Palestinians moving to new phase?

In the face of the now-widely-proclaimed death of U.S.-led peace efforts, the latest Palestinian debate (beyond one state vs. two) is:
(1) whether to move, in the United Nations (Security Council and General Assembly) to secure full membership + recognition for the State of Palestine (this is the position of the two-staters, including the current Palestinian leadership), or
(2) to disband Palestinian Authority, and make Israel face up to its costly responsibilities as occupier (this is the position of those Palestinians who are furious and fed up with false negotiations and who believe in continued resistance — though it will surely cost the Palestinians dearly).

But, for Palestinians, the Israeli refusal to extend its unilateral ten-month settlement “moratorium” is the reason for the failure of American efforts to restart negotiations.

Israelis say, in riposte, that Palestinian “preconditions” undid any deal.

There is considerable Israeli commentary this week to the effect that Palestinian moves to seek recognition + UN membership are only “empty threats to squeeze concessions from Israel”. The energy being put into public argumentation against this strategy to legitimize a Palestinian state, however, belies the claim that it is an empty threat.

Tweets from colleagues on Thursday night recommended this report by Josh Rogin on the Foreign Policy website here, — “Why the U.S.-Israel settlement deal fell apart”.

Rogin wrote: “The United States had offered Israel a host of security incentives, including 20 brand-new fighter planes, for Netanyahu to take back to his cabinet in exchange for a renewed three month settlement moratorium. But President Barack Obama never put that deal in writing, and the Israelis never were clear on its terms or what would happen when the three extra months expired”.

He reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce, over the weekend, that the United States will pause its efforts to engage Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in “direct talks”, and will instead begin “parallel talks” with each side separately.

And, Rogin reported that Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group said that U.S. actions “are an admission that the route they were on was not the right one … The U.S. administration reached the conclusion they couldn’t get the deal [with the Israelis] and even if they got it, it wasn’t clear the Palestinians would accept it. And even if they accepted it, wasn’t clear what would happen after 90 days expired except that there could be another crisis”.

According to Rogin’s story, “Over the last month, the Israelis had intense discussions with U.S. officials about the specifics of the offer to extend the settlement moratorium, but the negotiations never came to fruition. For example, regarding the 20 F-35 fighter jets the Obama administration was offering as a sweetener, the Israelis wanted to know how the United States could promise the fighters without Congressional approval. They also had further questions about the offer: Who would pay for the planes? When would they be delivered? Could the Obama administration even promise F-35 planes, considering they don’t yet exist and are years behind schedule? More broadly, the United States never agreed to Netanyahu’s demand that this would be the very last time the Israelis would be asked to extend the settlement moratorium. Moreover, administration officials could not assure Israel that the 90 days would yield progress toward a peace deal. The Palestinians would just wait out the three months, the Israelis predicted”.

Israelis also say that the furious Palestinian reaction to Israeli demands for recognition as a Jewish State have raised many major questions.  Palestinians say this is an unreasonable demand that was not required for Israeli peace deals with neighboring Egypt or Jordan, and they also argue that it is Israeli code for refusal to deal justly with the Palestinian refugee issue which also gives an advance pass to possible further ethnic cleansing.  (Israeli-Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel have strongly urged the Palestinian Authority to reject this Israeli demand, also for the reason just given.)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is reported to have told his team to move to Plan B, while Egypt — playing the good cop — is asking the Palestinian leadership to hold off until an Arab League meeting next week (16 December) which will endorse whatever the Palestinians want (with significant Egyptian input). Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may, or may not, present some kind of formal American proposal. And U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell is due back in the area at the end of the weekend.

[Clinton and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are both scheduled to speak at the Saban Forum this weekend in Washington, D.C…]

Amjad Attallah of the American Task Force on Palestine wrote a blog post on The Palestine Note saying that “The inability of the United States to secure a settlement freeze, even with outrageous bribes that would have been more detrimental to Palestinian interests than the settlements themselves, provides Palestinians the opportunity to enter the stage as masters of their own fate once again … The Palestinian national movement that used to exist as the PLO once upon a time claimed with much legitimacy to represent all Palestinians everywhere: in the Occupied Territory, in Israel, in the Arab countries and their refugee camps, and elsewhere in the Diaspora. As a practical matter, all that was surrendered when the PLO signed the Oslo Accords … The irony is that as the PLO and PA became greater appendages of the occupation, their ability to end it decreased with every day … This may be a defining moment for Palestinians. Rather than wait to hear what the next stage in Israeli-US negotiations may herald for Palestinians, it is time for the PLO to provide its own script”. Attallah’s posting can be read in full here.

Lamis Andoni, a Palestinian journalist and analyst working in Doha, Qatar, has written this week on Al-Jazeera’s website that “In a recent interview with Palestinian state television, Abbas warned that if all efforts to establish a Palestinian state fail he will dissolve the PA and ask Israel to assume responsibility for the occupation. His threats are neither a manoeuvre nor a clearly planned strategy. They are rather an expression of despair and a reflection of the mood of the Palestinian people – who see the PA as merely facilitating the continuation of the Israeli occupation while removing the need for it to pay for its actions … The idea of dissolving the PA has many supporters – both inside the Palestinian territories and among the Palestinian diaspora. But this must not be a leap in the dark: the Palestinians must be prepared for the consequences of such a move and it must be undertaken as part of a clearly defined resistance strategy. Neither Abbas nor his opponents, however, have indicated that they are developing any such strategy … The idea of dissolving the PA has many supporters – both inside the Palestinian territories and among the Palestinian diaspora. But this must not be a leap in the dark: the Palestinians must be prepared for the consequences of such a move and it must be undertaken as part of a clearly defined resistance strategy. Neither Abbas nor his opponents, however, have indicated that they are developing any such strategy … It is, of course, easy for those Palestinians in exile, with comfortable jobs, to call for an immediate dissolution of the PA – it is also very understandable as Israel will be under no pressure to end its occupation as long as it pays little or no cost for it. But, should the Palestinian leadership formulate a new resistance strategy, all Palestinians must be prepared to shoulder the responsibility for it. The onus is now on the PA to start this process and the only way to do that is to end all coordination and cooperation with Israel”. This piece is posted here.

According to Ma’an News Agency today, the Palestinian leadership has prepared some kind of hybrid merge of options (1) + (2) as listed in the first paragraph of this post: “the Palestinians have been drawing up their options, the first of which would be to seek US recognition of an independent state — an issue raised by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat in Cairo on Wednesday. ‘Israel’s defeat of US efforts places the region at a real crossroads’, Erakat said, expressing hope that the US administration ‘would recognise the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders’ as a response to Israel’s intransigence. ‘Decisions are needed and, if the United States wants to safeguard the two-state solution, it must recognise the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders,” he told reporters. If Washington decides against, the Palestinians say they will turn to the United Nations Security Council, and then to the General Assembly for acknowledgment. In case of failure on those fronts, Abbas would then demand that the United Nations place the Palestinian territories under an international mandate. The next option would see them declaring null and void all previous agreements with Israel. The final alternative would involve the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, which would force Israel to assume responsibility for the territories as an occupying power”. This report is published here.

The BBC, meanwhile, has reported today here that both sides, unsurprisingly, are pessimistic. “A peace deal within a year was Mr Obama’s ambition. That looks very unlikely now. A peace deal within this generation of Israeli and Palestinians leaders is still not impossible. A peace deal with this present [Israeli governing] coalition, according to many, is”. The Palestinians, the BBC said, put all their hopes in the Americans, who just don’t seem up to the job…

Think-tank founder Gershon Baskin, a passionate promoter of peace who has become an involved lobbyist in recent years, started IPCRI (the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research + Information) in the early 1990s, as the Oslo peace accords were being discussed. He has written an article published this week in the Jerusalem Post saying that “The right of the Palestinians to live as a free people in their own state is not questioned today anywhere in the world except here [Israel]. The world is tired of this conflict. The world is tired of Israeli excuses, including its refusal to stop building in settlements. The world does not understand what Israel wants. The world cannot understand what Netanyahu’s strategy is, and where it’s leading. The world also cannot accept that because of a belief that only the IDF can prevent terrorism, millions of Palestinians should be denied their basic freedom, dignity and self-determination. Israel has no strategy, no policy and no direction with regard to negotiating peace. I recently spoke with one of its negotiators – a rather senior fellow. He too admits that he does not know what the strategy is, or what the prime minister seeks to achieve. The Palestinian negotiators submitted a full plan to US envoy George Mitchell. He came back with questions and they provided answers. Israel has not done the same … Abbas’s threat to disband the PA should not be understood as an empty declaration. There are significant forces within the PA and the PLO which are seriously lobbying for it. In the absence of negotiations with substance and a timetable, there is no sense in continuing to play the game of false independence. In today’s reality, Palestinians still live in a cage controlled by Israel. Their economy is subjugated to Israel’s, their rights of movement in and out of the West Bank are controlled by Israel. The population registry is under Israel’s control. Israeli forces move in and out freely in all areas of the West Bank. President Abbas requires Israel’s permission to move around. Any planning, licensing or building in 60% of the West Bank called Area C requires Israeli approval. Netanyahu must be called to task – are you ready to grant Palestinians their independence or do you wish to continue to control them? There is no middle ground. We who work for peace had hoped that the US would help us reach an agreement, but it seems it will not be providing the friendly push to help make the difficult decisions”. Gershon’s article can be read in full here.

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