“The public has changed,” said Khalil Shikaki a political science professor at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University. “The pain and suffering has gone on long enough.”
Speaking to a packed room yesterday afternoon in a lecture sponsored by the International Institute, Shikaki discussed the current problems plaguing Israel, including the lack of governance for the Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shikaki was one of a handful of people directly involved in the Oslo Accords of 1993, where he was part of the first secret negotiations in October 1992.
Drawing on his personal experiences as a resident of Ramallah, where there is no longer any security presence, Shikaki said he does not see any hope for reform.
“If there is no authority, what is there to reform?” he asked, adding people are still holding onto concepts of law and order.
“I don’t have a have a great deal of hope for this process. I don’t see reform going anywhere. The only serious reform has been with money. Very little reform has taken place in security services.”
Over time, Palestinians and Israelis have lost hope in the prospect of peace, Shikaki said. Under the current government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 11 percent of Palestinians and 20 percent of Israelis feel there is a chance at peace.
“The issue is not something that makes me optimistic,” he said. “State building and peacemaking is very depressing to tell you the truth.”
One of the biggest issues in the region is the declining status of Palestinian authority in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, areas currently under Israeli military occupation.
“The capacity of the Palestinian authorities to do much governing is very limiting. There is no doubt Palestinians are unhappy with the situation,” Shikaki said, adding this was one of many factors that may lead to continued violence by the Palestinians in the future.
“Palestinian authority has lost much of its own domestic authority,” Shikaki said.
Confidence in its effectiveness has also dropped in the international community, most notably from the perspective of the United States and several European countries.
“There is no doubt that Palestinian authority is artificially sustained. There is no reason for Palestinian authority to exist today,” he said. Currently, the Palestinian authority survives entirely on donations from Arab nations and the European Union and once these contributions end, Palestinian authority will crumble, he added.
Part of the problem with the decline in Palestinian authority comes from its inability to function beyond its health and education institutions, Shikaki said.
“Both (institutions) are coming under severe threat. They are not able to function when money is a question,” Shikaki said.
Shikaki cited the Oslo Accords as an impediment to the attempted peace process.
“The collapse of the peace process came as a result of the collapse of traditional bargaining Israelis and Palestinians believed was struck at Oslo,” Shikaki said. “I would still underline very strongly the open-ended nature of the Oslo process.”
Although Palestinian authority is deteriorating, it does not have to be directly related to the collapse of the peace process, he said.
“Not many people like to maintain the status quo but they are afraid of the alternatives,” Shikaki said.
Shikaki earned his doctorate at Columbia University and taught at the University of Wisconsin before working in Israel.