The title of this article seems to be the talk of town in Palestinian circles this week. After the abandonment of the Americans and the Israelis (and even Clinton) of the Clinton proposals and the elections of right wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, many in Palestine are starting to ask out loud what is the Palestinian strategy? To be sure there are many answers, but the new questioning among Palestinians is simply whether any of the set answers to this question are convincing. More precisely is there an effective Palestinian strategy that can produce results.
The most repeated answer to this question can be listed under the slogan: “Intifada till victory.” Proponents of this theory reflect that the seven-year old peace process with all the negotiations and agreements that it produced have done little to advance the national goals of Palestinians of freedom and independence. They note that the reason that there has been no breakthrough in the peace process is that it depended on the so called generosity of the Israelis and Americans and not on justice or even on international law. The only way to change this formula, they suggest is for Palestinians to depend on their own powers and to try and reinvigorate their natural base of support, the Arab and Muslim world.
Even though this process has meant personal, material and national sacrifices, to be sure, the proponents of this idea have strong evidence in their favor. Israeli leader Ehud Barak made substantial changes to his Camp David II offer once the Intifada began. The Arab world has never been galvanized as it has since the death of 12-year old Muhamad Dura and the rest of the world has been forced to scrap the idea that there is peace in the holy land. After ten years of inaction, the Arab League seem to be gaining power and two summits will take place in less than six months thanks in a large degree to Al Aqsa Intifada.
But is this formula open ended? Is there a point of diminishing returns? Some voices in Palestine are starting to say for the first time that looking beyond emotions, where exactly are we now? Barak and Clinton as well as there ideas are no longer around. After the initial popular support from the Arab peoples, things seem to be getting back to normal. And the rest of the world is interested, but not to the degree of committing time and effort to resolving this conflict.
For the first time since the outbreak of the current wave of protests, Palestinian thinkers are starting to ask some of the hard questions: where is all this leading to? Shouldn’t we have accepted the Clinton ideas? Where does the return in Palestine and the Arab world of the 70s and 80s rhetoric going to lead us? Are we entering into a dark tunnel without an end in sight? How can we get out of the quagmire that we are finding ourselves in?
Palestinians are also questioning how society will be able to survive economically and socially. Fears are being expressed that if the Palestinian National Authority falls or falters, will militias and decentralized tribal and militant and leaders replace it? Will the Palestinian areas turn into the grounds for a dirty turf war between street leaders? Will law and order be replaced by the law of the jungle?
While these fears seem real to some, others feel that they are highly exaggerated. A friend of mine who participated in the last talks in Taba told me this week that Palestinians were close to signing but that Barak had given instructions to his negotiators not to sign anything. He insists that the public, on both sides, doesn’t know how close both sides reached and he is sure that once talks begin again, it is possible to quickly reach resolution. The negotiator is certain that Israel itself can’t continue to allow this state of instability. It is affecting them as much as it is affecting us, he claimed. The world also has shown that it will not leave this part of the world to deteriorate.
Nonsense, was the response of a senior university professor who was a leader in the first Intifada. Israelis are affected but they can remedy the small problems we cause them. On the other hand, we are helpless, he insisted.
So where does all this lead us regarding the presence or absence of a workable strategy that can produce results. Are we indeed getting deeper by the day in a swamp that will lead us nowhere or are we at our darkest moment before a new dawn. Is there a need for a Palestinian strategy or is reacting to events and improvising still the best and only strategy possible?
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.