Is there a Palestinian Strategy?

Palestinian officials have once again condemned the U.S. for vetoing a resolution opposing the Israeli policy of building a separation wall deep inside Palestinian territory. On the face of it, this condemnation of the U.S. position has merit. After all, the U.S. is on the record as repeatedly opposing the building of this wall. Palestinian officials are also correct in their assessment that the repeated use of the veto power by the United States weakens its credibility as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict. Unfortunately, in today’s political world, it is not enough to be right; sometimes it is more prudent to be wise than correct.

Being wise might require that Palestinians and Arabs at times bite the bullet and accept compromises for the greater good. Sometimes, it is necessary to make some deals in order to obtain the desired results from a body like the Security Council whose decisions are legally binding even for Israel, even if it chooses to ignore some of them. In this regard, the U.S. representative to the United Nations said that his government would not have vetoed the resolution had it contained explicit condemnation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for their violent acts against Israeli civilians. While one can argue that the issue is not relevant to the confiscation of Palestinian land, one has to think long and hard about whether it is more important to make a stand or to get the world community to agree, even with a watered down resolution. Ironically, the Palestinian National Authority and most Arab countries have already publicly condemned the most recent attack in Haifa and all previous suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, but were unwilling to do so explicitly at the United Nations.

The larger issue, of course, is even more important, and the question that begs a reply concerns what the Palestinian strategy for independence is. At times, one gets the impression that the Palestinian leadership believes that there is no choice but the diplomatic track. In following such a strategy, Yasser Arafat and senior Palestinian leaders repeatedly insist that the United States is key to any such international diplomatic push. Palestinians have welcomed all publicly declared U.S. initiatives, the latest of which was the Roadmap and the U.S. opposition to the wall. Similarly, many in the Palestinian leadership insist that it is equally important to strengthen the Israeli peace camp and to make important gestures towards the Israelis, in order to help create an internal Israeli public opinion that will force the government to come to terms with Palestinian aspirations.

If that is the case, then the Palestinian leadership and its representatives at the United Nations and international parleys are mistaken in their approach. Instead of embarrassing the U.S. and forcing it to veto resolutions against Israel, the Palestinians should work closely with the Americans at finding the best way forward. If that means watering down a resolution, then that is what they ought to work for. If it means that a resolution will not even be put to a vote, then that also needs to be done.

In as far as Israel is concerned, much more can be done to encourage the Israeli peace camp. Naturally, finding a way to convince Islamic militants to avoid attacking civilians in Israel would be a major boost. Much more is needed in this direction. For example, the recently signed peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in Geneva should have received more favorable response from Palestinian officials than it did. Leaders in Ramallah, as well as the head of the PLO’s foreign affairs department, Farouk Kaddoumi, belittled the importance of this agreement and were non-committal to it. Sure, it is clear that the PNA was not officially a party to the agreement and, therefore, is not legally bound by it, but if the aim is to strengthen the Israeli peace, then the Palestinian leadership should have given it a warmer reception than it did.

Some in the PNA argue that they don’t want to make any free compromises before negotiations begin. The issue of the right of return, for example, is often presented as one with which the Palestinian leadership prefers not to deal until the last moment in the negotiations. This might have been correct some time ago, but at present, the Israeli government, the international community and most Palestinians know very well that the issue of the right of return of the Palestinians will be sacrificed in any final resolution with the Israelis. Recent public opinion polls have confirmed what has been known for a while: that most Palestinian refugees are not interested in returning to live in the state of Israel.

Whatever the motivation, the Palestinian leadership cannot continue to operate on both sides of the track. If the Palestinian leadership has some romantic ideas about the armed struggle, it needs to work at explaining their strategy to the Palestinian people and prepare them for a long and bloody future. If, on the other hand, it believes that the best strategy for obtaining an independent Palestinian state is to follow the diplomatic track, then every possible effort should be made to link up with all forces that will make this track successful.