A Palestinian Peace Initiative is the best response to the UAE/Israel accord

There is no doubt that, on the face of it, the much trumpeted UAE/Israel accord is a diplomatic success for Netanyahu (and Trump) and a political setback for the Palestinians. Whatever one may think of it, it is a landmark development, if not in some ways a game changer, especially as it might be the precursor to similar future agreements between Israel and other Arab states, heralding significant geopolitical realignments in the volatile region.

While wholly understandable, the official Palestinian reaction -- denouncing it as yet another betrayal -- is not going to achieve anything of note. While it may act as a relief valve for deep and justifiable frustration, it’s hard to see in what way it will promote Palestinian interests. Rejection, however vociferously expressed, is a reflex, not a strategy. Issuing dire but empty threats is not a strategy either. A strategy would build on the reflexes by putting forward alternative proposals. To start with, the Palestinians could do an audit of their assets. One of their strongest assets is international public opinion (and still popular Arab opinion), but this asset cannot be usefully galvanized on the basis of a negative. As things stand, the Palestinian response is just letting Trump and Netanyahu do all the running.

What the reflex rejectionism does do is feed into the oft-repeated calumny that the Palestinians only ever turn down peace proposals. What is needed now is a Palestinian Peace Initiative (PPI), drawing on, revising and updating the Arab Peace Initiative, to which the Arab world (including the UAE) is still formally committed. They don't need to re-invent the wheel, nor do they need to get other parties on board in advance, which will only delay matters and water down its provisions. The Palestinians can just launch it unilaterally. Get a PPI out there and initiate a worldwide campaign with clear elements and demands. Avoid "creative ambiguity" about its goals (in contrast with the fuzzy goals of the BDS movement). Draw in the anti-occupation forces in Israel and the wider Jewish world among other constituencies. There is a whole audience out there waiting to be mobilized. Most of the world, including many governments, would be ready to support it.

The Palestinian leadership could for example anticipate likely future developments and, in contrast with their present stance, welcome initiatives of Arab states towards Israel but condition them on parallel moves towards the Palestinians. An embassy in Tel Aviv matched by an embassy in Ramallah. An Israel embassy in an Arab country matched by a full Palestinian embassy there. Secure commitments from Arab states that their dealings with Israel will be regulated by progress towards a Palestinian state. Public opinion within these states could be targeted in support. Mount a concerted lobby of western states to recognize the Palestinian state, individually and at the UN. The more this meets with success, the more the Palestinians could advance the claim that Israel's uninvited military presence on their land is an illegal infringement of the territorial rights of a sovereign state. This could give rise to any number of legal cases in courts around the world, including in countries where Israel has financial and other material assets.

By contrast, condemning and withdrawing the Palestinian ambassador is, at this and every future stage, to whistle in the wind. The argument is likely to catch on that if the frontline states of Egypt and Jordan can maintain diplomatic and other relations with Israel, why not the more peripheral Arab states? The Palestinian diplomatic presence in these countries, if withdrawn, will simply be replaced in due course by the Israeli diplomatic presence. This is bound to have an effect on domestic opinion in these countries. The Palestinian "leadership" needs to wake up and live up to its name. Providing a lead so that others may follow could be so much more effective than just crying treachery (however justified that may be) and effectively surrendering the future to the egregious designs of others. 

To be clear, what is being proposed here is not that the Palestinians relax their opposition to Trump’s so-called “vision” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. As I have written elsewhere, the Trump plan is in effect an ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept their terms of surrender as a vanquished people. (Should Trump’s “Vision” for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Be Taken Seriously?)  It is a trap and I do not think it would be wise for them to engage with it or to enter into negotiations at this stage with the US or Israeli governments. But they urgently need to get into the driving seat themselves by offering a credible alternative and creating a global momentum behind it. In this way, they could affect the balance of power and again become a force to be reckoned with.

Once they get over the shock of the UAE betrayal, a change in the present Palestinian frame of mind and a readiness to think strategically is all it would require in order to get going. Reviving hope and formulating a sound strategic plan are the key factors. Despair, on the other hand, will get no one anywhere -- apart from handing the advantage to negative forces. People need to stop throwing in the towel and allowing themselves to be outmanoeuvred at every bend in the road. This is a good time to get ahead of the curve.