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Issa Khalaf: What Options Left for Palestine?

Issa Khalaf: What Options Left for Palestine?

The Palestinians have to think hard about their options but first and foremost must develop a national unity government that is not at odds with itself.
By Issa Khalaf, Ph.D.

The events overtaking Palestine are eerily reminiscent of 1948. Unfolding today in the occupied territories is another disaster of historic proportions, evocative of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence. Israeli expansion, colonization, and consolidation of what is left of historic Palestine, that is, the West Bank, are reaching a culmination in the next several years. Not only is the Gaza Strip pauperized, choked, and surrounded, but also the West Bank is in the furious process of being geographically, socially, demographically, economically, and politically atomized and fragmented, in the hope of reducing Palestinian national political cohesion into localized, divided factions and leaders, what the Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling, calls politicide. The object in the past five years under the incapacitated Sharon and his protégé, Ehud Olmert, is (the now successful) destruction of the Oslo Accords and Road Map and the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure.

The essential outcomes of the delusional, contorted Israeli drive to annex huge portions of the West Bank and unilaterally demarcate its borders while herding the Palestinians into pens and somehow rendering them invisible, are clear: the two-state option is dead, a democratic unitary or binational state is anathema to Israel, a negotiated settlement based on UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 and international law are avoided like the plague, an economically and geographically viable Palestine state is non-existent, and Israeli insecurity, continuing mutual violence and terrorism are assured.

The American-Israeli-EU conditions to Hamas to renounce violence, accept all past agreements, and embrace a two state solution are reasonable enough in a sane world. However, Israel has violated, rendered irrelevant, and irreversibly changed the latter two's constitutive elements, lending a surreal, even bizarre quality to this ordeal, as if all parties, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself, are in denial over the yawning, brutal gap between Israeli words and actions.

And so Palestinian politics endlessly replays itself in the context of brutal occupation, disarray, factionalism and virtually no options, alongside a persisting and remarkably resilient Palestinian nationalism, including a vital and vibrant democratic public. Exactly what does it mean for Abbas to repeat the Israeli diktats, and to pretend (or believe) that Israel is actually interested in a negotiated settlement that would see it relinquish the occupied territories, dismantle the colonies, and share Jerusalem in the face of overwhelming evidence and actions to the contrary?

The answer is not easily apprehended, but surely has to do with American-Israeli-EU political and economic pressure; the shock of electoral defeat of men who are products of Fatah and the PLO and its secular-nationalist foundation; the reluctance to relinquish privilege and patronage or share power and status and control; psychological investment in the negotiations conducted with Israel; the ego satisfaction of being in the circle of powerful leaders and states; the certain knowledge, not always demonstrably understood by Hamas in the past, that there is no military option and that violence and terrorism only lead to horrific levels of Palestinian suffering; even the hope that Hamas will be destabilized and fall from political grace.

The first and primary step is for Abbas and Fatah to acknowledge the reality that the current Israeli government, and a runaway Zionism, has no interest or ideological inclination to make peace with the Palestinians and that, even if Hamas accedes to its conditions, events will continue as usual: ceaseless negotiations while Israel creates facts on the ground, hoping to eventually legitimize its massive annexations and border demarcation by forcing a cooperative Palestinian government's agreement. There is no other road to which Palestine/Israel is currently heading.

There is no question in my mind that Hamas, despite the ridiculous ambiguity inherent in "staged peace" and "long term cease fires," should and will recognize Israel in its pre-1967 borders should Israel commit itself to real peace, or that its Islamist militancy will be dramatically curtailed upon assumption of the perquisites and symbols of state power, including the hyper-engaged Palestinian public's expectation of performance in governing. Not to mention legitimate Arab and international pressure. But this will not be so.

The Palestinians have to think hard about their options but first and foremost must develop a national unity government that is not at odds with itself and formulates a clear national response to its people's hellish reality, including a compromise agreement over Hamas' response to the Israeli conditions.

Part of Hamas' strategy is eminently sound, including its principled defense of the Palestinians' core interests, its efforts to create a national consensus and a countervailing balance to the one-sided American-Israeli alliance by developing diplomatic and financial relations with Arab, Muslim, and European states such as Russia, and its emphasis on transparency and accountability. The US is Israel's unremitting advocate; it will not apply pressure on Israel nor allow the UN or any other body to complement, much less replace it. These channels and options, particularly the development of an Arab consensus, have to be aggressively cultivated by a unified Palestinian government, which must also undertake a diplomatic offensive at the UN.

The Palestinian government must repeatedly bring to the attention of the world the reality of the Israeli occupation in all of its ugly forms, while making clear its own rejection of violence. A public relations campaign has to keep emphasizing Israel's violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, and international law. Things must be said as they are. Principles must take precedence.

Additionally, a unified Palestinian government must make clear the following: It will suspend further negotiations with Israel, such as they are, until Israel: desists in its severe repression and violations of international humanitarian law, stops construction of the wall, freezes settlement activity and annexation, reconfirms previous agreements and frameworks it entered into, and accepts as the basis for peace UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, international law, and the principle of a two state solution within this context, including the Palestinian people's right to national self-determination.

This, after all, is the least the Palestinian people are morally entitled to. A Palestinian government, any Palestinian government that follows these principles as guidelines for diplomatic and political negotiations, cannot fail anymore than one that lives under the illusion that it is actually involved in peace negotiations, a process that will lead nowhere but to further suffocation at the hands of Israeli occupation. Palestine has very few options. It is really abandoned and alone.


-Issa Khalaf, author of Politics in Palestine, holds a Ph.D. in political science and Middle East studies from Oxford University.

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