George Giacaman
The Daily Star
February 13, 2009 - 1:00am

As usual, the future Israeli government will be a coalition, either a right-wing one composed of Kadima, Likud, and Labor, or an extreme right-wing one, including Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, and others. Either way, this does not bode well for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is entering the third stage of its turbulent life, and perhaps its last.

The first stage began with the Gaza-Jericho agreement of 1994, followed in late 1995 with expansion of the PA's authority over parts of the West Bank. This stage ended with Yasser Arafat's death in November 2004.

The promise of the Oslo process, as far as Palestinians were concerned, was that it would lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. That was the meaning of the "interim stage" which was supposed to last for four years but is now entering its 14th year. Limited "self-autonomy" was never supposed to be a final stage, nor was it envisioned that the PA's raison d'tre was to function indefinitely as a large municipality to administer local Palestinian affairs. This remains true today.

The second stage ushered in Mahmoud Abbas, with his election as president of the PA in January 2005. From the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000 until his election, Abbas was consistent in his opposition to the armed struggle and had the courage to say so in public. Negotiations were at the heart of his political, and the Palestinian public clearly wanted to give him a chance. However, for a whole year, until the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in January 2006, in which Hamas won a majority, there were no negotiations to speak of. Instead, Israeli officials derided Abbas for being "weak", oblivious to the fact that they were responsible. Ultimately, the undoing of the PA, no matter who is in power, will come from a lack of political progress.

The Annapolis process failed, and even if the failure is written off as part of the calamitous "Bush legacy", the third stage in the history of the PA has just been ushered in with the arrival of President Barack Obama. The euphoria that swept the world upon his election has also rubbed off on the PA. They are waiting to see what happens in Washington. The Obama administration holds the future of the PA in its hands. The PA knows it cannot pin any hopes on the new Israeli coalition government.

In a year or possibly two, much will be clear. If there is no credible progress leading to the two-state solution as Palestinians and Arabs understand it; if the expansion of settlements is not stopped, making a two-state solution nearly impossible, then the PA will be doomed.

If the dilemma of Hamas is to find it difficult to be simultaneously a resistance movement and a participant in government, then the predicament of the PA, one made very clear during the Annapolis process, is that negotiations cannot go on indefinitely without clear results, while Israeli land-grabbing continues. Sooner or later, breakaway factions will emerge from within Fatah to embrace the resistance agenda again as a result of renewed political failure. The political program of Mahmoud Abbas would have uttered its final whimper and reached a tragic end.

Before Obama was elected, he sometimes received unsolicited advice from various quarters as to what to do about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some argued that the conflict was a difficult one since both sides were not ready for a solution. This was a false argument. Decoded, it meant that the United States should not put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories to make a solution possible. This was the line of the pro-Israel lobby in the US but not the opinion of most Americans. And this is precisely what has made negotiations fail.

Israel's "success" in warding away outside pressure has resulted in the transformation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into largely a domestic political affair to be kicked around by actors within the Israeli political arena, whose the interests are local, electoral, career-driven, and mercenary. Israelis are essentially negotiating among themselves. There is no reason to expect anything different from the forthcoming Israeli government, whoever forms it and participates in it.

If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is allowed to remain inside the dark tunnel of internecine Israeli politics, it will never emerge without outside pressure and no solution will be possible. Palestinians will have no choice other than to pursue resistance, and the PA will face its final demise in this last stage of its career. It is really up to the Obama administration now to decide what the future holds for the Palestinians.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017