WASHINGTON — An informal group of prominent Palestinian academics, politicians, entrepreneurs and activists has published a report that raises questions and offers solutions regarding Palestinian national strategy. It follows a growing sense of doubt that two decades of negotiations will culminate in an outcome fair to the Palestinians. It proposes that Palestinians re-consider the aim of a separate Palestinian state.
The Palestine Strategy Study Group (PSSG) report mapped out the Palestinian strategic landscape, posed different scenarios and offered a forward-looking plan.
“Regaining the Initiative: Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation” summarized the current political situation. Israel continues to change the facts on the ground, encroach on Palestinian rights, and make only rhetorical gestures towards peace. American support for Israeli policies encourages this. The end result is that an occupation that once appeared temporary, now looks to be permanent.
The paper seeks to address Palestinian strategic options and encourage more discussion on these issues. It argues the two-state solution cannot be taken for granted. This document was reported on by The New York Times, Financial Times, and the Arabic press, among others.
The PSSG met on a few occasions in different parts of the region, including Jordan and Turkey, under the initiative of the British organization, the Oxford Research Group. The PSSG was composed of dozens of Palestinians from Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Diaspora. Among those who participated in meetings was a diverse array of activists and academics of different political outlooks and affiliations, including some closely tied to the Palestinian Authority. The final document was signed by twenty-seven individuals, though many more participated.
As a collaborative effort taking into account various political factions, “Regaining the Initiative” is a political document. It painted a broad outline of how Palestinians can take positive agency through a “radical reorientation” of their national strategy from a perspective individuals of diverse Palestinian backgrounds could agree on. This included a sober description of the current non-active track of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, and described the Annapolis initiative launched last year as insufficient. It also urged national unity as a prerequisite to effective political action.
The group argued that Palestinians must alter current discourse. It suggests bringing back the language of liberation and ending Israeli occupation. The prevailing language of “peacemaking” and “state-building” blurs the central challenges facing the Palestinians — namely, liberating themselves from Israel’s control.
The report suggests Palestinians should re-consider the 1988 declaration of Palestinian statehood since this historic offer has not borne fruit after twenty years.
The four likely scenarios stemming from the current political situation do not carry promise for Palestinian aspirations: 1) perpetual “negotiations” during which Israel pursues its current policies; 2) a “pseudo provisional” Palestinian semi-state in which the PA governs while key issues are left open to future Israeli tinkering; 3) unilateral separation by Israel; and 4) Egypt and Jordan take custody of the territories. None of these, the group argues, meets Palestinian objectives.
By emphasizing Palestinian agency, it suggests that Palestinians have more power than generally recognized to block various Israeli strategies towards these outcomes.
Palestinians should begin considering strategic alternatives such as: 1) withdrawing the 1988 declaration of Palestinian statehood as the collective objective; 2) reconstituting the Palestine Authority, including its transformation into a “Palestinian Resistance Authority”; 3) engaging in a new “smart” resistance campaign; and 4) shifting the objective from “from a two state outcome to a (bi-national or unitary democratic) single state outcome.”
The paper concludes that the Palestinians should give the peace process one more firm go with clearly demarcated benchmarks, a definition of success, and a credible alternative strategy to fall-back on — thus imposing costs on Israel that it does not face in the current dynamic. This makes for an ultimatum, signaling that continued Israeli belligerence carries repercussions, such as the loss of the vision of two states living side-by-side.
Alternatives such as a one-state movement should not be designed to threaten Israel, but rather to end Israeli domination and bring about true peace. This is essential for Palestinian credibility. Any new ideas should be constructive and visionary. Palestinians have tried playing power politics for too long, and in the end continue to struggle to deliver on their hopes.
Will Youmans is a writer for The Arab American News and a fellow at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC.