By Ramzy Baroud
The year 2020 will go down in history as the year that the American-sponsored “peace process” was terminated. While 2021 will not reverse this monumental change in the US’ attitude and objectives in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East, the new year presents Palestinians with the opportunity to think outside the American box.
Last year began with an unmistakable US push to translate its new political discourse into decisive action. On Jan. 28, Donald Trump’s so-called peace plan was declared as an actual political doctrine. A new political lexicon quickly began to take hold. The term “peace process,” which had dominated the American dialogue for several decades, seemed a distant memory.
Because the Palestinian Authority (PA) has always molded its own strategy around America’s demands and expectations, the shift in Washington left it with very few options.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas responded by severing all diplomatic ties with Israel and the US. This was followed by an announcement in May that the Palestinian leadership was canceling all agreements between itself and Israel, including security ties. While this decision may have served the purpose of temporarily quelling Palestinians’ anger, it served no practical purpose and was ultimately short-lived.
In November, the PA resumed all security and civil ties with Israel, thwarting the renewed unity talks between rival groups Hamas and Fatah. These talks had begun in July and, unlike previous meetings, the two main Palestinian factions seemed united around a set of political ideas, lead among them being their rejection of Trump’s plan and Israel’s intention to annex large parts of the Occupied Territories.
In the final analysis, the PA, which hardly enjoyed much respect among Palestinians anyway, lost whatever trust it still commanded among its rivals. Abbas seemed to be using the unity talks as a tool to caution Washington and Tel Aviv that he still held some political cards.
However, while the Palestinian leadership has previously succeeded in playing the waiting game — which guaranteed the flow of money since its inception in 1994 — that strategy is now coming to an end. The US’ priorities in the Middle East have obviously changed and even the PA’s European allies hardly see Abbas and his organization as a priority. The EU, weakened by the unceremonious departure of the UK and the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic, has pushed Palestine to the bottom of its agenda.
If 2021 is to bring any positive change in the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, new strategies will have to replace the old ones. Thinking should shift into a whole new political landscape.
First, Palestinian unity must be redefined so it is not confined to a mere political arrangement between Hamas and Fatah, each of which is motivated by its own agenda and instinct for self-preservation. Unity should include a national dialogue among all Palestinians, so that the Palestinian people, whether they are at home or in the “shatat” (diaspora), are part of the process of forming a new Palestinian — not factional — vision.
Second, a new vision should be developed and articulated to replace the useless cliches, dogmas and wishful thinking. A two-state solution is simply unattainable, not because Israel and the US have done their utmost to bury it, but because, even if implemented, it would not satisfy the minimum expectations of Palestinian rights. In a two-state scenario, Palestinians would remain geographically and politically fragmented, and no realistic or just implementation of the right of return could possibly be carried out.
“One democratic state” in Palestine and Israel cannot possibly address all the injustices of the past, but it is the most meaningful threshold aimed at imagining a possible, and certainly better, future for all.
Third, the obsessive reliance on Washington as the only party capable of mediating between Israel and Palestine must end. Not only has the US demonstrated its untrustworthiness through its generous and relentless military and political support of Israel, it has also positioned itself as a major obstacle in the path of Palestinian freedom and liberation.
The Palestinian leadership must understand that the balances of global power are fundamentally changing. It is time for Palestinians to diversify their options, strengthen their ties with rising Asian powers and reach out to South American and African countries in an effort to reverse their total political and economic dependency on the US and its allies.
Fourth, although popular resistance in Palestine has constantly expressed itself in numerous forms, it is yet to be harnessed as a sustainable platform that can be translated into political capital. Last year began with the suspension of Gaza’s Great March of Return, which had brought together tens of thousands of Palestinians in a historic show of unity.
However, Palestinians in the West Bank are desperately trying to navigate two overlapping matrices of control: The Israeli occupation and the PA. This has proven detrimental, as it prevents the Palestinian people from playing a fundamental role in shaping their own struggle. Popular resistance must serve as the backbone of any authentic Palestinian vision for liberation.
Fifth, for the new Palestinian political discourse to matter internationally, it has to be backed by a global solidarity movement that rallies behind a unified Palestinian vision, while advocating Palestinian rights at city, state and national levels. The US-Israeli attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is testament to the success of this tactic in changing the narrative on Palestine and Israel. While there is already a strong foundation of Palestinian solidarity around the world, this movement should not be focused only on academic hubs and intellectual circles, but should also try to reach ordinary people.
Last year may have been devastating for Palestine, but a closer look allows us to see 2021 as an opportunity for a whole new Palestinian political discourse. This is Palestine’s chance to fight back.