An honourable exit
Is there any way for the Palestinian Authority to escape its current predicament? Yes, says Azmi Bishara, but only if long bankrupt strategies are jettisoned once and for all
The consequences of Netanyahu's election have gradually hit home, as has the nature of US-Israeli relations for the thousandth time, even in the Obama era. Palestinian political forces have been thrown in a spin, treading circles and wringing their hands. A succession of grave and important statements and stances reflects their deep consternation.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) president has appealed to the so-called "international community" and hinted that he might not run for the elections because he cannot go on this way. Then, in the space of two weeks, PA officials spoke, in turn, of dissolving the PA, reverting to the one-state solution, and turning to the Security Council to designate the borders of the Palestinian state. These borders are the pre-June 1967 borders, which do not need to be designated because they already have been. They are the lines of the truce agreement the Israeli army signed with the Jordanian army in Rhodes in 1949, inclusive of the truce lines in Jerusalem. The maps are there and can be pulled out of the archives at any time. The lines are perfectly clear, unlike the 1947 partition lines which the UN drew out of thin air but nevertheless transformed into maps stored away in the archives.
Although appealing to the Security Council is an attempt to turn an instrument in which the Palestinian revolution had long lost hope against the Palestinians' adversary, it is the option that the PA takes the most seriously and that is most consistent with its strategy. The other two options, by contrast, fly in the face of the PA's perception of itself and the world. That PA spokesmen mentioned them at all was more in the nature of the bluster and bravado than of a political ploy, let alone strategy.
The one-state solution is in the interests of both peoples. If you take it seriously you attempt to persuade others of this fact. You do not wield it as though it were a kind of threat of war, something repulsive and meant only to intimidate. Only great harm can come from this use and the impression it creates. The idea of dissolving the PA, on the other hand, would be fine if only it were realistic and feasible. How nice it would be to turn the clock back to before the Oslo process, as though it had never occurred. Nothing would be better for the resistance than for Israel to resume the concerns of collecting the garbage, providing work opportunities, ensuring a minimal level of healthcare and education, and other such duties incumbent upon an occupying power, and for the resistance factions to turn their attention back to resistance. But, sadly, history does not go backwards. In any case, the PA is all its masters and their skippers and confederates have. They are not going to give it up. Or -- to give full rein to our fancy -- if they did, Israel would not resume direct occupation. Instead there would be a gaping vacuum to be filled by security forces and a long line of volunteers ready to rescue the Palestinian people from chaos with Western and Israeli support.
Now the idea of turning to the Security Council for a resolution establishing a Palestinian state and defining its borders is more serious in that it suits the world, though its advocates will have to endure the hardship of having their pictures taken with disagreeable populist Third World leaders like Chavez after having grown accustomed to having their pictures taken in the White House. Unfortunately, it is not an honourable way out but a cross between sleight-of-hand, potion and a spell invoked to drive out evil spirits, an attempt to influence reality through magic, quackery and deceit.
It is not honourable because it expresses the predicament of a governing authority that can neither return to negotiations nor survive without them. Its only recourse, therefore, is to solicit sympathy and support. Its leaders shuttle back-and-forth abroad in the hope of pushing matters in a favourable direction, but their diplomatic drive is unsupported by alternatives to the negotiating option. So, the world ("the world" being the US and Europe in their minds) sees no threat. It felt not the slightest tremor when the PA president announced his "disinclination" to run for another term. They had used him and they might even shed a tear or two when he leaves, but they will have already begun thinking of a replacement. He is a dear man, but that is nothing personal. Their ally is in a tight spot, but he hasn't threatened to restart the Intifada or even throw stones. The Security Council bid is rather embarrassing for him and for "the world", but eventually it will blow over and the Palestinians will return to the same predicament.
The Security Council can change neither the balances of power nor realities on the ground, not even when it sends in forces to change realities and topple governments. It is not the Security Council that does that sort of thing, but the US and its allies using the Security Council as their cover. And the US is unlikely to use the Security Council to impose sanctions on Israel, let alone to send in forces to liberate the territories in the West Bank and Jerusalem that the Security Council will proclaim a state. Indeed, the chances are that the US will use its veto on the grounds that the Palestinian-sponsored resolution is an invitation to "intervene" in the negotiations the US is brokering between "the two sides".
Since the Oslo agreement, the US has insisted that international bodies stay out of the peace process and let "the two sides" come to agreement. This logic is one of the most favourable aspects of the Oslo process as far as Israel is concerned. In Oslo, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) departed from the tradition of adhering to international resolutions in favour of negotiations between two autonomous, fictionally equal parties brokered by an impartial mediator, the US. Now, for the thousandth time since Oslo, the PA realises that it is in a fix and is trying to stir some pity in the hope that someone will throw it a lifeline. Yet every time the PA appeals to the international community, which it marginalised, or to solidarity, which it destroyed, it finds that more countries which had been friends of the Palestinian people take advantage of Oslo to develop their relations with Israel. India is just one example of many, to which witness the recent visit by Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister during the Israeli wars on Lebanon and Gaza, to Morocco.
But let's just suppose that the Security Council adopted the Palestinian-sponsored resolution or something along those lines. What would happen next? The UN established far better borders in the partition resolution of 1947. The Zionist movement even approved them, only to turn around and occupy the majority of the part that had been designated for the establishment of an Arab state in Palestine. The resolution proposed today constitutes a step backwards from the partition resolution, which is the only international resolution to date that guarantees defined borders between the two entities. Once passed the new resolution, which would also omit the Palestinian right to return, would not be implemented by Israel, which will merely call upon the PA to negotiate again because Israel will commit to nothing but the American-sponsored negotiating process and no one will force it to do otherwise.
The PLO proclaimed a Palestinian state in 1988 in Algeria. Few recall that the declaration was based on the 1947 partition resolution. The current proposal will be based on the pre-June 1967 borders, which is to say that the PA is "threatening" to compromise on the first proclamation. The temple will quake, so much so that the PA will be able to stay as it is and, in the best of circumstances, turn into a powerless state encompassed by temporary borders, along the lines of former Israeli minister of defence Shaul Mofaz's suggestion. But it will be portrayed as achievement and an act of defiance.
Some point to Israeli anger as proof that the PA regime is on the right track. What kind of proof is that? Of course Israel is against it since it is determined to obtain what it regards as the best possible conditions and advantages. Unlike the Arabs, Israel sees everything as a great loss or sacrifice, and it will never cease its moaning and sighing, even when the Arabs produce a UN Security Council resolution that constitutes a victory for it, even if it has no intention whatsoever of putting the resolution into effect.
Any honourable way out of the predicament requires some change to the strategy that led to the predicament in the first place.
When leaders reach the point of threatening to resign and simultaneously conjure up three conflicting tactics it can only mean they are in deep trouble. When this trouble is linked to a policy that has been in place for some time, and that they have defended and linked their future with at a certain point in their careers, then that policy is also in deep trouble. When a large segment of the Palestinian elites and public are affected by this policy, the trouble becomes a problem of the people. It is foolish for some sections of those elites and public to take malicious delight in the PA leadership's predicament, because the tragedy it brought about is theirs too.
Political responsibility requires a collective Palestinian/Arab search for honourable ways out of this predicament. I stress honourable ways out, as opposed to solutions or strategies. Strategies are not so much associated with morals but with concrete aims, and the material and other needs to attain these aims, as well as with persistence and determination. Such things cannot be imposed. As for solutions, there isn't one to the Palestinian cause, let alone several. Either there is a collective Arab strategy for confrontation or there is not. Resistance is an intermediate condition that needs to exist until a common Arab strategy for confrontation is formulated and put into effect. The task of the Palestinian resistance is to liberate the land, to obstruct Israel's normalisation in the region, to furnish successful models for confronting Israel and proof the confrontation is possible, to develop the collective will of Arab societies and to forestall the imposition of unjust solutions. The resistance has achieved some success in these areas.
It is impossible to impose solutions or strategies upon those who have pursued a specific strategy that conflicts with the foregoing notions. However, it is possible, and indeed necessary, to recommend to them ways out of their predicament for otherwise the current situation will be interpreted as a scene in which one part of the Palestinian people is anticipating the fall of the other part, or watching them walk down the road to disaster, for which all the Palestinian people will end up paying. The PLO leadership signed the Oslo agreement, but both the supporters and the opponents of the agreement have paid the price for its consequences. If only Arab parties had proposed alternatives to signing it instead of pushing for the agreement and then waiting for it to fail.
The PA will not revert to the resistance option and Arab states have no desire to revive the confrontation option. Ultimately, though, there is no alternative to these options, with or without the current regimes, because any modernisation, democratic development or cultural resurgence of the Arab world, even the abolition of entry visas between Arab countries, will inevitably lead to a clash with Israel.
In the meantime what kind of honourable ways out can be proposed to a large portion of the Palestinian people? First, they must recognise that the Oslo process has failed. Second, they must seriously strive to revive national unity and create a national unity government. Now that would be a threat, and a serious one. It should be put into effect because the alternatives led to disaster. Then the Palestinians should devise a common political programme, binding on all, in exchange for the PA ceasing security cooperation with Israel. On the resumption of negotiations there can be no return to separate tracks, which only give Israel the opening to play all ends against the middle and create the impression that there is some competition between these tracks when there is none. The negotiation option, therefore, must proceed in accordance with the logic of the Arab peace initiative covering Palestine, Syria and Lebanon together. Palestinians alone should not negotiate over Jerusalem and the right to return, just as Syria and Lebanon should not conclude peace agreements with Israel based on the pre-June 1967 borders without including the right to return. If there are some doubts regarding Syria's intentions, such doubts can be allayed by securing Syria's cooperation with a Palestinian national unity government within the framework of a collective Arab negotiating track.
Israel, naturally, will not look kindly on the foregoing recommendations. They were not made with Israel in mind but for Arab parties who operate in accordance with the negotiating attitude. This is not the opinion of this author, who believes that the Arab peace initiative should be withdrawn. But that said, at least there is a certain consistency to the recommendations and they offer an honourable way out. Then, when the Arab initiative fails -- and I have no doubt that it will -- Arab governments can call on Jordan and Egypt to abolish their separate peace agreements with Israel. Only then can the Arabs consider alternative options, options related to confrontation and the logic of resistance. This will turn the Palestinian/Arab dilemma into an Israeli/American one. It will also offer a solution to the revival of Arab solidarity. Even if there is reluctance to forego the logic of negotiations, at least the Arabs should consider airing this solution in a convincing way so as to make Israel and the US truly worried. Whatever the case, there is no honourable way out without abandoning the Oslo process.