Two recent events illustrate the futility of the Palestinian leadership’s current course in its decades-long quest for a genuinely independent Palestinian state, and highlight the urgent need for dramatic action if they are ever to achieve it.
The first is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current six-day visit to India with a 130-member delegation. The Prime Minister was greeted on his arrival by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, despite the Modi government’s recent support for the United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The visit is expected to go a long way toward expanding trade and diplomatic ties between the two countries, including in the military sector.
This growing relationship is symbolic of the Jewish state’s expanding ties across the board with more countries, further integration into the global political and economic communities and emergent economic clout and prosperity. The message could not be more clear: Despite the political storms and security threats of the Middle East, Israel is confidently zeroed-in on its future.
Meanwhile, back in the West Bank capital of Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas almost simultaneously delivered a two-hour denunciation of the reported Trump proposal for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Addressing members of the Central Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, he condemned the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rejected the reported proposal for the Jerusalem Arab suburb of Abu Dis as the capital of a Palestinian state, threatened to withdraw Palestinian recognition of Israel and to charge Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court, and revived efforts to push for international recognition of a Palestinian state.
The remarks seemed more reminiscent of the stem-winders of the Yasser Arafat era. They sounded like a desperate and pathetic attempt to breathe new life into tired, shopworn words of a bygone period when the world actually listened. It’s questionable whether even Palestinians bothered to listen. Tragically, neither the tone nor the substance of Mr. Abbas’ remarks is relevant or useful. His cause and that of the Palestinian people is slowly slipping away.
With U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, more countries are likely to follow suit, though more quietly and diplomatically. Thus, one of the core demands of the Palestinians since the dawn of the peace process, a capital in Jerusalem, may be evaporating.
If more proof were needed, one need only look at the apathetic response in the Arab world to the U.S. action — few demonstrations and only anodyne words of condemnation from Arab and Muslim governments. All of them are far more consumed with problems of stability, economics and security at home. Though rarely expressed publicly, they also are losing interest in the cause and even more in a Palestinian leadership that seems stuck in a time warp, has failed to construct sustainable institutions for a state and has been unable to animate its own public.
The Palestinians need a major overhaul in their leadership, and then a new approach to negotiations. That’s all the more the case because their counterpart, Israel, is not the same as that of Ehud Barak’s rejected 2000 Camp David II peace proposal, nor even the period of Barack Obama’s two stillborn efforts to forge a peace during his presidency.
First, there must be elections for a new PA leadership, including president and legislative council. The current leadership around the president should not run, turning over responsibility to a new generation of Palestinian leaders. Mr. Abbas should invite the U.N. or some other recognized international body to help administer and supervise the elections, and the U.S., the European Union and other states and organizations to help fund the elections.
For such elections, all candidates should be required to subscribe to the principles of the Quartet, the grouping of the U.S., Russia, the U.N. and the EU that is charged with pursuing Middle East peace: recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of all previous agreements and renunciation of violence. Hamas would not be eligible to participate as a political party unless it formally accepted the same principles. However, Hamas members who accept them, promise to abide by them and have no record of terrorism should be considered for candidacy, perhaps under a third-party banner. All candidates would have unimpeded access to the media.
Second, a new Palestinian leadership should commit itself to building genuine institutions of democracy and to raising the economic well-being of the Palestinian people, regardless of the progress of negotiations with Israel. Critical to both of those tasks is stamping out the rampant corruption that has come to symbolize the current leadership, which has effectively capitalized on the institutionalization of Israel’s occupation.
The new leadership could then seek new aid and support from the U.S., the EU and its Arab Gulf brethren. Important to this effort is securing the commitment of Israel to also work for the benefit of the Palestinian economy. Finally, the new leadership would re-commit to unfettered security cooperation with Israel.
Lastly, the new leaders must adopt a fresh approach to negotiating with Israel. It should look at any proposal, e.g., the claimed Abu Dis plan, as an opening position subject to further negotiation. For example, are there other Arab suburbs closer to Jerusalem that might also be included in a Palestinian capital? In today’s regional climate, this isn’t seen as the issue it once was as long as Muslims are able to preserve access to the Haram al-Sharif, aka, the Temple Mount. Even the Barak proposal of 2000 of “symbolic sovereignty,” which Arafat rejected, is a thing of the past that cannot be revived.
The new Palestinian leadership also should drop the all-but-unworkable demand for right of return, which is accepted by few nations around the world and hardly believed by many Palestinian refugees. It would be replaced with a proposal for just compensation. As part of its commitment to security cooperation with Israel, the new Palestinian leadership should be willing to negotiate a plan to ensure both Israel’s security as well its own sovereignty.
Critical to this new and more credible approach is full and unconditional acceptance of Israel as a “Jewish state” or national homeland for the Jewish people. Anything less would fail to budge Israelis nor convince the rest of the world of the new leadership’s commitment to finally negotiating in transparency.
Lest this all sound as capitulation, Palestinians must reflect on where 70-plus years of failure have brought them. Meanwhile, its neighbor has prospered in spite of it all.
The new approach holds not only the promise of a state but also the prospect of prosperity for Palestinians living in peace next door to the region’s most dynamic economy. The new state, with security and economic support from nations around the world and in the region, also could work to isolate and marginalize Hamas, unless it changes its rejectionism and violence.
There can be a Palestinian state. But the current course has led Palestinians to a dismal dead-end. New leadership, new institutions and new approaches to negotiating and cooperating with Israel can put Palestinians on a far more promising path.