Seeking alternatives

Most Palestinians, from the general public to officials, have already concluded that the current negotiations, initiated at the Annapolis conference, have very little or no chance of success. For that reason, several debates have been held and initiatives offered to find an alternative strategy for the Palestinian leadership to pursue.

Public opinion polls show there is little faith in the ongoing peace process and that the level of optimism is declining. Prominent officials, meanwhile, have been making pessimistic public statements. The most prominent one was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s declaration, during his last visit to Washington, that he does not expect an agreement in 2008, contrary to the express wishes of US President George W. Bush.

The most obvious two reasons for this are the Israeli practices on the ground and domestic Israeli political constraints. Israel continues its consolidation of the occupation mainly by continuing the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in and around East Jerusalem. Domestic political constraints, meanwhile, have ensured that negotiations have led to no real engagement.

Hence the proffered range of alternatives that are being entertained. They fall into three main groups: dissolving the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally declaring independence and resorting to resistance. The most popular, yet least likely, option is the first. That option was raised recently by a prominent former Jordanian prime minister of Palestinian origin, Adnan Abu Odeh, who suggested in an article that Palestinians, who have no real authority, should dissolve the PA and do away with the pretence. It is interesting to note that the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, has distributed copies of the article on two separate occasions, during the last PLO Executive Committee meeting and at a meeting with prominent Palestinian journalists and columnists.

Meanwhile, the relatively successful unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo seems to have inspired some Palestinians to suggest Palestinians do the same, most notably veteran negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo. Abed Rabbo’s suggestion is to declare the intention now to unilaterally declare independence at the end of the year should negotiations fail, as they seem certain to at the moment.

While there was little and mostly shortsighted Palestinian reaction to this suggestion, many Israelis politicians and analysts asked themselves what they would do if Palestinians should take such a step. The consensus seemed to be that at the very least, such a move would make a deep impressions on Israel and its allies, because not only would it not contradict international legality, it would be consistent with it. A positive international response to this idea could be useful for the peace process. The current conviction among Israeli leaders and negotiators that negotiations are the only option open to the Palestinian side only contributes to the stagnation.

While the first two options–dissolving the PA and declaring independence–are in the hands of Palestinian politicians and diplomats, who have become increasingly dependant on Israel and the United States, the third-resistance–is not. The failure of the peace process to bring Palestinians closer to an end to the occupation is already leading the motivation for resistance. With the prevalence of arms in Palestinian society, such resistance will most likely take the form of violence. This option remains the most probable scenario, especially with Israel continuing to provoke and encourage Palestinian violence. Israel has good if shortsighted reasons for doing this: it is on the battlefield that Israel has its most obvious and largest comparative advantage.