Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Palestinian Authority's Alternatives To Continuing Negotiations With Israel

Even before the current crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, some Palestinians had considered the stage that would follow the talks if they were to fail altogether, and had come up with alternatives. One such alternative, turning to the UN, has already begun to take shape, as the Palestinian Authority has asked to join 15 international agreements and treaties. Another alternative – the PLO-Hamas reconciliation – is also in the works, with an agreement signed between them on April 23, 2014. Other alternatives under discussion include international sponsorship for the negotiations, dismantling the PA, ending security coordination with Israel, and a third Intifada.
This paper will review these and other options currently being discussed in the PA.

Turning To UN Institutions, Including The International Criminal Court
One alternative involves attempts to gain recognition as a member state for the PA in UN institutions, similarly to the successful bid to gain acceptance as a non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly in November 2012. Thus far, the PA has taken measured steps so as not to rock the boat, and has only requested to join 15 international agreements and treaties.
Muhammad Ishtayya, a former member of the negotiating team who stepped down, explained that turning to the UN is aimed at internationalizing the Palestinian problem and making international law the source of authority for future talks. Thus, he explained, the issue of ending the occupation would not be discussed in negotiations; rather, international law would impose a deadline for ending it.[1] Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Al-Tirawi claimed that the Palestinian leadership had erred by not immediately turning to the UN after it was accepted as a non-member observer state.[2]
In the meantime, the PA intends to continue joining international institutions, agreements, and treaties as it sees fit. As part of this, the Palestinians are considering turning to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and suing Israel for war crimes, among them settling citizens of an occupying country in occupied territory – i.e. the settlements. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas said to Gilead Sher in statements recorded for the January 2014 conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS): "The Palestinians are entitled to join the ICC, but I hope we solve all our problems peacefully, because I want no further complications between us and Israel or between us and the world. Right now I have the right to go anywhere [i.e., to any international body], but I stopped because I want to give peace a chance."[3]
Muhammad Ishtayya said that the Palestinian leadership would appeal to the UN to judge Israel for its crimes if current talks failed, stating at a press conference: "The Palestinian side has prepared a plan to join all 63 international institutions, agreements, and treaties if the talks fail." He added, "The [Palestinian] leadership has divided [these bodies] into four groups, that it will join in four stages. Its appeal to the ICC, which is causing Israel to lose sleep, will take place in stage four."[4]
Saeb Erekat also told the Israeli delegation: "If you escalate matters, we will come after you in every international forum for your war crimes."[5]
It should be noted that turning to the ICC carries a risk for the PA, because, as it is well aware, it could be sued in that court for terrorism against Israel and its residents. The Palestinian leadership knows that it needs to carefully consider such a step.
National Reconciliation
A second alternative is an inter-Palestinian reconciliation. On April 23, six days before the date set for the end of the negotiations, the PLO and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement, which included the following:
  • Honoring the previous reconciliation agreements signed 2011 in Cairo and 2012 in Doha, and treating them as a source of authority.

  • Steps to be taken by 'Abbas to form a national unity government within five weeks.

  • Simultaneous presidential, Legislative Council, and Palestinian National Council elections to be held six months after the formation of this government.

  • Convening the PLO activation committee within five weeks to carry out the tasks outlined in the previous reconciliation agreements.

  • Resumption of activity by the social reconciliation committee and the liberties committee.

  • Resumption of activity by the Legislative Council.[6]
It should be mentioned that many in the PA question the chances that the agreement will be successfully implemented, both because it was signed after years of schism and because the implementation of similar agreements signed since 2007 has failed.
Negotiating As Part Of An International Conference
Yet another alternative is to continue negotiations but as part of an international conference, instead of under exclusive U.S. sponsorship. The PA does not consider the U.S. a neutral broker, and thinks that it would be better off with international sponsorship. Former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf Al-'Ajrami, who predicted that the negotiations would fail, wrote: "We must seek alternatives that would at least protect Palestinian rights, such as an international peace summit, or a 5+1 formula – like the one used to discuss the Iranian nuclear [program] – or international arbitration on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab peace initiative, so that talks are held under the supervision of the Security Council for a limited time of, say, six months. If they fail, an agreed-upon international panel of judges would convene, and would rule on the issues in contention."[7]
Muhammad Ishtayya called for an international conference to discuss the Palestinian issue, similar to the Geneva Conference on Syria and Iran.[8]
However, it should be noted that there is little chance that this alternative will be realized. Such a conference could only take place if Israel either wanted or was heavily pressured to participate – as Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was pressured into attending the 1991 Madrid Conference.
Dismantling The PA
Also under discussion is the alternative of dismantling the PA and transferring responsibility for its territories back to Israel. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas told Israeli journalists in Ramallah: "The negotiations are not a political alternative, but rather the basis of the PA's existence and the reason it was established. If negotiations fail, we will tell the Israeli government: This is the authority that you have gutted, and therefore the Palestinian leadership is peacefully transferring its responsibilities and authorities to Israel, so that the latter will be the civil and security authority in the West Bank instead of the Palestinian government and its security mechanisms."[9]
On the other hand, negotiating team head Saeb Erekat claimed that the Palestinians had no intention of dismantling the PA: "We are not talking of dismantling the PA, and nobody is talking about it being dismantled by the Palestinian side."[10] Erekat's statements reflect the common belief that 'Abbas did not actually intend to dismantle the PA, but was attempting to convey a sense of desperation both with the negotiations and with Israel's conduct and a threat that Israel would pay the price for the stagnation.
It is assessed that the PA leadership will not hasten to dismantle the PA; its members want to keep their positions and are certainly averse to the idea of the IDF returning to the West Bank. This assessment is underlined by the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the decision to hold elections in the PA.
Ending Security Coordination
Another alternative is ending security coordination, whether as a result of the dismantling of the PA or in a targeted Palestinian move resulting from the PLO-Hamas reconciliation that will not include the dismantling of the PA's civilian infrastructure.
Israel-PA security coordination has been ongoing for years, despite calls by Hamas, the PFLP, and other opposition factions for ending it. It has continued thanks to two main factors: first, the PA's fear that Hamas' armed cells will grow stronger in the West Bank, which could endanger its control, especially in light of the Hamas coup in Gaza, and second, its fear that Israel would begin to enter the West Bank daily to arrest Hamas activists, which would make the PA security mechanisms look bad.
Following the April 24, 2014 decision of the Israeli cabinet to suspend the talks with the Palestinians and impose economic sanctions on them, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub called Israel's moves "official terrorism" and claimed that the PA would consider severing ties with it entirely – implying an end to security coordination.[11] Also, Talal 'Okal, a columnist for the official PA daily Al-Ayyam, explicitly called for ending security coordination with Israel.[12]
While the PA is unlikely to end this security coordination, the PLO-Hamas reconciliation will mean that the PA apparatus will now be less motivated to cooperate with Israeli security forces than in recent years.
The One-State Solution
A sixth alternative is the one-state solution. Every so often, the idea of a single bi-national state in all the territory between the Jordan and the sea – which would have a Palestinian majority – is brought up as an alternative to negotiations on the two-state solution. Muhammad Ishtayya called for "bidding farewell to the two-state solution" and added: "We are headed towards the one-state alternative."[13]
This option is highly unlikely since it would require Israel's agreement.
A Third Intifada
The alternative of another intifada is also under discussion; it includes two forms of resistance. One form of resistance is, like the First Intifada, a nonviolent, so-called "popular" resistance, and the second, similar to the Second Intifada, is armed resistance.
'Abbas has consistently maintained his opposition to armed resistance because he realizes that the Second Intifada damaged the Palestinian cause; as long as he remains president, he is likely to continue to oppose it. This position was also expressed by former PA prisoner affairs minister Ashraf Al-'Ajrami, who said: "The most important thing in the next campaign is to not turn to violence, towards which Israel does its best to lead us."[14] During a visit to Iran in January 2014, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub spoke against suicide bombings inside Israel: "We have never given up our arms... The resistance is still a strategic option, and armed resistance is on the table... We want the world to accept our methods. I believe that by international law, we have the right to conduct any form of resistance, in the occupied lands and against the occupation, in order to put an end to the occupation. I'm telling you that there will not be any bus bombings, and there must not be bus bombings in Tel Aviv."[15]
However, other officials have warned against the outbreak of a third Intifada. For instance, following the March 2014 deaths of three activists from Hamas's 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad's Sarayat Al-Quds, and Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in a clash with the IDF in the Jenin refugee camp, Fatah official Hussam Khader, head of the Committee to Defend Refugee Rights, noted that "the previous Palestinian intifadas did not start with decisions by the political leadership."[16]
It should be noted that the so-called "popular" resistance  is considered legitimate by the PLO and PA, even though it involves violence in the form of rock-throwing, firebombing, and more. These forms of resistance are frequent occurrences in certain parts of the West Bank, and are not an alternative to negotiations. In a conference in late April 2014, the PLO Central Committee called to expand the popular resistance activities.[17]
In sum, it appears that 'Abbas will promote the PLO-Hamas reconciliation, and possibly work in the international arena to advance the status of the PA. At the same time, he will likely keep declaring his willingness to continue negotiating on his own terms, and will choose to operate in the nonviolent arena.

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1], January 22, 2014. On the possible meanings of the Palestinian UN bid, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 742, "The Implications of the Palestinian UN Bid," September 28, 2011.
[2] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 31, 2014.
[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 28, 2014.
[4], April 8, 2014.
[5], April 3, 2014.
[6], April 23, 2014.
[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2014.
[8], January 22, 2014.
[9], April 22, 2014.
[10], April 22, 2014.
[11] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), April 9, 2014.
[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2014.
[13], January 22, 2014.
[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2014.
[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 23, 2014.
[17] Al-Ayyam (PA), April 28, 2014.

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