The last twelve months will go down in history as the year that terminated the American-sponsored Palestine-Israel “peace process”. While 2021 will not reverse the monumental change in the US attitude and objectives in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East, it presents Palestinians with the opportunity to think outside the American box.
A year ago, 2020 began with an unmistakable American push to translate its new political discourse into decisive action. On 28 January, the so-called “Deal of the Century” was declared as an actual political doctrine. A new political lexicon took hold very quickly. The “peace process”, which has dominated Washington’s language for several decades, seemed a distant memory. Because the Palestinian Authority has, also for decades, moulded its own strategy to accommodate US demands and expectations, the shift in Washington left it with very few options.
On 1 February last year, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, declared that he was cutting all diplomatic ties with Israel and the US. This was followed by an announcement in May that the Palestinian leadership was cancelling all agreements between itself and Israel, including security ties. However, while this decision may have served the purpose of assuaging Palestinian anger, it served no practical purpose, and it was short-lived anyway.
On 17 November, the PA announced that it had resumed all security and civil ties with Israel, thwarting the renewed unity talks between Fatah and Hamas. The talks had begun in July and, unlike previous meetings, the two main Palestinian factions seemed united around a set of political ideas, lead amongst them their rejection of the “Deal of the Century” and Israel’s plans to annex large parts of the occupied territories.
In the final analysis, the PA, which in any case hardly enjoyed much respect among Palestinians, has lost whatever trust it still commanded among its rivals. Abbas seemed to be using the unity talks as a tool to warn Washington and Tel Aviv that he still possessed some political cards.
However, while the Palestinian leadership has in the past succeeded in playing the waiting game which guaranteed the flow of foreign money since its creation in 1994, that strategy is now coming to an end. US priorities in the Middle East have obviously changed, and even the PA’s European allies hardly see Abbas and his authority as a priority. A European Union weakened by the departure of Britain and the devastating economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed Palestine to the bottom of Western agendas.
If 2021 is to bring about any positive change in the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, new strategies have to be introduced. Thinking should shift completely towards a whole new political landscape.
For a start, Palestinian unity must be redefined so that it is not confined to a mere political arrangement between rivals Hamas and Fatah, each motivated by its own agenda and self-preservation. Unity should be expanded to include a national dialogue embracing all Palestinians — in Israel and the occupied territories as well as the diaspora — who should have a role in the formation of a new Palestinian, rather than factional, vision for their country.
This new vision should be developed and articulated to replace worn clichés, dogma and wishful thinking. A two-state solution, for example, is simply unattainable, not simply because Israel and the US have done their utmost to bury it, but because, even if implemented, it will not satisfy the minimal expectations in terms of legitimate Palestinian rights.
In a two-state scenario, Palestinians would remain geographically and politically fragmented, and no realistic and just implementation of the right of return could possibly be carried out. A “single democratic state” in Palestine and Israel cannot possibly address all the injustices of the past, but it is the most meaningful threshold aimed at imagining a possible, and certainly better, future for all of the people living between the river and the sea.
Moreover, the obsessive reliance on Washington as the only party capable of mediating between Israel and Palestine must end. Not only has the US demonstrated its untrustworthiness through its generous and relentless military and political support for Israel, but it has also positioned itself as a major obstacle in the way of Palestinian freedom and liberation.
It behoves the Palestinian leadership to understand that the balance of global power is changing fundamentally and that the US and Israel are no longer the only hegemons in the Middle East. It is time for Palestinians to diversify their options, strengthen their ties with rising Asian powers and reach out to South American and African countries to reverse the total political and economic dependency on the US and its allies.
What’s more, although popular resistance in Palestine has expressed itself constantly in various forms, it is yet to be harnessed as a sustainable platform of resistance that can be translated into political capital. Last year began with the suspension of Gaza’s Great March of Return protests, which brought tens of thousands of Palestinians together in a historic show of unity. However, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are desperately trying to navigate two overlapping matrixes of control: the Israeli occupation and the PA. This has proven detrimental, as it marginalises the Palestinian people and prevents them from playing a fundamental role in shaping their own struggle. Popular resistance must serve as the backbone of any authentic Palestinian vision for liberation.
Finally, for the new Palestinian political discourse to matter internationally, it has to be backed by a global solidarity movement that rallies behind a unified Palestinian vision, while advocating Palestinian rights at city, state and national levels. The decisive US-Israeli attack on the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is a testament to the success of this tactic in changing the narrative on Palestine and Israel. Yet, while there is already a strong foundation of Palestinian solidarity around the world, this movement should not be focused solely on academic hubs and intellectual circles; it should work towards reaching ordinary people, wherever they are.
It is true that 2020 was a devastating year for Palestine, but a closer analysis would allow us to see it as providing an opportunity upon which a whole new Palestinian political discourse can be built. The year 2021 provides Palestine with a chance to fight back.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.