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April 18, 2012

Putting Palestine back on the agenda

By asserting that Iran is a threat to Israel's existence (a ludicrous assertion) and beating the drums for war with it, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has succeeded in getting Palestine off the political and mainstream media agenda and winning more time for Zionism to consolidate its occupation of the West Bank.

As Barak Ravid noted in an article for Ha’aretz, “The Presidential election season in the United States is obviously an especially good time to enlarge settlements in the West Bank and strike new roots in the Jewish neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.”

Question: What can be done to put Palestine back on the agenda?

Answer: Close down the Palestinian Authority and by so doing make Israel fully responsible for its occupation.

As my regular readers know, I advocated this course of action many months ago, but the case for actually doing it has now been well made by Yossi Beilin, the Israeli who has worked harder than any other for real peace with the Palestinians.

Beilin served as a minster in the cabinets of three Israel Prime Ministers - Rabin, Peres and Barak; was the architect on the Israeli side of the Oslo peace process; worked on the Beilin-Abu Mazen talks between 1993 and 1995; and launched the Geneva Accord with Yasser Abed Rabbo in 2003.

Incidentally, I agree with Beilin. The Oslo process was not doomed to failure from its beginning. As Arafat once said to me, it could have worked if Rabin had not been assassinated by a Zionist zealot, and if the U.S. and other major powers had insisted that Israel honoured the commitments it made.

Beilin delivered his call for action in an open letter to Palestinian “President” Abbas published by Foreign Policy. It was headlined Dear Abu Mazen, End This Farce.  Here is part of what Beilin wrote:

I admit that I never believed the moment would come when I would have to write these words. I am doing so because U.S. President Barack Obama has convinced you not to announce, at this point in time, the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority's institutions and the ‘return of the keys’ of authority for the Palestinian territories to Israel.

Because there have never been serious negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the last three years, and because you did not want to perpetuate the myth that a meaningful dialogue existed, you have been sorely tempted to declare the death of the ‘peace process’ - but the American president urged you to maintain the status quo. It is a mistake to agree to Obama's request, and you can rectify this.

You and I both understand that the current situation is a ticking time bomb. From my point of view, what is at stake is the loss of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. From yours, it is the loss of the chance for an independent Palestinian state. And from both of our points of view, the failure of the two-state solution risks a renewal of terrible violence.

Anyone who believes these things must take action. You can do it, and for this step you do not need a partner. A declaration of the end of the Oslo process - justified by the fact that the path to a permanent-status agreement is blocked - is the most reasonable, nonviolent option for putting the subject back on the world's agenda, with the aim of renewing genuine efforts to reach a conclusive solution.

Dissolving the Palestinian Authority and returning daily control to Israel would be an action nobody could ignore. It is not at all similar to a demonstration in front of the Municipality of Ramallah, nor is it similar to appealing to the United Nations for member-state status. This is a step that only you can take, and a step that will demand a response.

I know how difficult it is. I know how many tens of thousands of people depend on the Palestinian Authority for their livelihoods. I am able to appreciate all that you and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have accomplished - establishing Palestinian institutions, growing an economy in impossible conditions, and fostering security in the West Bank.

After all these endeavors, however, you still need to beg the government of Israel to release your money from customs, you still need to beg the Republicans in the U.S. Congress to transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority, and you still need to stand, day after day, before your Palestinian critics and explain why your political efforts are failing. Please don't let this be the way you end your political mission - a mission that seeks to achieve Palestinian independence without the use of violence.

Do not hesitate for a moment! Do not accept the request of President Obama, who merely wants to be left undisturbed before election day. Do not let Prime Minister Netanyahu hide behind the fig leaf of the Palestinian Authority - impose upon him, once again, the responsibility for the fate of 4 million Palestinians. Remain as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which will give you the authority to lead the political negotiations if and when they resume.

But for the sake of your own people, and for the sake of peace, you cannot let this farce continue.

After that call for action, Abbas told an unofficial Israeli delegation which included Beilin that he was not prepared to wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November and was prepared to rock Obama’s boat. What might that mean?

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is about to meet with Netanyahu and will hand him a letter, which will lay out Palestinian positions for an agreement with Israel and give him, Netanyahu, one month to respond positively. If he does not respond positively, the letter will say, Abbas will resume the process of seeking to obtain UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

Momentum on that front could be seriously embarrassing for Obama because it could lead to him having to veto UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the final countdown to the November election. (I can almost hear Obama administration officials saying to Abbas something like, “If you wait until after the president is re-elected, there will not be an American veto).

During his meeting with the unofficial Israeli delegation Abbas confirmed that his officials have discussed dismantling the Palestinian Authority and said that the issue will arise again if the process of seeking to obtain UN recognition of a Palestinian state is resumed.

Could that mean that Abbas will be ready and willing to dismantle the PA in the event of an American veto of UN recognition of a Palestinian state and/or Netanyahu’s confirmation by default that Israel is not remotely interested in peace on any terms acceptable to the Palestinians?

I hope so.

If Abbas does agree to end the farce and dismantle the PA, how would be the Palestinians be represented after the impotent and discredited institution had been put out of its misery?

Short answer, by bringing back to life the Palestine National Council, re-invigorated by elections to it in every place on Planet Earth where Palestinians are living.

In my view dismantling the PA would put Palestine back on the agenda and a re-invigorated PNC could and would keep it there.

But it’s not so simple. Bringing back a re-invigorated PNC as the Palestinian parliament-in-exile and the highest decision-making body on the Palestinian side would require the Palestinian Diaspora to become seriously engaged. The question is - Do enough Diaspora Palestinians care enough to make it happen?

I have previously written, and believe with even more passion today, that if they don’t, they will be charged by future historians with betraying their oppressed brothers and sisters in Palestine that became Israel.

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M. Elmasry

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