The one-day Berlin conference, touted as “a clear signal of support” by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others for the building of a Palestinian state, was premised on the idea that strengthening the civilian security infrastructure of the PA is essential to the creation of a Palestinian state. As the German Foreign Ministry noted in a press release, “The Federal Government knew from the outset that it was key to bolster the Palestinian people’s will for peace by strengthening the Palestinian economy. And there can be no economic development without functioning state structures as well as legal certainty for investors.”
While Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed what he dubbed "a strong expression of support" for a Palestinian state, he stressed the need for Israel to comply with its international obligations to freeze construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In June alone the Israeli government has twice announced plans to build a total of approximately 2,000 housing units in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem.
Fayyad further urged a change in Israeli "security behavior," referring amongst many incidents to Israel’s raid of the West Bank town of Nablus early on 23 June and its assassination of 24-year-old Iyad Khanfar, a student at An-Najah University and 23-year-old Tariq Juma’a Abu Ghali, a prominent Islamic Jihad activist in the northern West Bank. This raid was cited by the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, as the reason for its 24 June launching of three projectiles at the Israeli town of Sderot, both incidents following start of the Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas. As a result of the attack on Sderot, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak today announced the indefinite closure of the crossings for goods between Israel and the Gaza Strip, a move which Hamas spokesperson Fawzi calls a breach of the ceasefire agreement.
Participants in the Berlin conference, including the Quartet, stressed the importance of sustaining the calm in Gaza. However, as the negotiated ceasefire does not apply to the West Bank, Israel has a free hand to continue its military actions there at will. Palestinian political analyst Ahmad Hanoun noted today on the Voice of Palestine radio that “whenever calm is reached in Gaza strip, Israel usually escalates its military operations in the West Bank…(and) the events of yesterday clearly demonstrate that Israel is endorsing the same policy.”
Driving a wedge between the West Bank and Gaza Strip political authorities has been a primary goal of Israel and the international community since Hamas’ ascension to government in Gaza last year. However, Israel’s negotiations – however indirect – with Hamas over the ceasefire in Gaza and the return of imprisoned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit demonstrate the Israeli de facto acceptance of Hamas as a necessary, key regional player.
The Quartet issued a statement following the Berlin conference, noting “the urgent need for more visible progress on the ground in order to build confidence and support progress in the negotiations launched at Annapolis.” However, the Quartet statements are not coupled with appropriate political moves and pressure necessary to end the Israeli occupation.
The international community, as it did during the Oslo negotiations, focuses on the building and strengthening of Palestinian state institutions, especially security related ones that could potentially be a proxy for the Israeli military. However, while the international community is building state institutions and focusing on the potential economic “dividends of peace”, the Palestinians continue to live under an ever strengthening Israeli occupation. The Palestinians require an actual state before they can build viable, strong and relevant state institutions; a Palestinian state and possible peace dividends remain an impossible and cruel fantasy as long as the Israeli occupation is allowed to continue.
While the German Foreign Minister may believe the Palestinian “will for peace” must be bolstered through economic measures, it is real political change that the Palestinians require. It is the Israeli and international will for a just and lasting peace that must be questioned in the current reality.