Two of the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers, London-based Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi, are calling on him to adopt a new goal: instead of a full-fledged Palestinian state, he should be striving for “soft sovereignty” with Jordanian and Egyptian involvement in arrangements regarding the future of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.
The two advisers, who have represented Abbas in past secret negotiations with Israel, as they had done Yasser Arafat, admit in a Foreign Affairs essay (A Palestinian Reckoning – Time for a New Beginning) that “the official Arab-Israeli conflict has ended.”
“Rather than insisting on ‘land for peace’ and offering normalized ties only in return for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, Arab governments have given precedence to self-interest: for Morocco, US recognition of its control over Western Sahara; for Sudan, the removal of US sanctions; for the UAE, access to advanced US arms.”
However, the two authors point out, “redefining ‘peace’ to conform to the needs of Arab governments does not do away with the Palestinians or resolve Israel’s Palestinian problem.” At this point, they cite somewhat inflated figures as to how many “Palestinians” there are in the world (13 million, 7 million of whom reside in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza). And they state bravely: “Dire as Palestinian circumstances may be now, there are no signs of surrender.”
But Agha and Khalidi suggest that the “Palestinians simultaneously insist that their plight is the central Arab cause and that they have the sole right to address it as they see fit,” and with that, they are cutting the branch on which they are sitting. Because “by regularly invoking their national interests and their ‘independence of will,’ as repeatedly articulated in their political statements, the Palestinians have left themselves with no defense against those who claim the right to answer to their own sovereign will and forge their own path.”
In other words, they say, “Palestinian diplomacy has failed massively,” and note with what appears like the satisfaction of outsiders who used to be on the inside: “It takes exceptional talent to transform an almost complete consensus among Arabs and Muslims on the future of Palestine and Jerusalem into just another matter on a packed Arab agenda.”
They warn that “true ‘independence of will’ must begin with a clear position on what is attainable as well as desirable—a revision of Palestinian priorities and goals that goes beyond old slogans,” and argue that “to move forward, a substantial recalibration of Palestinian aspirations is essential.” Moreover, they say, “the Palestinians cannot remain hostage to the absence of a state, living in permanent limbo while awaiting a salvation that is visibly retreating and may never arrive.”
At which point Agha and Khalidi admit that their former boss has been outplayed by the Israelis. For one thing, the PA team is restricted by the fact that their public talking points and what they say at the negotiations table are virtually identical. “By contrast, their Israeli counterparts never reveal their real positions, and they align their talking points with changing circumstances,” they point out. As a result, “the Palestinians have put themselves in a position in which nothing but agreement to all their terms could be acceptable, which has opened them up to charges of inflexibility and intransigence. They appear to be unbending, since every new proposal they issue is nearly the same as the last.”
The authors are also critical of the PA’s move at the Hague ICC, saying: “The PLO’s default position is to appeal to international law, hoping that the international community can or will act on its behalf. That appeal has been one of the more enduring delusions of the Palestinian leadership.” Instead, they say, “in reality, international law has not been a dependable friend to the Palestinians,” because “the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel is not a legal dispute.”
Another tactic that always looks desperate and is never effective, they say, “is the Palestinians’ propensity to threaten Israel with actions that they have no intention of pursuing and are raising merely as a bugaboo to pressure Israel to offer some concession,” such as threatening that they would “end security cooperation with Israel,” or “hand over the keys and return the West Bank to direct Israeli occupation.” The entire population of Earth knows they’re bluffing and yet they keep repeating it.
Having said all of the above, with remarkable honesty and accuracy, Agha and Khalidi offer their plan for a Palestinian state that works. Essentially, they say, be more like Israel: “The new way forward…
- Must consider a new constitutive assembly that will represent and involve more Palestinians, giving voice to those who have been ignored or marginalized, and prioritize Palestinian welfare and security.
- It must reorder relations between a new PA and a new PLO and resolve the Gaza–West Bank divide.
- It must develop new ideas of individual and collective rights, encourage free internal debate and dialogue, and espouse a culture of tolerance.
- It must recognize that salvation comes from within while reexamining relations with the United States, leveraging the Arab normalization processes to Palestinian advantage, and involving Egypt and Jordan in any new talks.
- It must redefine the Palestinian notion of sovereignty, review Palestinian views of security, and refrain from shirking responsibility or indulging in threats that are not credible.”
Thank God, the PA will never adopt these ideas because they include giving up its tight control over its citizens and letting them become the masters of their reality. Otherwise, this article would be a cause for concern.