinian representation is “highly dichotomous” and consists of two camps: the PLO, which has the power of representation but has become very weak, and the non-PLO factions (including Hamas and Jihad), which have clearly grown in strength.

“Hamas reflects the state of mind of the Palestinian people to a much larger extent than the PLO today,” Fayyad stated.

However, Hamas does not accept the two main commitments made by the PLO in 1993: Israel’s right to exist under peace and security, and the denunciation of violence. Fayyad was hesitant to advise whether or not it is wise to engage with Hamas in changing its mind.

“If it is not beneficial to wait until this kind of consensus is formed, then,” he said, “the question becomes, can one find a way to make sense of the diversity of the Palestinian people?”

This is a pivotal question that needs to be addressed in order to achieve peace in the region.

Fayyad then discussed the second part of his argument, the Oslo I Accord. He criticized the fact that what was once an interim arrangement has now become an “open-ended relationship.”

Oslo, which was an effort to establish a framework that would result in the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, was supposed to yield results within five years. Fayyad expressed his frustrations:

“Unless adjustments are made, there will be these absurd situations where we, Palestinians, will continue to be asked and expected to continue to negotiate with Israel, accept what Netanyahu has offered, or failing that, accept the reality of continued oppressive occupation … I’m calling for agreement on ending occupation. It is intended to restore at least the intent of what the Oslo Accord was supposed to be about: Ending the 1967 occupation by Israel and the emergence of a sovereign state on territory occupied in 1967.”

In response to Fayyad’s statements, Feltman said that the UN still operates under older paradigms that Fayyad has put aside.

“We still very much support Palestinian unity in the context of the PLO commitments,” he said. “We very much would like to see the government national consensus actually work.”

The United Nations views the April 2014 Fatah-Hamas Gaza Agreement to create a unity government within five weeks and to hold a presidential and parliamentary election within six months, as a tool to bring about a legitimate and accountable government for all of Palestine.

Moreover, Feltman regards Palestinian unity as a crucial step towards securing peace in Gaza.

“You cannot address effectively the challenges in the Gaza strip — socially or economically — if you don’t have a legitimate and accountable Palestinian government in place,” he said.

For now, however, the UN’s primary objective in Gaza is to address humanitarian needs, including, immediate energy, water, and shelter.

As a long-term solution, Feltman explained that the UN hopes to build a mechanism with the Israeli and Palestinian governments that would allow for restoration.

“This is going to be a massive undertaking,” Feltman said. “It’s going to take commitment on both sides to have the type of mechanism that would allow for sufficient quantities to meet the scale of reconstruction needs in Gaza right now.”

Feltman stated that this mechanism must fulfill the following requirements in order to be sustainable:

  1. It must satisfy the Israelis’ desire for sufficient security assurance. In order to do so, the UN must monitor where civilian construction material is sent.
  2. There must be sufficient scale to meet the needs of the people.
  3. It is essential that donors are provided with the assurance that reconstruction materials will be sent in a timely fashion.
  4. There must to be sufficient capacity to transport reconstruction materials to the region.

“We’re focusing on negotiations between the Israelis, the Palestinians, and ourselves on how you build that mechanism to allow reconstruction to take place,” Feltman said. “One of the aims of this mechanism is to have a legitimate, accountable Palestinian government that sets priorities for reconstruction and is our partner for making this mechanism work.”

The conversation covered other fundamental issues, including how to mitigate the lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the lack of trust between Palestinians themselves.

The entire conversation is available to live stream on the Aspen Institute Middle East website.

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