By Nicola Nasser
17 August, 2006
With the Palestinian –
Israeli peace process dormant, deadlocked and declared “dead”
and at least two thirds of the Palestinians living in exile hosted and
influenced by regional powers, the Palestinian leadership is facing
an overdue review of its self-defeating unilateral approach to change
course towards a multilateral, or better a collective, Arab approach
to resolving the conflict with Israel.
Adapting to an Israeli intransigent insistence on bilateral tracks of
negotiations with the Arab League states, whether in armistice or peace
talks, the Palestinian leadership followed the Arab example and adopted
a unilateral approach to dealing with Israel, in an historical trend
that deprived it from valuable negotiating assets and absolved those
states from what the Arab masses, the Palestinians inclusive, perceive
as Pan-Arab obligations.
The Arab League states, which fought the emerging Jewish state in Palestine
in unison, at least theoretically, in 1948 signed the armistice agreements
individually and were individually forced into separate peace negotiations
after their humiliating military defeat in 1967.
The individual unilateral approach to the conflict with Israel was divisive
to the Arab ranks, gave Israel a free hand to target Arabs individually
without any hope for any unified Arab back-up, held the Palestinian
people hostage to the Israeli colonial occupation, and doomed any regional
comprehensive solution to the Arab – Israeli conflict.
However the Palestinian unilateral approach has been the most destructive
because it was used as the raison d’tere for the other Arabs to
break the ranks in unilateral dealings with Israel.
The Palestinian leadership went unilateral to launch an “armed
struggle” against Israel at a time when the Arab states were at
their most vulnerable militarily and had done with their pre-1967 “Arab
Joint Defense Pact” as well as with any military solution for
the “liberation of Palestine.”
The move however succeeded in bringing the Palestinian people back to
the regional political map, a development that Israel failed to avert
after years of negating their existence in the “land without people”
as its founding fathers used to claim.
However the Palestinian historical window of opportunity to unilaterally
exist and act had narrowed quickly and was short-lived as soon as the
Arab states recovered from their defeat, not only to resume their endeavors
to liberate their occupied lands militarily (Egypt and Syria in 1973)
but also to pursue “peace options” to achieve the same goal.
The Arab and the Palestinian unilateralism was an Israeli strategic
goal from the beginning and has always played into the hands of the
Israeli strategists who played each and every people of the Arabs against
the other to condemn all of them as losers.
The Palestinian unilateral approach was repeatedly self-justified by
a declared pledge to defend the “Palestinian independent decision-making”
vis-à-vis individual or collective Arab calls for coordination
politically and defensively.
It has cost the Palestinian people a lot of bloodshed and a distracting
political wrangling with Arab states, amid wide spread criticism that
the Palestinian justification is only a pretext to go it alone with
the Israelis, an accusation that has come true with the Oslo accords,
which infuriated the direct neighbors.
Hence the Jordanian and Egyptian unilateral approaches that led to peace
treaties with the Jewish state were in fact blessed by a Palestinian
green light and in turn joined Israel in preserving and reinforcing
the Palestinian unilateralism. Both treaties have turned the two strategically-decisive
Arab allies into mediators in the Palestinian – Israeli conflict,
in spite of their denials and assertions to the contrary.
Trapped for too long in a self-inflicted captivity to a counterproductive
U.S. strategy to be able to reconsider an alternative strategic option
and using as a misleading pretext the self-defeating and self-deceiving
motto of the “independent national decision-making,” the
Palestinian leadership for example has kept its distance from even the
least suspicion of being linked in any way to Israel’s latest
war on Lebanon, lest it is labeled a party to the U.S.-termed “axis
The Palestinian leadership has been pacified and tamed to be part and
parcel of the Arab officialdom, which is very well versed with the U.S.
politics and minutes of the American strategies, tactics and demands,
but stone-deaf to the daily pulse of their people.
For example on the same day the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were declaring that no
links exist between the case of the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinians
and the two soldiers captured by Hizbullah, spokesmen for more than
10.000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails were appealing to Sayyed
Hassan Nassrullah to include their beloved ones in any deal with Israel.
And while Abbas was telling reporters that the Palestinian and Lebanese
conflicts with Israel were two separate “paths,” the defunct
peace process that was declared “dead” by none other than
the Arab League chief Amr Mousa led to Palestinian despair that is leading
to calls to do away with the Oslo accords and the Israeli-reoccupied
autonomous Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian popular identification with anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. Arab
resistance, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, has reached an all-time high.
A poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Near East Consulting group and
released August 8, found that Hizbullah had the support of 97 percent
of Palestinians, compared with three percent who said they were opposed
to the group.
The Palestinian leadership in total disregard of their people’s
pulse strictly adhered to disengagement from a Hizbullah-led resistance
to the U.S.-backed Israeli 33-day bombardment of Lebanon, betting on
an Israeli overwhelming victory, thus missing an opportunity to end
Israel’s six-year old war on the Palestinian people and free some
of their detainees in the Israeli jails.
The families of the Jordanian POWs in Israeli jails are still lamenting
their government’s similar decision to disengage from a Hizbullah-Israeli
deal two years ago.
By linking to the Lebanese wagon heading for the United Nations Security
Council the Palestinian leadership could have made up for failing to
clinch a UN resolution to stop the Israeli war on the Palestinian Authority,
government and people, thanks to the U.S. veto, and for failing to convene
an Arab League summit to help stop the Israeli onslaught and break the
eight-month military, economic, financial and diplomatic siege imposed
on the Palestinian people early in 2006.
When the Arab League foreign ministers managed to meet on Lebanon in
Beirut about two weeks ago they were relieved to avoid linking the Palestinian
and Lebanese tracks in their move towards the UN Security Council.
Time also is not on the Palestinians’ side to give them hope that
their salvation is on the horizon, let alone being imminent. The campaign
for the upcoming U.S. elections has already begun and Israelis have
become experts in exploiting this waste of time of inactive U.S. foreign
diplomacy as much as Arab officialdom have become experts in waiting
for the U.S. diplomacy to become active again.
However the Palestinians still have one opening out of their captivity:
Linking to the Syrian peace option, at least to be in harmony with their
recent repeated calls for an international conference to work out a
comprehensive regional solution.
This doesn’t necessarily mean joining the U.S. - termed Syrian-Iranian
“axis of terror,” nor a break with their peace allies in
Egypt and Jordan.
The Syrian option could be developed into an Arab peace front including
Egypt and Jordan to pursue peace with Israel collectively, backed politically
by the Arab League and the majority of the United Nations members and
defensively by the resistance movements to the ongoing Israeli military
adventures that have been for years pushing a sustainable and lasting
peace out of the regional outreach.
This option could create a united Arab peace front, in an overdue response
to an old demand by the sympathizing world community.
Such an Arab collective approach to a comprehensive regional peace was
tested by the late Saudi Arabian king Fahad early in the eighties of
the last century to be updated and upgraded by a Saudi initiative that
was adopted by the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, in
March 2002, an effort that was swiftly and vehemently aborted by the
Israeli and U.S. strategic allies.
The U.S. has historically vetoed the United Nations out of the Arab-Israeli
conflict and blocked the implementation of dozens of UN resolutions
to resolve it.
Outside the UN resolutions, the successive U.S. administrations and
their western allies have proposed more than two dozens of the so-called
“peace plans” since Israel was conditionally admitted to
the U.N. in 1949, all of them dealt with and accepted by the Arabs including
the Palestinians, but all were aborted by Israel because none of them
obliged it to commit to the UN resolutions and international law.
The U.S.-only approach has not delivered, but prolonged the Palestinian
A third option should be sought, not to rule the United States out of
the regional peace-making, but to involve it, help it balance its regional
policy to be evenhanded, weigh in to make peace instead of its 60-year
old policy of just managing a peace process in the region.
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in
Ramallah, West Bank. He is the editor of the English Web site of the
Palestine Media Centre (PMC).