It is almost impossible to adequately convey the present degree of Palestinian despair, but the recent announcement that President Mahmoud Abbas might resign and that the rest of the Palestinian Authority leadership may follow — in effect dissolving the PA — should provide some indication.
This seems to many to be the only real weapon the Palestinian leadership has left, albeit something of a doomsday scenario. President Abbas and the others clearly feel all their other options have been systematically foreclosed. They embraced the roadmap and — at considerable political cost — fulfilled their responsibilities on security to the best of their abilities, as acknowledged by both the United States and Israel. When the Obama administration began its peace initiative, Palestinians were given every reason to expect that Israel would be compelled to fulfill its own roadmap responsibilities and end settlement activity.
From the Palestinian perspective, all of their substantive efforts have been met with stonewalling and disingenuous rhetoric from Israel’s new prime minister, and deeply damaging ineffectiveness on the part of the Obama administration.
All of this was compounded by the PLO’s own mishandling of the Goldstone report, as it was unable to balance demands from international powers to back off with domestic political sentiments to push forward. The Palestinian leadership was therefore always going to pay either a domestic political or international dramatic price over the Goldstone question, but managed to end up paying both, almost in full.
It would appear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments in Israel that appeared to imply a certain American satisfaction with the Israeli position were the final straw.
The Palestinian leadership is ready to give up because it feels it has done everything possible to accommodate the peace process established by the international community, and has gotten nowhere. Denied the slightest political accomplishment to which it can point as a measure of the success of its policies, it clearly came to feel that only the most drastic measures might communicate its political desperation to the outside world.
The attitude among many ordinary Palestinians is, if anything, even more grim.
For them, the 16-year era of peace talks has meant 16 years of further occupation, settlement building and land confiscation, bitter disappointment and denial of basic human and national rights. In addition to Israel and the international community, ordinary Palestinians also blame their own leaderships — both Fatah and Hamas — for not reuniting after the violent split in 2007, and blame all parties for the ongoing human catastrophe caused by the siege of Gaza.
Under such circumstances, it should be readily understandable that the concept of a viable peace process now seems like a sick joke to so many Palestinians.
This is the political context in which the Palestinian leadership has to operate: an exceedingly skeptical public and international actors that don’t seem to comprehend the limitations of Palestinian patience.
At last, it seems, even the most die-hard adherents of negotiations have concluded that either the dynamic must be changed or abandoned.
From the point of view of the Palestinian national project, the most serious threat posed by the present crisis is obviously to the Palestinian state and institution building program proposed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The plan could enact a dynamic, unilateral, nonviolent and constructive resistance to the occupation, creating the necessary framework for Palestinian independence, and constituting a dramatic transformation of the strategic environment in favor of both Palestinian interests and the prospects for peace.
Obviously, for this plan to succeed, it would require not only the financial and technical support of the international community, and most especially the United States, but also direct and vigorous political protection as well. It would be very difficult for Israel to block the project were it under international political protection, and almost impossible to interfere with specific projects that were being jointly pursued with American and European cooperation and involvement.
However the present crisis plays itself out, it is essential that this state building enterprise continue. It is the only thing on the horizon that offers a serious path forward towards ending both the occupation and the conflict, and can create hope in the midst of despair.