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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 17th, 2006 - 02:31:44

Palestinian self-defeating unilateralism
By Nicola Nasser
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 17, 2006, 00:20

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With the Palestinian-Israeli peace process dormant, deadlocked and declared �dead� and at least two-thirds of the Palestinians living in exile, hosted and influenced by regional powers, the Palestinian leadership is facing an overdue review of its self-defeating unilateral approach to change course towards a multilateral, or better a collective, Arab approach to resolving the conflict with Israel.

Adapting to an Israeli intransigent insistence on bilateral tracks of negotiations with the Arab League states, whether in armistice or peace talks, the Palestinian leadership followed the Arab example and adopted a unilateral approach to dealing with Israel, in an historical trend that deprived it from valuable negotiating assets and absolved those states from what the Arab masses, the Palestinians inclusive, perceive as Pan-Arab obligations.

The Arab League states, which fought the emerging Jewish state in Palestine in unison, at least theoretically, in 1948 signed the armistice agreements individually and were individually forced into separate peace negotiations after their humiliating military defeat in 1967.

The individual unilateral approach to the conflict with Israel was divisive to the Arab ranks, gave Israel a free hand to target Arabs individually without any hope for any unified Arab back-up, held the Palestinian people hostage to the Israeli colonial occupation, and doomed any regional comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However the Palestinian unilateral approach has been the most destructive because it was used as the raison d�tere for the other Arabs to break ranks in unilateral dealings with Israel.

The Palestinian leadership went unilateral to launch an �armed struggle� against Israel at a time when the Arab states were at their most vulnerable militarily and had done with their pre-1967 �Arab Joint Defense Pact� as well as with any military solution for the �liberation of Palestine.�

The move however succeeded in bringing the Palestinian people back to the regional political map, a development that Israel failed to avert after years of negating their existence in the �land without people� as its founding fathers used to claim.

However the Palestinian historical window of opportunity to unilaterally exist and act had narrowed quickly and was short-lived as soon as the Arab states recovered from their defeat, not only to resume their endeavors to liberate their occupied lands militarily (Egypt and Syria in 1973) but also to pursue �peace options� to achieve the same goal.

The Arab and the Palestinian unilateralism was an Israeli strategic goal from the beginning and has always played into the hands of the Israeli strategists who played each and every people of the Arabs against the other to condemn all of them as losers.

The Palestinian unilateral approach was repeatedly self-justified by a declared pledge to defend the �Palestinian independent decision-making� vis-�-vis individual or collective Arab calls for coordination politically and defensively.

It has cost the Palestinian people a lot of bloodshed and a distracting political wrangling with Arab states, amid wide spread criticism that the Palestinian justification is only a pretext to go it alone with the Israelis, an accusation that has come true with the Oslo accords, which infuriated the direct neighbors.

Hence the Jordanian and Egyptian unilateral approaches that led to peace treaties with the Jewish state were in fact blessed by a Palestinian green light and, in turn, joined Israel in preserving and reinforcing the Palestinian unilateralism. Both treaties have turned the two strategically decisive Arab allies into mediators in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in spite of their denials and assertions to the contrary.

Trapped for too long in a self-inflicted captivity to a counterproductive U.S. strategy to be able to reconsider an alternative strategic option and using as a misleading pretext the self-defeating and self-deceiving motto of �independent national decision-making,� the Palestinian leadership, for example, has kept its distance from even the least suspicion of being linked in any way to Israel�s latest war on Lebanon, lest it is labeled a party to the U.S.-termed �axis of terror.�

The Palestinian leadership has been pacified and tamed to be part and parcel of the Arab officialdom, which is very well versed with the U.S. politics and minutes of the American strategies, tactics and demands, but stone-deaf to the daily pulse of their people.

For example, on the same day the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were declaring that no links exist between the case of the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinians and the two soldiers captured by Hizbullah, spokesmen for more than 10.000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails were appealing to Sayyed Hassan Nassrullah to include their beloved ones in any deal with Israel.

And while Abbas was telling reporters that the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts with Israel were two separate �paths,� the defunct peace process that was declared �dead� by none other than the Arab League chief, Amr Mousa, led to Palestinian despair that is leading to calls to do away with the Oslo accords and the Israeli-reoccupied autonomous Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian popular identification with anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. Arab resistance, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, has reached an all-time high. A poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Near East Consulting group and released August 8 found that Hizbullah had the support of 97 percent of Palestinians, compared with 3 percent who said they were opposed to the group.

The Palestinian leadership in total disregard of their people�s wishes strictly adhered to disengagement from a Hizbullah-led resistance to the U.S.-backed Israeli 33-day bombardment of Lebanon, betting on an Israeli overwhelming victory, thus missing an opportunity to end Israel�s six-year old war on the Palestinian people and free some of their detainees in the Israeli jails.

The families of the Jordanian POWs in Israeli jails are still lamenting their government�s similar decision to disengage from a Hizbullah-Israeli deal two years ago.

By linking to the Lebanese wagon heading for the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leadership could have made up for failing to clinch a UN resolution to stop the Israeli war on the Palestinian Authority, government and people, thanks to the U.S. veto, and for failing to convene an Arab League summit to help stop the Israeli onslaught and break the eight-month military, economic, financial and diplomatic siege imposed on the Palestinian people early in 2006.

When the Arab League foreign ministers managed to meet on Lebanon in Beirut about two weeks ago, they were relieved to avoid linking the Palestinian and Lebanese tracks in their move towards the UN Security Council.

Time also is not on the Palestinians� side to give them hope that their salvation is on the horizon, let alone being imminent. The campaign for the upcoming U.S. elections has already begun and Israelis have become experts in exploiting this waste of time of inactive U.S. foreign diplomacy, as much as Arab officialdom have become experts in waiting for U.S. diplomacy to become active again.

However the Palestinians still have one opening out of their captivity: Linking to the Syrian peace option, at least to be in harmony with their recent repeated calls for an international conference to work out a comprehensive regional solution.

This doesn�t necessarily mean joining the U.S.-termed Syrian-Iranian �axis of terror,� nor a break with their peace allies in Egypt and Jordan.

The Syrian option could be developed into an Arab peace front including Egypt and Jordan to pursue peace with Israel collectively, backed politically by the Arab League and the majority of the United Nations members and defensively by the resistance movements to the ongoing Israeli military adventures that have been for years pushing a sustainable and lasting peace out of the regional reach.

This option could create a united Arab peace front, in an overdue response to an old demand by the sympathizing world community.

Such an Arab collective approach to a comprehensive regional peace was tested by the late Saudi Arabian king, Fahad, early in the 1980s, to be updated and upgraded by a Saudi initiative that was adopted by the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, in March 2002, an effort that was swiftly and vehemently aborted by the Israeli and U.S. strategic allies.

The U.S. has historically vetoed the United Nations out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and blocked the implementation of dozens of UN resolutions to resolve it.

Outside the UN resolutions, the successive U.S. administrations and their Western allies have proposed more than two dozens of the so-called �peace plans� since Israel was conditionally admitted to the U.N. in 1949, all of them dealt with and were accepted by the Arabs, including the Palestinians, but all were aborted by Israel because none of them obliged it to commit to the UN resolutions and international law.

The U.S.-only approach has not delivered, but prolonged the Palestinians' plight.

A third option should be sought, not to rule the United States out of the regional peace-making, but to involve it, help it balance its regional policy to be evenhanded, weigh in to make peace instead of its 60-year old policy of just managing a peace process in the region.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank. He is the editor of the English Web site of the Palestine Media Centre (PMC).

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