Twenty-one years of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will reach a new deadline at the end of April. All signs point to the harsh reality that the current peace effort, led by U.S, Secretary of State John Kerry, will end in failure.
The most important question, following what is almost certain to be another failed set of talks, is not “why do peace initiatives between the two sides keep failing” but “what should the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian president do after this latest failure?”
In the past, the failure of negotiations has often led to Palestinian-initiated violence, a bad move because Israel is more prepared to deal with violent Palestinians than they are to confront peaceful Palestinians. Violence from the far weaker party in the negotiations allows Israel to justify its colonial policies and continue its own violent “legitimate” response.
By making demands in these negotiations that no Palestinian leader could accept, Israel has set a trap. Palestinians must not fall into that trap.
Palestinians should reject violence, act strategically, and embrace the nonviolent approaches we have employed previously. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should respond immediately to the failure of the current round of peace negotiations by making eight strategic decisions.
One: Agree to continue the negotiations based on a future with one democratic state for all Palestinian and Israeli citizens.
Negotiations toward a one-state solution is one that all Palestinians should be able to accept. Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should no longer be the sole strategy for ending the occupation.
Another round of negotiations must no longer be based on the 1967 border. The next round should work toward one state with equal rights for all.
President Abbas should make it clear to his people and to the world that he will not waste one more day of his life, nor waste the lives of his people, on endless and fruitless negotiations based on a 1967 border Israel’s leaders don’t take seriously. He must declare his willingness to continue negotiating but only with the goal of “one democratic state for all.”
Two: Dismantle the Palestinian Authority (PA) and replace it with a more inclusive and restructured Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been trapped in successive rounds of negotiations with the sole goal of meeting its unrealistic and unfair obligations made under the 1993 Oslo agreements. Some of these obligations have always been contrary to the strategic interests of the Palestinian people. The time has come for President Abbas and the leadership of the PA to dismantle itself. The PA should be replaced by a more inclusive and restructured PLO.
This newly-constituted PLO must be restructured to include all Palestinian political parties, beginning, of course, with Fatah and Hamas. This restructured PLO must assume, once again, its responsibility not only for Palestinians inside Palestine but also for Palestinians in our Diaspora.
Three: Political divisions among the Palestinian people must come to an end.
The current political and territorial divisions among Palestinians are detrimental to the cause of liberation and the future of Palestine. The current divisions, either by choice or forced by Israel, include the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, Seam Zone, Jordan Valley, inside the wall, outside the wall, inside Israel, and the diaspora.
Because of these divisions, shared Palestinian values and common goals are changing and diminishing. President Abbas must work to end this division, especially between the West Bank and Gaza.
It is obvious that Israel has worked to divide the Palestinian people along both political and territorial lines. Israel knows that a divided people are always a weakened people. Palestinians must tear down these divisions. Only a unified people can ensure a better future and provide hope for freedom and independence.
Four: Peaceful resistance, UN membership and boycott must be the core strategy.
Peaceful resistance is essential for people who desire freedom, self-determination and independence. Until Israel agrees to the “one-state solution” or, at the very least, recognizes the right of Palestine to exist as an independent state, the Palestinian president must take three steps:
a. Seek full membership in all of the UN agencies and treaties.
b. Launch a popular and peaceful resistance against the occupation.
c. Support the worldwide campaign to boycott Israeli settlements and companies advancing Israeli colonization of Palestine. This campaign must end when Israel agrees to a comprehensive solution with the Palestinians, ending the occupation, providing equal rights, and accepting a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.
Five: Hold elections now.
The last Palestinian elections were held in 2005/2006. Without elections, a ruling government loses its legitimacy. Palestinians need to feel proud again of being Palestinians, living under duly elected leaders.
Now is the time for President Abbas to instruct the Central Election Commission to prepare for presidential, parliamentary, and PLO elections before the end of 2014. These elections will help end, particularly, the division between the West Bank and Gaza. They will provide the opportunity for new inspirational leadership to emerge and bestow legitimacy to the ruling political system of Palestine.
Since the founding of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians have not had an elected vice-president. In order to ensure security, stability and sustainability, a vice-presidential position must be created. In a new election, both a president and a vice-president must be elected.
Six: Government institutions must make Palestinians proud and internationals excited.
Since the founding of the PA, many Palestinian institutions have performed below an acceptable standard. In spite of this, since the PA was established, it has enjoyed unprecedented financial and political support from many countries around the world.
However, the PA has failed to make the project of “establishing the State of Palestine” exciting and successful. This must change.
International support for Palestine and the Palestinian people remains a “charitable” project. Unfortunately, this “Project of Palestine” has failed to move beyond its initial charity status to become a program that demonstrates an international solidarity that would galvanize the Palestinian people and friends of Palestine around the world.
We must develop strong Palestinian institutions and perform in a way that would make Palestinians proud and motivate them to actively participate in the “project of Palestine.”
Seven: Mend relations with Arab states.
Palestinian influence on Arab States has diminished as a result of the recent changes in the Arab World. That influence has also been diminished by ill-conceived Palestinian interference in the internal affairs of some Arab counties. President Abbas must work to mend these relationships and strengthen communications again with both the populations and the governments of the Arab countries.
Eight: Create a precedent for a democratic transition of power.
President Abbas has worked hard for his people. Thanks in part to him, Palestinians have not resorted to violence. His moderate stands have helped to generate greater international support for the Palestinian cause. If President Abbas resigns, as he has said he wishes to do, he will pave the way for a democratic transition of power within Palestine.
No one saves us but ourselves. We can, and we must, find a way to live together: Palestinians and Israelis — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — on the land that has witnessed far too much suffering by its children.
Now is the time to make decisions that will lead to a brighter future for all.
Estephan Salameh served as the Palestinian Authority head of aid management and coordination with the donor countries and is now a lecturer at Birzeit University. He earned a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in planning and policy.