Peeking into the abyss

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There have been contradicting reports about the outcome of ongoing American efforts to resume the peace process, which was launched by the administration in Washington at the beginning of last September and then was undermined by the resumption of full-scale Israeli settlement activities.

Since then, two parallel sets of political activities have been underway. First are American contacts with Israel to try to bring about another settlement freeze that might allow talks to continue between Israel and Palestinians.

Second, Arabs and Palestinians have been in constant consultation, trying to answer the question of what alternatives we have in case the talks collapse and American efforts to bring about a cessation of settlement activities fail.

It is not likely that the current administration will repeat the mistakes of US President Bill Clinton’s administration when it announced the failure of the Camp David negotiations. This led to a political vacuum and the eruption of violence. Perhaps that is why the US administration keeps giving the impression that efforts are still ongoing.

There have been, however, many unconfirmed media reports about the results of Israeli-American consultations over a settlement freeze and the resumption of talks. These reports include incredibly generous offers of financial, military and diplomatic support in return for relatively meaningless Israeli concessions such as a two- or three-month settlement freeze. These rumors, which have yet to be confirmed, provoke the Palestinian and Arab side for two reasons.

First, there are worries that this approach in American-Israeli consultations has been leaving Palestinians completely out in the cold. The fear is that Palestinians will be forced to agree to whatever is the outcome of these consultations.

The other reason for concern is the possibility that American efforts could infringe on the rights of Palestinians. For example, what if the US and Israel agreed that the Palestinian leadership would refrain from carrying out perfectly legal activities? Or what if the US agreed to Israeli demands that it be allowed to maintain its presence in the eastern part of Jerusalem?

Besides worrying, the Palestinian and Arab sides have been busy entertaining "alternative" strategies to pursue in case of the failure of the American effort. These alternatives are different variations of one approach: an international effort to help end the occupation and support the establishment of the Palestinian state next to Israel in order to realize the international vision of peace.

The question however, remains–what if the international community and the United States would decline to cooperate with such an approach, insisting on bilateral negotiations? This question is provoking serious debate among Palestinians and results in two possible trains of thought. One was presented recently in an interview with President Mahmoud Abbas in which he spelled out the possibility of dissolving the Palestinian Authority (although has been no articulation of the practicalities of this option). The other alternative, which is not new but also is not advocated by a majority, reflects a shift in the Palestinian political paradigm from the two-state solution to the one-state solution. Here, Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories and the diaspora will concentrate on achieving their non-negotiable rights, including the right to citizenship, human rights, education, work, return, and so on.

As these debates continue, however, both Palestinian and Israeli societies are being radicalized in a way that is gradually, among other things, undermining the position of the current Palestinian leadership.

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