A new strategy of the Palestinian National Authority

01/12/12

Sergio Gonzalez Serna

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The impasse of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogs, following the blockade of direct negotiations, which were discontinued at the end of December 2008 by “Operation Cast Lead”, launched by Israel in Gaza, paved the way for this new strategy of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA): promote official recognition of the Palestinian state on the international system. The months that followed the Gaza war were marked by the efforts of the new administration of Barack Obama to allow the revival of negotiations. In January 2009, the president of the United States sent a special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to facilitate contact between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Given the important blocking factors, diplomatic pressure from the United States was not enough.[1] Furthermore, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to renew a partial suspension of settlement construction in the West Bank, enacted in November 2009. The Palestinians saw it as a sign of lack of political will on the part of Israel, and the promise to restart negotiations was broken.[2]

Then began a long period of political stalemate: on the one hand, Netanyahu remarked to be ready for the resumption of negotiations, but without accepting any preconditions; on the other hand, PNA President, Mahmud Abbas, demanded guarantees that the borders of the future Palestinian state were based on the ceasefire lines prior to the Six Day War of 1967. The issue of stopping settlement construction was particularly important for the Palestinian negotiators, to the extent that the colonization of occupied Palestinian areas determines both the territorial integrity of the future Palestinian state, and the possibility of proclaiming East Jerusalem as its capital. The strategy of protracting the negotiations applied by Israel plays against the establishment of a Palestinian state: between 1995 and 2005, the number of settlers in Israeli settlements doubled up to 270,000.[3] The frustration of the Palestinian negotiators reaches its climax on February 2011, when the United States vetoed the resolution of the United Nations Security Council against the expansion of Israeli settlements. The resolution specifically requested by the PNA, was adopted by 14 of the 15 members, but only the Obama administration’s refusal to condemn Israel blocked the motion. For Palestinians, the United States attitude confirms the belief that the United States played the role of dishonest mediator.[4]

Mahmoud Abbas had no choice but to make this request to the United Nations. The reasons were several, on the one hand, it was the only way to revive the peace process and the two-state solution, on the other, to internationalize the demand has been a way of breaking the status quo established by Israel arbitrary. Another reason is the very survival of the PNA; new winds are blowing in the Arab World and a PNA that symbolize the failure of the peace accords, without any result in years, and also a deteriorating situation in the territories certainly represent destabilizing factors in the Palestinian political scene. “In his New York meeting with Obama on 21 September, Abbas suggested there was no point maintaining the Authority if it could no longer fulfill its mission, to lead the transition on the ground toward independence and statehood”.[5]

Abbas know that if nothing changed, the PNA could crumble, so he gave a dramatic blow internationally in a timely manner. The PNA have managed to give some sense of economic improvement in the West Bank while sealing a symbolic reconciliation with Hamas, although this has not been entirely materialized,[6] and harvest the positive results of his diplomatic campaign with the support received from various countries, mostly from Latin America. Nonetheless, at domestic level, despite this attempt, credibility and even the legitimacy of the PNA are deteriorated and, by extension, that of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), formed mostly by members of Fatah party.[7] “The agreement also reminded the international community that Abbas was seeking recognition of a state he does not fully lead.”[8]

The reconnaissance of Palestine as a non-member state at the United Nations General Assembly would formally level the playing field between Israel and Palestine on the diplomatic talks. In other words, it would become a relationship between states rather than between a state and a non-state actor. Palestine would be able to formally join the international community and to insist upon a relationship based on sovereign equality. Moreover, Palestine‘s status will be formally recognized without Palestine having to make any concessions on settlements, the right of return, or Jerusalem, etc. Accordingly, in any future negotiations on these issues Palestine can negotiate with Israel as a state, as an equal.[9]

Given the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Abbas is one of the biggest losers of this operation because Hamas, his local political competitor regains popularity and support. Hamas seeks to unify the Palestinian people around it and has some valid justifications, considering that his biggest political rival, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and President of the PNA, has just presented the proposal at the General Assembly of the United Nations to elevate the status of Palestine from observer to non-member state.

Therefore, if as a result of the current crisis Hamas got no military victory, but even some effective and psychological blows against Israel, such as reaching rockets into Tel Aviv, his victory in the symbolic field would suffice for realignments in the local political preferences. If successful, Hamas may regain its popularity not only in Gaza but in the rest of the Palestinian territories. Thus, for the international community it will seem that Abbas is seeking recognition of a state he does not fully lead. This will be a strategic success for Israel. If this is combined with a Netanyahu victory in Israel January elections, the hard line towards the Palestinians would be greater and the international recognition of a Palestinian state will probably remain in standby. We’ll see.


[1] Cecilia Baeza, “O reconhecimento do Estado palestino: origens e perspectivas”, Meridiano 47, vol. 12, no. 126 (July-August 2011), p. 35.

[2] Alan Craig, “The UN Vote on Statehood: What it means for Israel and Palestine”, NearEastQuarterly, September 8th, 2011, p. 2, available at http://wwwjón, “¿El Estado de Palestina?”, Observatorio Político y Electoral del Mundo Árabe y Musulmán, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid – Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo, Working Paper, October 25, 2011, pp. 7-8, available at http://www.nodo50.org/csca/agenda11/palestina/pdf/ElEstadodePalestina.pdf

[3] International Crisis Group, op. cit., p. 5.

[4] Quigley, John, The Statehood of Palestine. International Law in the Middle East Conflict, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 249.

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/israel-palestine/122-the-emperor-has-no-clothes-palestinians-and-the-end-of-the-peace-process.aspx

[6] On November 2011, Abbas held the first of several unusually positive meetings with Hamas then-head Khaled Meshal.

[7] Mar Gijón, “¿El Estado de Palestina?”, Observatorio Político y Electoral del Mundo Árabe y Musulmán, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid – Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo, Working Paper, October 25, 2011, pp. 7-8, available at http://www.nodo50.org/csca/agenda11/palestina/pdf/ElEstadodePalestina.pdf

[8] International Crisis Group, op. cit., p. 5.

[9] Quigley, John, The Statehood of Palestine. International Law in the Middle East Conflict, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 249.

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