It’s time to think beyond the PA

After years of fruitless negotiating efforts, Palestinians are finally coming to realize that not much is left to negotiate over. The term two-state solution meant something completely different back in November, 1988 when late President Yasser Arafat first declared a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Then, the idea was a far-fetched but still possible option, given that the Palestinians had yet to sign any agreements with Israel or agree to any bogus deadlines or unreasonable conditions. They were under Israeli occupation, were in the midst of the first uprising and, despite the oppressive conditions on the ground, were more in control of their fate then they are now.

However, to be fair to Palestine’s leaders, a shot at negotiations seemed to be a reasonable risk to take. It would not have been the first revolution to resolve a political situation through a negotiated solution. Northern Ireland and South Africa are the two most prominent examples of this. Besides, Palestinians believed they had much of the world on their side. The United Nations had long ago called for a withdrawal of Israel’s forces from lands it occupied in the 1967 War; it also called for a return and compensation of refugees and many countries have made it clear that they would back a Palestinian state on the 22 percent of Palestine left after the creation of Israel. So, it was worth taking a crack at negotiations, many would say. Hence, the PLO dove head first into this new role, storing away its guerilla fatigues and replacing them with the hats of negotiators. What followed was a slew of conferences, agreements and handshakes (and even a Nobel Peace Prize for Arafat shared jointly with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) and a brief period of euphoria and illusion that we were finally nearing the end of the tunnel.

The rest, it might be added, is history. Today, 18 years after the official start of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations hailed into existence by the Madrid Conference of 1991, practically nothing we Palestinians envisioned has come to pass. This begs the question, if it doesn’t work, why do it?

Many have opined over the years that the negotiating track was doomed from the start, mostly because Israel was calling all the shots. While this was indeed a major problem, what is more of a problem is the fact that the Palestinians fell right into the trap. Lured by the glitz of international recognition and titles that gave the impression of independence, Palestinians reveled in their newfound "power" –” presidents, ministers, police forces and red carpets. The Palestinian Authority, meant to be a transitional body created for the sole purpose of safely carrying the Palestinians to the shores of statehood, has now become an end rather than a means. And who will tell those who have grown accustomed to these false seats of power that these seats’ national purpose is all but obsolete?

This is not to say that the people in these seats are useless. On the contrary, if our energies are channeled in the right direction, it is these people who have the most experience in the ways of the Palestinian revolution and government all at once. However, perhaps it is time for them to realize that the current structure has become counterproductive to our national interests.

For one, the Palestinian Authority was meant to be a transitional authority that would end once a state was realized in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Beyond 1999, if anything, the purpose and structure of the PA should have been altered. Not only has this failed to happen, but today we have two bodies who believe they are the legitimate leaders. The West Bank authority under President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas-run leadership in Gaza.

It is Mahmoud Abbas however, who is the real litmus test. A Fateh veteran, Abbas was always a strong advocate of the two-state solution and peace through negotiations. If anything is to be said about President Abbas, it is that he has tried virtually everything to stay on the track of negotiations. But even Abbas apparently has his limits.

A few weeks ago, in the face of Israel’s continued intransigence over the stalled peace process and its unwavering opposition to halt settlement expansion especially in east Jerusalem, Abbas said his constituents should not expect to see his name on the roster of presidential candidates in the 2010 elections. He even hinted that he would throw in the towel before then, resigning from political life altogether. While his announcement may have shocked many, it should have shocked none. On the contrary, it is long overdue as are so many other steps that might push the international community to realize just how unbalanced this conflict really is. Abbas claimed his decision was based on the fact that Israel has continued to build settlements despite the US’s demand for their halt and was therefore uninterested in reaching any peaceful solution. Furthermore, Israel has breached just about every agreement signed with the Palestinians starting from the Oslo Accords all the way to the US-brokered roadmap. Hence, trying to negotiate with Israel is more or less useless.

Besides, the two-state solution is hardly viable at this point, what with the monstrous Jewish settlements, the separation wall, the bypass roads, the separation between Gaza and the West Bank and the isolation of Jerusalem. Of the 22 percent of Palestine, at least 40 percent is currently being utilized by Israel and is inaccessible to the Palestinians. Negotiating a two-state solution where the Palestinian state is anything worth speaking of is a moot point at this stage. For that to happen, Israel would have to reverse the bulk, if not all, of its actions post-1967, which is highly unlikely to say the least.

So, what’s left? When even Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, admits that negotiations have failed, there’s not much to work with. That is why the bid to take Palestine’s case to the UN Security Council is not as outrageous as one may think. If the PA is dissolved or at least if its leaders relinquish whatever authorities they have to the UN, perhaps the international community will finally shoulder its responsibility towards the Palestinian question, which it has shirked for so long.