By Joharah Baker
The letter has been sent and now the Palestinian leadership says it is waiting for Israel’s response before it makes a move. The letter, which has been heralded as “the mother of all letters” is President Mahmoud Abbas’ way of telling Israeli Prime Minister that this is the end of the road – either he chooses peace with the Palestinians or the rules of the game will have to change.
Since, and even before the letter was delivered on April 17, there has been much speculation over its actual purpose. Beyond the diplomacy and bold words – Abbas has made it clear the PA cannot remain ‘an authority without authority’ – the letter, it must be said, is really a last ditch effort. While the leadership tries to come off as speaking from a point of strength, we all know there are not many winning cards left in its hands. It is not all their fault, obviously. But that is the truth, which leads us to the question of whether the PA and PLO can actually make good on their threats (or alternatives) should Israel not respond positively to their demands.
And we all know pretty much how Israel will respond. The Netanyahu government will say that it is committed to peace just like it always has been; it will probably even say it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. But it will also say that the 1967 borders are “indefensible”, that Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of Israel and that the major settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty. As if that is not enough, Israel will demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After that, Netanyahu will maintain that he has no problem whatsoever sitting at the negotiating table.
So, what does the leadership hope to get from the letter? Besides drumming up publicity for the Palestinians and perhaps briefly bringing back to the fore some of the Palestinians’ most pressing issues, even President Abbas knows Israel will not simply accept the conditions with open arms. After all, the demands are not even Palestinian – as the leadership so succinctly pointed out – they are the same demands that the international community endorses as the basis for a just and lasting solution. And Israel has shunned them nonetheless for years.
The fear among some Palestinians is that the leadership will climb up a limb it cannot come down from because it is in such a weak position. Abbas and the others have tried to project an image of strength through this letter – the message being that the Palestinians are putting Israel into a corner by saying that it either accepts the Palestinian conditions for returning to the negotiating table, or the latter will be forced to take unilateral steps. While this sounds threatening and bold, in reality it is questionable whether the PA or PLO can do anything to translate this into real action. If Abbas had said he would dismantle the PA if Israel continued to undermine its authority and steal Palestinian land right from under its nose, we might have been hopeful that a radical change was in the offing.
But the stick the Palestinians are waving in Israel’s face is the old UN card. Not to sound pessimistic, but this card was used last September. Other than the victory scored by gaining membership in UNESCO, the United Nations statehood bid did a painful belly-flop into the shark pool of western-controlled international diplomacy.
The leadership is in a bind for sure, but the question is whether holding on to the nearly invisible string left from the peace process is the right way to go. After Netanyahu comes back with his expected response to Abbas’ letter, perhaps it may be time to throw caution to the wind. Forget about letters and negotiating over land after it has already been stolen; the leadership – the PA, the PLO and Hamas to boot – should tap into the strength and potentials of a people just waiting for its leadership to push ‘go’. Who knows? It may just pay off after all.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]