At a time when the two-state solution is experiencing what could be its last agonising convulsions and with negotiations seemingly unable to achieve anything other than perpetuating the status quo, Palestinians need to shift the current paradigm that has framed the conflict with Israel over the last two decades. This was recently highlighted during an ECFR roundtable with Nadia Hijab, the co-founder and director of the al-Shabaka policy network [see event audio below].
A new strategy is required that either acknowledges a one-state reality and engages in a popular struggle for equal rights within a bi-national state or uses that as a threat in order to challenge Israel and secure broader Palestinian aspirations through the creation of an independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation. To achieve this, Palestinians are now more than ever in need of a revitalised national liberation movement that can offer a clear strategic direction and a representative leadership [2'58-4'07 min].
Such a discourse has gained increasing traction within Palestinian civil society and academic circles, as well as amongst individual Palestinian officials. Yet advancing this strategy will require Palestinians to forge a national consensus on the way forward and a clear strategy to extract themselves from their entrenched positions in the West Bank and Gaza.
United States and European Union support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) has in practice meant opposing Palestinian reconciliation efforts and provided very little incentive towards rebuilding a reunified Palestinian polity. As I argued in a previous blog post, it is therefore time for a new policy that promotes intra-Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and the holding of national elections to renew the democratic mandates of the Palestinian Authority and the Legislative Council.
But this can only be a first step. While it would help heal the rift between the West Bank and Gaza, elections by themselves will prove insufficient to break the status quo. Not least as the PA remains a creature of the Oslo Accords [1'56-2'47 min], able to manage the day-to-day life of Palestinians under occupation but unable to bring about an end to that occupation. Moreover, the decision making process within PA institutions has been inherently opaque, undemocratic, and largely beholden to a small elite. Nor can the PA claim to represent Palestinians living outside the occupied territories, especially refugees whose voices have been consistently marginalised during peace negotiations despite the central importance attached to their right of return and the likely concessions that will have to be made.
Much will therefore depend on the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its ability to drive forward the Palestinian liberation agenda on behalf of the Palestinian people. Yet its claims to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” have rung increasingly hollow. With its authority in the occupied territories now limited to those areas it controls within the West Bank and its standing within refugee camps increasingly contested by rival groups, the PLO does not currently seem to exist much beyond a name and a series of diplomatic missions overseas.
Beyond bringing Hamas under the PLO’s umbrella, re-legitimising the PLO will therefore necessitate a radical rethink of Palestinian representation [4'31-6'13 min] and concerted effort to involve previously marginalised constituencies in the decision making process. This could be achieved through a revitalised and empowered Palestinian National Council (PNC), through a civic registration drive for direct elections to the PNC, or even through closer co-operation with Palestinian civil society [9'40-11'15 min] based on a similar model to that used by the BDS movement’s National Committee.
Above all though, re-legitimising the Palestinian liberation movement will first and foremost require the current Palestinian leadership to resist its natural instinct to undermine or co-opt grassroots initiatives that it views as challenging its monopoly on representation, in favour of a Palestinian strategy that harnesses popular mobilisation as part of a broader strategy to confront the Israeli occupation.
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