Jun 02 2011

What leverage to reach Palestinian statehood?

Published by at 1:28 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

Negotiators the world over are taught that in order to maximise one’s bargaining position, they should always have credible alternatives.

If you enter negotiations – whether you are a worker, union leaders, a businessman or a political leader – you need to be willing to walk out if your reasonable requirements are not met. A worker presenting his boss a written offer for better pay and conditions can usually get good results. A union leader able to credibly threaten a disruptive strike can usually get a good deal. The same principle applies to political negotiations and can be easily applied to the Palestinian scene.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, carrying a gun and an olive branch at the UN General Assembly on November 13, 1974, said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

Israel, the US and the rest of the Western world refused the olive branch and war and conflict ensued and lasted for years.

Israeli propagandists and their defenders seized on the PLO’s refusal to recognise Israel to delegitimise Arafat’s olive branch and snub the Palestinians’ desire for peace. They also argued that Arafat and the PLO failed purposely to differentiate between civilians and the military, and to limit the area of military use in the occupied territories. The label of terrorists would stick to Palestinians for some time.

Thirteen years later, the Palestinians in the occupied territories limited their attacks to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Intifada of 1987 clearly stated opposition to the Israeli occupation and not to the state of Israel. Within one year of the relatively non-violent and geographically restricted uprising, the PLO changed course and agreed to the two-state solution.

Within a couple of years, Israel and the PLO recognised each other and began the first stage of a peace process that showed much Israeli hesitancy. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Jewish zealot killed any possibility that Israel would voluntarily agree to a territorial compromise on Palestine.

Unable to force Israel to make concessions on key issues such as Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return, another Intifada broke out, this time more violent but with few tangible results, except for dismantlement of Jewish settlements and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza Strip.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president who was elected after Arafat’s death, had a different set of leverages. Abbas, who was opposed to what he called the “militarisation” of the Intifada, charted a new set of leverages aimed at forcing the Israelis to quit the occupied Palestinian lands. He took a two-tiered approach. Locally, he worked on strengthening internal Palestinian security and building up the infrastructure of the Palestinian state. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has provided him with amazing results at this level.

Externally, the Palestinian leader worked the international community. He removed all obstacles to serious negotiations and has not taken a single position that is not in accordance with the international will.

Some Israelis blame US President Barack Obama for Abbas’ principled position on settlements, which is in total sync with the roadmap and other international agreements and understandings. Even while showing little understanding of its basic principles, Abbas publicly supported Palestinian non-violent strategies.

The Palestinian leader, however, has understood that even with a genius prime minister and a non-violent movement in Palestine, the successful completion of his mission towards statehood was in need of further leverage. He needed a non-violent leverage that would affect individual Israelis. It is easier for Israelis to press their governments to reach peace when they know that they have no serious security threat from the Palestinians and their economic situation is very comfortable.

Abbas knew that he needed to use one of the least used leverages available to Palestinians: an overwhelming international sympathy and support for their just rights.

Hence the UN.

The UN General Assembly, ironically the place where the approval in 1947 of the partition plan brought cheering in the streets of Tel Aviv, seemed the perfect venue. It was precisely at this international forum that the South African apartheid movement was defeated. Palestinians and their supporters plan to invoke the little used “United for Peace” clause in the UN Charter, which allows the General Assembly to overturn a Security Council veto. “United for Peace” was used to garner worldwide support for the international boycott of the white racist apartheid government in South Africa.

Palestinian negotiators must continue to insist on having alternatives in order to force the other side to be serious about negotiations. Abbas has repeatedly said that he will not go to the UN if talks can produce results. As it stands, there is little doubt that the Netanyahu government is serious about peace or peace talks. They seem to be only interested in the peace process.

Unless Palestinians can produce results on the ground, Abbas is set to go to the UN and make the speech of a lifetime to the international community. He will need to offer face-to-face negotiations based on the principles outlined by Obama or announce the birth of the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders, and call on Palestinians and their supporters around the world to help his people make this dream a reality.

The paradigm will change once the Israelis and their supporters understand that there is no turning back from these two credible and reasonable choices for a people that had enough of a 44-year-old military occupation.

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