SEIZE THE MOMENT
Should the Palestinian leadership fail to seize the moment, it would condemn itself to eternal damnation.
In the speech, Abbas rejected the notion of resuming peace negotiations in the usual manner. He called for a timetable for ending the occupation supervised by the UN. He also spoke of the genocidal war Israel waged against the Palestinian people, and warned that it would not escape punishment. All important and positive remarks.
Bilateral negotiations under sole American supervision should have been abandoned long ago. Final status negotiations should have been completed in May 1999, as stipulated in the Oslo agreements. Since then, negotiations have been going on without achieving anything. In fact, Israel has used this time to tighten its grip on the occupied territories through continuous settlement building, aggression, and racist measures.
In short, what happened was the exact opposite of what the Palestinians had hoped for. The PA, which the Palestinians hoped would act as a temporary transitional body that would create the necessary conditions for ending the occupation and eventual statehood, turned into a permanent institution tasked with ensuring the security of the occupation. It soon became clear that Israel would not allow the PA to become anything more than an authority for autonomy under occupation. The PA thus became a burden on the shoulders of the people and the cause. The role and function of the PA must be dealt with in a different manner, such that it becomes a tool in the hands of the PLO and the Palestinian national program, not the other way round.
Persisting with the so-called peace process is more than a mistake; it is a mortal sin. The Palestinians must abandon this barren process, and adopt a new and fundamentally different political process. Many milestones prove without a shadow of a doubt that the peace process in its current format is futile: the Camp David summit in 2000, the Taba conference in 2001, operation Defensive Wall in 2002, the fact that Israel made 14 reservations against the 2003 Roadmap (despite its being biased in favor of Israel), accelerated settlement, and generally creating new conditions that made the Israel version of a solution the only viable one.
During this time, Israel has vehemently opposed all peaceful attempts to reach agreement through American-supervised bilateral talks, the last being the mission under taken by Secretary of State John Kerry. In this context, President Abbas' UN speech indicated that the Palestinians intend to seek a new formula, but without completely abandoning the old. This step should have been taken at least 14 years ago, but better late than never – as long as there is a conviction for change. The Palestinians have no more time to lose in trying to revive a long dead peace process. Despite American and Israeli attempts to mislead public opinion that there is a peace process, the fact of the matter is that the process died long ago.
As important as Abbas's speech was however, the President was keen not to burn his bridges with the United States nor turn his back completely on the path of bilateral talks. He believes that the Americans could agree to unilateral Israeli steps that could damage prospects for a peace settlement. He failed to mention a plan details of which were discussed in the last few weeks that includes a short timetable for statehood, seeking membership of the International Criminal Court, and cancelling security cooperation with Israel if the U.S., Israel, and the UN reject the Palestinian initiative. It is said that Abbas did not mention his plan because France was in the process of persuading the Americans not to veto a watered down version of the Palestinian-Arab plan.
Yet a new UN Security Council resolution calling for ending the occupation without compelling Israel to agree to a fixed timetable and without adequate guarantees would only be an attempt to undermine a new approach and a bid to resume bilateral talks with no fundamental change to the foundations and reference point according to which they have been held in the past. Such a new resolution would also be an attempt to undermine the growing campaign to boycott Israel and call it to account for its crimes.
The Americans and Israelis savaged Abbas's speech. The American State Department described it as ‘provocative, disappointing and offensive,’ while Israel's FM Avigdor Lieberman said it was a form of ‘diplomatic and political terrorism.’ Even the Israeli Labor Party criticized the speech. I hope that these positions indicate a clear and final abandonment of the path of bilateral talks, which would convince Abbas that the Palestinians are standing on the cusp of a historic turning point they must seize without delay.
The president and the Palestinian leadership must courageously adopt a new approach that starts by restoring national unity under a single leadership on the basis of a genuine political partnership and new strategies designed to exploit all Palestinian points of strength in order to alter the prevailing balance of power and facilitate the achievement of Palestinian objectives and rights.