While Palestine continues to engage Israel in negotiations for an independent state, the nation cannot make any more territorial concessions, Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the delegation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the United States, said in a Monday evening lecture titled, “Twenty Years After Oslo: Lessons Learned and Future Options?”
“When we call for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital, we are accepting a Palestinian state of 22 percent of what used to be historic Palestine," Areikat said before a packed Dodds Auditorium. "So that was the historic compromise that we made ... We cannot accept a compromise on the compromise. It would undermine the creation of a Palestinian state that would be independent, contiguous and sovereign.”
“We are prepared to engage with the Israeli side,” he added. “We would like to see an end to the conflict, because we believe we Palestinians are paying the heaviest price.”
Areikat identified several contributing factors to the failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords to secure a permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ambiguous language of the Oslo Accords, the failure to give “third party” nations a meaningful arbitration role, the deferral of critical issues during the negotiations leading to the accords — including control of Jerusalem, security concerns, border demarcation, refugees, settlement housing and the supply of water — and the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were all important setbacks in the peace process, he explained.
Areikat contrasted Rabin with the current Israeli administration, praising him for always keeping Israel’s promises. He said the first statement current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu released after his 1996 election was that he would not adhere to the Oslo Accords.
Throughout his speech, Areikat referred back to the themes of pursuing constructive negotiations and balancing Palestine's newfound elevation in diplomatic status after being upgraded to a UN observer state in November.
“The fact that we can, at any minute, apply to become members of all United Nations organizations has changed the dynamics in the Middle East,” Areikat said, adding that Palestine will now have the diplomatic leverage it has historically lacked in its relationship with Israel.
Construction of Israeli housing settlements in Palestinian territory has been a particularly contentious point in relations between the two parties. Areikat remained firm in his stance against the settlements, calling them “illegal and illegitimate.”
“This is ... based on the international community position, on international law, on the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949,”Areikat said of his stance. “We are not changing our position,” he added.
Despite Areikat's discussion of the points of tension between the two parties, he nonetheless acknowledged there were commonalities between them.“An important agreement we both seem to share is that there will be no more interim agreements,” Areikat said. “The objective end goals of these negotiations are to reach the comprehensive just, and lasting peace that will put an end to the conflict and put an end to all claims between the two sides.”
He added that the fact that the two parties have continued to talk despite incidents of violenceagainst Palestinians by the Israeli Army indicates a break from the past.
“No matter what happens, we will stay in the negotiating group,” he said.
Areikat praised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, stating that Kerry knows the conflict's circumstances very well and “does not have future political ambitions.” Kerry has held seven to eight meetings with Palestine and Israel so far, and his multi-faceted “political, economic and security” approach is necessary to achieve a stable resolution to the conflict, Areikat said.
The political aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indirectly reached Princeton in recent years. The Princeton Committee on Palestine sponsored a referendum in 2010 asking Dining Services to provide an alternative brand of hummus to its mainstay Sabra. Sabra is partly owned by the Strauss Group, whom the Committee alleged supported an Israeli Defense Forces brigade “accused of human rights abuses against Palestinians.” In response, the Center for Jewish Life released a statement that the “passage of the referendum would allow the referendum’s supporters to make a strong political statement about Israel.”The referendum failed by a vote of 1014-699.
Areikat's lecture wasco-sponsored by the Workshop on Arab Political Development and the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton; the Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia; and the Department of and Program in Near Eastern Studies.