After a failed statehood bid at the UN, the tragic Gaza debacle and Netanyahu’s re-election, what now for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza?
First, there was the disastrous Gaza campaign launched last August by Hamas against Israel. That resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Gazans and 70 Israelis, hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to Gaza’s dilapidated infrastructure and more than 120,000 Gazan homes destroyed. The accord that eventually ended the senseless violence did nothing to improve the misery that is now Gaza, “the world’s largest outdoor prison.” Moreover, as of today, Gazans have seen little of the $5.4 billion in aid pledged after the conflict ended.
Second, and not to be outdone, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) went to the United Nations Security Council in December 2014 to seek a Security Council resolution to force Israel into a peace agreement within one year. That failed as badly as Hamas’ efforts, albeit less costly in lives and resources. Despite warnings by the United States and other governments friendly to the Palestinian cause, PA President Mahmoud Abbas persisted, resisting softening language that might have earned him a few more votes and even an American abstention. He also rebuffed offers of a vote postponement that might have given him a new and more receptive Security Council membership.
Then, in March 2015, Israeli voters re-elected Binyamin Netanyahu, who pledged in his campaign never to accept a Palestinian state. After his election, Netanyahu tried to walk back his campaign statements on Palestinian statehood. Nevertheless, his re-election merely reaffirmed what many Palestinians long suspected: Israel will never accept a Palestinian state under any terms.
These events are the latest of a long series of one-step-forward-two-steps-back disappointments for the Palestinians since 1948. They and their sympathizers in the Middle East and elsewhere may be justified in concluding that there is no option now but to resist harshly.
But harsh tactics aimed at punishing Israelis will not work, as the endeavors of 2014 and so many others that preceded them demonstrated. The Palestinians must especially avoid violence. Such a response would fall into the trap laid for them by Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric that independence for Palestinians is tantamount to a launch pad for extremist violence against Israel. Netanyahu is wrong, and Palestinians must prove him wrong.
A Third Intifada?
Instead, Palestinians must turn inward and ask themselves what they can do to change the dynamic. They must take firm control of matters in which their actions can genuinely advance their interests. They must rise up and launch a third intifada — not against Israel, but rather to take charge of their own affairs. And they need to start with elections to choose new leaders.
In August and December 2014, the leaders of Hamas and Fatah launched their respective doomed campaigns for the same reason: to shore up declining support for themselves. Palestinians have scant regard for their leaderships, who predictably resort to shopworn playbooks when they detect a decline in their political support — either costly armed conflict against Israel in Hamas’ case, or fruitless appeals to the UN by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.
Such repeated and hopeless efforts demonstrate the bankrupt policies and uninspired leadership of these political mainstays of Palestine. It is time that the Palestinian people, with international community support, rise up and clean their own house.
Fatah celebrated its 50th anniversary in December. That’s 50 years of failing to improve Palestinian lives and 50 years of rejecting multiple opportunities to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Camp David in 1979; Oslo and its immediate aftermath in the 1990s; Camp David II in 2000; the Condolezza Rice-Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa) negotiations of 2007; and the Secretary of State John Kerry-brokered talks that broke down in 2014.
In those most recent talks, the Palestinians finally got an American-inspired, presidentially backed framework to work with, one that even had the tacit acceptance of Netanyahu. But as Israeli Chief Negotiator Tzipi Livni revealed, Abbas demurred, preferring instead to sign pointless documents of accession to various international organizations.
Hamas, barely half as old but twice as ineffective, has instigated multiple costly armed conflicts with Israel with no improvement in the lives of Gazans. It has repeatedly resisted negotiation with and even recognition of the State of Israel, garnering marginalization by the entire Middle East Quartet consisting of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
Palestinians are unjustly constrained by Israel’s illegal occupation and Netanyahu’s pledge of intransigence. But that doesn’t excuse the endemic corruption, political featherbedding and aimless, selfish leadership that have characterized Hamas and Fatah since their inceptions.
Both parties have become an anachronism — the former eschewed by the international community for its espousal of violence against Israel, and the latter a virtual carbon copy less the advocacy of violence. Just as Owen Matthews described in the case of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the two main Palestinian factions exhibit the grip that “… a group of well-organized revolutionaries can exercise on a traditional, poor society with a strong martyr culture and an all-consuming sense of grievance.”
That grip will not end until Palestinians have leaders who are pragmatic, honest and committed once and for all to sit at the table with Israel and capably negotiate a final settlement.
That will especially mean leaders who, unlike the present leaderships, can level with the Palestinians about the tough compromises necessary to reach such an agreement. It will mean leaders who won’t squander, waste and plunder $8.5 billion in foreign aid given to them since 2007. It will mean leaders committed to establishing effective and responsive institutions of democratic governance.
Palestinians need competent and responsible leadership dedicated to the betterment of the Palestinian people — one that is determined to establish a functioning and independent state that can live peacefully and work effectively with Israel.
Such a leadership will be impossible for Israelis and even for Netanyahu to ignore.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.