By Ray Hanania
After months of denouncing US President Donald Trump’s peace deal and refusing to participate in last summer’s summit on investing in Palestine, the Palestinian leadership this week surprisingly offered a counterproposal.
The plan put forward by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh was submitted to the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of the UN, US, Russia and the EU. It proposes creating an independent but demilitarized Palestinian state with “minor” border adjustments.
The plan also embraces the concept of equal or “like-for-like” land swaps, according to reports of Shtayyeh’s press conference on Tuesday.
The move is a surprise and a change from the rigidness that has consumed the Palestinian leadership for years. It was fueled by an American shift that has seen it become more pro-Israel than in the past.
It is just too bad that the Palestinians did not make this counterproposal when Trump unveiled his plan back in January, or even sooner, at the “Peace to Prosperity” conference hosted by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser Jared Kushner in Bahrain last June.
Doing so then, in anticipation of the Trump plan, which clearly favors Israel at the expense of fairness and justice, would have cast Israel as the rejectionist and anti-peace party in this 72-year-long conflict.
But such a strategy is something the Palestinians have consistently lacked. You can’t put all the blame on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not acting. Abbas is the figurehead of a revolution that died with the passing of Yasser Arafat in 2004.
Abbas has never had the chance to fill Arafat’s shoes as a true leader. Although Arafat held an iron grip on the Palestinian movement, he was still impacted by the growing influence of Hamas.
Arafat might have overcome the fight Hamas waged to block the peace process had it not been for the 1995 killing of his peace partner, Yitzhak Rabin, by an Israeli extremist and follower of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rabin’s death and the freezing of the Oslo Accords by Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu weakened Arafat and fueled Hamas’ popularity among the Palestinians, whose suffering only worsened.
Abbas was left to play an empty role, standing up to the combined force of Israel and the US as Hamas’ violence weakened support for Palestinian rights around the world.
But what Abbas needs to do is be a leader. That means to make decisions that are right, just and fair. And, more importantly, it means to advance ideas that are feasible, rather than empty dreams that feed the growing anger of the population.
Leadership is not a popularity contest. It is about courage and doing the right thing for the long-term benefit of the people, rather for the short-term benefit of selfish politicians. The violence of Hamas and other radical groups has only satiated Palestinian anger and emotions at the expense of undermining any peaceful solution that could lead to statehood, independence and eventual freedom from Israel’s brutal yoke.
Shtayyeh told the media in Ramallah this week that: “What we want is that Israel should feel the heat.”
Exactly. But why has it taken so long for a Palestinian leader to say that publicly?
The prime minister said Israel should not be allowed to continue to escape global judgment for its policies of murder, land theft and population expulsions.
But that is exactly what happens when Palestinians stand back and angrily denounce everything that is proposed, without pushing back with proposals of their own. The Palestinians are made to look like they reject peace while Israel falsely portrays itself as a peacemaker.
The Palestinians have considered re-declaring statehood, as Arafat did in 1988 — a diplomatic move that forced Israel to come to the negotiating table on fairer terms, at least until Rabin’s murder.
Now, with Israel preparing to take unilateral actions that undermine peace, including annexing large areas of the West Bank, the Palestinian counterproposal could force Israel to hit the brakes or face the possibility that public attitudes will shift, with Israel’s image going from that of peacemaker to peace-blocker.
Peace is not about justice, what is right or the rule of law; it is about who plays the diplomatic game better. Until now, Israel has been the master of this game when it matters, leaving the Palestinians with the scraps.
But the challenge is, of course, far more difficult for the Palestinians, who remain both divided and under an oppressive and brutal occupation. Israel has freedom, unlike the Palestinians.
Shtayyeh could symbolize a new leadership that is smarter, understands the power of communications, and is free from the emotional shackles of a dream that is impossible in the short run.
Palestinians cannot turn the clock back to 1947 and start over. But what they can do, through strategic leadership and clever diplomacy, is stop Israel’s unilateral, illegal expansions, the expulsions of non-Jewish people, and maybe undermine Israel’s edge enough to achieve a just and fair peace.