In an impassioned speech to UEA students, Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Dr. Manuel Hassassian calls for a renewed emphasis on the Arab-Israeli peace process amidst disturbing developments in Washington D.C. and persistent obstacles to Palestinian statehood at home.
Dr. Hassassian, an established professor of political science and self-described “Palestinian secular”, boasts a distinguished political and diplomatic career having served as Palestinian ambassador to the UK since 2005.
After a substantial, travel-related delay Dr. Hassassian wasted no time launching into his scathing, forty-five minute-long assessment of the Arab-Israeli peace process. But it was one of the ambassador’s opening statements that proved to be the most potent: “Palestinians and Israelis are stuck between the historically inevitable and the politically impossible.”
But what exactly did this mean? The slogan alludes to the two primary forces that are obstructing the negotiation of a lasting peace deal. Firstly, Dr. Hassassian referred to the historical inevitability that decades of conflict, violence and struggle have engrained a sense of mutual mistrust, suspicion and even hatred between Palestinians and Israelis. Secondly that this fissure has made it politically impossible for parties to genuinely desire, let alone pursue, reconciliation.
It strikes me that the ambassador’s gloomy diagnosis is largely rooted in a realistic interpretation of the facts. He describes the unprecedented increase in Israeli settlement activity over the last two decades as a “creeping policy of annexation” that will continue to act as a major obstacle to peace. He is not alone in thinking this. Israeli settlement expansion has continued to attract widespread condemnation from the international community. The vast majority of which agree that if settlements are used to deny Palestinians a contiguous state with clearly defined borders, there can be no lasting peace.
Dr. Hassassian also offered an erudite assessment of the evolving political realities affecting the prospects for peace. For example, he correctly calls into question the integrity of hyper right-wing Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu as a partner for peace. In light of the recent press conference between US President Donald Trump and Mr Netanyahu, the ambassador also conceded that he severely doubted the Trump administration’s willingness to exert the required amount of pressure on the Israeli government to make the necessary concessions for peace.
Unsurprisingly, there was no sincere attempt to gauge to what extent the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) might shoulder any responsibility for the current deadlock. Nonetheless, the ambassador made clear the most pertinent reasons why the peace process has stalled. Clearly a lecturer at heart, Dr. Hassassian’s charismatic delivery implied a different tone to that of his general analysis. One might go so far as to say the speech was infused with a trace of hope.
After admitting he was neither an optimist, nor a pessimist, Dr. Hassassian concluded with the following: “We believe the only solution will be through peace… There is no military solution.” If you ask me, he is both.