With Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president and head of the PLO, announcing that he will not seek another term in power, the clearest possible signal has been sent that the possibility for any peace process between Palestinians and Israelis is moribund.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has now reached a critical impasse, and only something dramatic can break the stalemate. Without anything suitably dramatic, the current artificial state of affairs can limp on for a few years until Palestinians yet again reach a breaking point and there is another serious round of violence.
Israeli provocations in Jerusalem, especially in the absence of the international attention that usually comes with a negotiations process, could easily provide such a trigger. Any such new round of violence will not achieve anything for anybody, except destabilise the region and further entrench the hostility between Israelis and Palestinians.
In order to avoid this depressing consequence, there are two options. First, the international community can decide to get involved in earnest and insist on the implementation of international law at pain of sanctions. That could mean that the US decides to give up its monopoly on mediation and agrees to comply with the will of something like the Quartet.
This would also necessitate the EU, in particular, to give up its current cosy role of simply giving economic aid to the Palestinians, which only relieves Israel of fulfilling its responsibilities as an occupying power.
It could also mean that the US throws away its reservations about pressuring Israel and applies some real muscle to its diplomacy. Everyone knows, or ought to know, that the obstacle to peace is Israel. Israel can end the occupation, but it is clearly not willing to do so. It needs to be persuaded. The US is best placed to do this, but the Obama administration has, disappointingly, failed to live up to its early promise.
Should the international community shy away from such a role, only one viable option remains open to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority needs to be dismantled, with the minimum of consequence for its many employees, and Palestinians must publicly proclaim an end to their quest for an independent Palestinian state and instead ask for their civil and social rights in Israel, with all that this entails.
Palestinians, like any other people, have the right to freedom. That can only be fulfilled in a state of their own, an option currently off the table, or with full rights on their land.
In such an endeavour, Palestinians will need to reject violence in order to comprehensively alter the rules of the game. They will also need to trust that Arab states are prepared to support them by not giving Israel the option to repeat the mass expulsions of 1948.
Politically, Arab states can collectively add to the Arab League’s peace plan an addendum that states that the Arab world will recognise an Israel, on all historic Palestine, that gives equal rights to all the peoples living there, as well as allows the right of return to Palestinian refugees, by then, strictly speaking, Israeli refugees.
8 November 2009