By Ramzy Baroud
The painful truth is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) of President Mahmoud Abbas has already ceased to exist as a political body that holds much sway or relevance, either to the Palestinian people or to Abbas’ former benefactors, namely the Israeli and American governments. So, when PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced this month that the Palestinian leadership had submitted a “counterproposal” to the US’ Middle East peace plan, few seemed to care.
We know little about this counterproposal, aside from the fact that it envisages a demilitarized Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders. We also know that the Palestinian leadership is willing to accept land swaps and border adjustments — a provision that has surely been inserted to cater for Israel’s demographic and security needs.
It is almost certain that nothing will come out of Shtayyeh’s counterproposal and no independent Palestinian state is expected to result from the seemingly historical offer. So why did Ramallah opt for such a strategy only a few weeks before the July 1 deadline, when the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to launch its process of illegal annexation in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley? The main reason is that the Palestinian leadership is often accused by Israel, the US and their allies of supposedly rejecting previous “peace” overtures.
Rightly, the PA rejected Donald Trump’s proposed deal because it represents the most jarring violation of international law yet. It would deny Palestine’s territorial rights in occupied East Jerusalem, dismiss the right of return for Palestinian refugees altogether, and give carte blanche to the Israeli government to colonize more Palestinian land.
In principle, Netanyahu also rejected the American proposal, though without pronouncing his rejection publicly. Indeed, the Israeli leader has already dismissed any prospects of Palestinian statehood and decided to move forward with the unilateral annexation of nearly 30 percent of the West Bank without paying any heed to the fact that even Trump’s unfair initiative called for dialogue before any annexation takes place.
After Washington’s plan was announced in January and Israel subsequently insisted that the annexation of Palestinian territories was imminent, the PA span into a strange political mode, being far more unpredictable and bizarre than ever before. One after another, PA officials began making all sorts of contradictory remarks and declarations — notable among them being Abbas’ decision on May 19 to cancel all agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel.
This was followed by another announcement, on June 8, by Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior PA official and Abbas’ confidant. He said that, if annexation took place, the PA would cut off civil services to Palestinians so that Israel would have to assume its legal role as an occupying power as per international norms. A third announcement was made the following day by Shtayyeh himself, who threatened that, if Israel claims sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, the PA would retaliate by declaring statehood within the pre-1967 borders.
The Palestinian counterproposal was declared soon after this hotchpotch of announcements, most likely to offset the state of confusion emanating from the Palestinian leadership. It was their way of appearing proactive, positive and stately.
The Palestinian initiative also aims at sending a message to European countries that, despite Abbas’ cancellation of the agreements with Israel, the PA is still committed to the political parameters set by the Oslo Accords as far back as September 1993.
What Abbas and Shtayyeh are ultimately hoping to achieve is a repeat of an earlier episode that followed the admission of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly in 2011. Salam Fayyad, who served as the PA prime minister at the time, also waved the threat of a unilateral declaration of statehood to force Israel to freeze the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Eventually, the PA was co-opted by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry to return to another round of useless negotiations with Israel, which won it another 10 years, during which time it received generous international funds while selling Palestinians false hopes of statehood.
Sadly, this is the current strategy of the Palestinian leadership: A combination of threats, counterproposals and the like, in the hope that Washington and Tel Aviv will agree to return to a bygone era.
Of course, the Palestinian people — occupied, besieged and oppressed — are the least relevant factor in the PA’s calculations, but this should come as no surprise. The Palestinian leadership has operated for many years without a semblance of democracy and the Palestinian people respect neither their government nor their so-called president. Their feelings have been repeatedly highlighted in opinion polls over the years.
In the last few months, the PA has used every trick in the book to demonstrate its relevance and seriousness in the face of the dual threat of Trump’s deal and Netanyahu’s threatened annexation. However, the most significant and pressing step, that of uniting all Palestinians, people and factions behind a single political body and single document, is yet to be taken.
Considering all of this, it is no exaggeration to argue that Abbas’ PA is gasping its last breath, especially if its traditional European allies fail to extend a desperately needed lifeline. The guarded positions adopted by EU countries thus far signal that they are not capable of, or perhaps even willing to, fill the gap left open by Washington’s betrayal of the PA and the “peace process.”
Until the PA hands over the keys to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), so that the more democratically representative Palestinian body can start a process of national reconciliation, Netanyahu will, tragically, remain the only relevant party when it comes to determining the fate of Palestine and her people.