Palestine Pulse

Palestinian unity scores concessions from Israel in Cairo

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Article Summary
Key Palestinian political forces are becoming increasingly aware that only through unified action can the cost of Israel's occupation be raised.

The decision by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to extend the cease-fire another five days and the statements by its head, Azzam al-Ahmad, that most issues for a permanent agreement have been resolved point to a breakthrough of sorts.

Gazans appear to be on the verge of seeing the gradual lifting of a cruel and inhumane siege that has been going on for seven years, leaving the question as to what made the Israelis change their position.

Palestinian unity, best articulated by what looks now like a smart decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to create a unified delegation headed by a PLO official, of all factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has made a major contribution. And while this unity has made a contribution, there was clear strength in the Palestinian negotiating team that was never seen during the nine-month political negotiations between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.

The difference between the two sets of negotiations was certainly not the individuals or the parties involved, but the very fact that Palestinian negotiators were able to walk away from the talks if the Israelis didn’t take them seriously. Even though the Cairo talks were indirect, it was obvious from anyone following them that they were much more productive than the US Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored meetings.

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A Jordanian columnist of Palestinian origin, Orayb Rantawi, points out the need for any negotiations to be backed up by a position of strength. “The first and most important lesson is that resistance of all kinds including armed resistance is not a useless act.” After giving the Palestinian unity his second lesson, Rantawi insists that negotiations without the backing of elements of strength are a “failed option.”

Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, whom the Jordanian author criticizes as “lazy,” have refused to give up security cooperation and preferred to talk about “peaceful popular resistance,” but have done little to make this option an effective option that is taken seriously by the Israelis.

Supporters of Palestine around the world as well as in Palestine and nearby Arab countries have taken up the need to boycott Israel economically as a translation of the need to send a message to the Israelis that the illegal and unacceptable occupation will cost Israel financially and politically.

In the West Bank, the boycott of Israeli-produced products that have a Palestinian alternative has been resurrected as a result of the war on Gaza. The largest supermarket in Ramallah has publicly stated that they have cleared all their shelves of any Israeli products. Other stores are putting stickers on Israeli products to make sure that customers are aware of the origin of these products.

In Jordan, a group of women have launched a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group, Al-Monitor has learned. Other BDS branches that have been established based on a call by Palestinian organizations in 2005 seem to be gaining power and credibility.

Regardless of the method of resistance that Palestinians pursue, it's now obvious that negotiations for the sake of negotiations, as Rantawi has argued, are a waste of time. Any new negotiation must be part of a national Palestinian strategy that can produce the desired results.

Such a strategy will not be easy to come by and should not be cooked quickly. Using the newly discovered unity, Palestinians of all walks of life — both current members of political and guerrilla factions as well as independents — need to take time out and agree on a strategy that is doable and one that can produce the desired results. Such a discussion might lead to actions that will require sacrifices and therefore the need for a national buy-in is absolutely necessary.

It's unfair that Palestinians in Gaza continue to pay this extraordinary price while fellow Palestinians including the leadership enjoy life in air-conditioned offices and a relaxed lifestyle. Such a strategy might require the suspension or even the end of the current Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation. It might also point to the need to dissolve the current Palestinian government and give the keys of running the occupation to the Israelis. It makes little sense that the Palestinian leadership is assigned to do all the Israeli security’s dirty work in the occupied territories, while the Israelis keep the land without having to pay the cost of its occupation.

Any such well-thought strategy that gains a national buy-in shouldn’t be made as a mere tactic. The Israelis will quickly see through any such tactic and ignore it. It must be a serious effort and the leaders must be willing to go all the way in carrying it. Of course, this might require a change of the current leadership.

If we have learned anything from the most recent war on Gaza, it is that Palestinians can extract serious concessions from the Israelis if they are united, determined and willing to pay the heavy price that freedom requires. Independence and freedom will not be given to Palestinians on a silver plate. It has to be earned on the ground.

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Found in: west bank, unity government, palestinian authority, palestine, mahmoud abbas, israel, gaza strip

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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