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The power of one

For the past fortnight, rumours have been circulating that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is considering a unilateral declaration of statehood. “Many agree that it’s time to end all this negotiation nonsense and work on peaceful resistance,” a Palestinian insider confided this past week.

The PA is considering several options: stopping all negotiations with Israel and severing diplomatic contact, unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood, or removing PA security forces, which act as a cover for humiliating Israeli military operations, from West Bank cities – a move suggested by the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

The 30 July announcement by the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that he would resign after party leadership elections in September has left the ailing peace process in even greater trouble. In the Jerusalem Post, a PA official described “the chances of reaching an agreement with Israel before the end of 2008″ as “zero”.

But the Palestinians are not rushing to make their strategic move. The political analyst Ali Jarbawi believes that “waiting until the end of the year is best” and will allow the Palestinians to avoid blame for the talks’ collapse. The US’s insistence, against all the evidence, that a peace agreement can be reached by the end of the year also, paradoxically, strengthens the argument that a different way forward is needed.

There is a sense of déjà vu about all of this. In 2000, before the ill-fated Camp David talks, the PLO debated a unilateral declaration of statehood. Israel warned it might respond by annexing swaths of the West Bank – a threat that would ring hollow this time around, as it is already busy doing just that.

Jarbawi, for one, thinks it better to stop the negotiations in the face of Israel’s incessant creation of “facts on the ground”. He even hints at what would be the ultimate expression of Palestinian unilateralism: dissolving the PA.

“What will happen to the PA? Will we continue with the PA as a captive authority until Israel has finished doing what it wants? Or will we tell the world and Israel that enough is enough – we’ve been trying so hard for the last 15 years, we couldn’t reach a settlement, and we learned our lesson.”

The Palestinians say their new ideas are driven by the increasing perception that the peace process, and even the PA itself, simply provide a cover for Israeli occupation and land seizure with a pretence of “interim” autonomy.

If senior Palestinian officials decide to “go it alone”, it would be hard to blame them. In May, a former PA official told me that in private many officials admit they are just going through the motions of the peace process, waiting for the right moment to change both strategy and goal. That moment may now be a bit closer.

Published by New Statesman.

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