Richard Boudreaux
The Wall Street Journal
February 26, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinian leaders here say they have lost faith in U.S. mediation with Israel and are weighing a new strategy to press for independence, including an appeal for United Nations recognition of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The evolving strategy, inspired in part by uprisings across the Middle East, also envisions stepping up nonviolent protest against Israeli occupation and trying to end a deep schism between the West Bank's secularist-led Palestinian Authority and the Islamist group Hamas that governs Gaza.

U.S. officials have cautioned the West Bank leadership, which depends on Western financial support, that a unilateral bid for U.N. recognition and a union with Hamas would alienate Israel and dim prospects for peace. The U.S. and Israel brand Hamas a terrorist group.

But the West Bank leaders argue that peace talks are at a dead end and that the U.S. lost credibility as a mediator last week by vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution, backed by more than 100 countries, that condemned Israeli settlement activity as a violation of international law.

Demonstrations against the U.S. veto, the Israeli presence and Palestinian disunity occur almost daily in the West Bank. On Friday, hundreds of protesters trying to force open a barricaded street in Hebron clashed with Israeli troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said. Some protesters threw rocks and four were detained. Following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron by a Jewish extremist, Israel had closed the street to protect an enclave of Jewish settlers.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has staked his prestige on hopes for an accord with Israel, is under pressure from others in the leadership to defy the U.S. and abandon the effort. Last week he rejected a personal appeal by President Barack Obama to withdraw the U.N. resolution on settlements.

A spokesman, Ghassan Khatib, said Mr. Abbas would continue cooperating with the U.S. but would again seek censure of Israel when the U.N. General Assembly convenes in September and would likely ask it to recognize a Palestinian state. Eight South American countries have already done so, in response to a Palestinian diplomatic campaign that is now turning to Europe.

"The veto was a serious blow to the role America can play," said Hanan Ashwari, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, which oversees the Palestinian Authority. She said the U.S. was abetting a strategy by Israel to "prolong and stall" peace talks while expanding its presence on land the Palestinians claim for their state.

"If negotiations are not an effective tool of peacemaking, what do we need them for?" she added. "We have to use other means. We will hold Israel accountable under international law. We will wage nonviolent resistance. You'll see more and more Palestinians standing up against"
Israeli settlements.

She and other advocates of a new Palestinian strategy, which is still being refined, say widening pressure from abroad and popular unrest in the territories could enable Palestinian leaders to return to negotiations in a stronger position.

The Palestinians suspended U.S.-brokered peace talks last fall after Israel, resisting pressure from Washington, refused to extend a moratorium on construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli officials say the Palestinians didn't intend to make concessions and were using the talks to stymie settler communities that Israel is likely to keep under any peace accord. Israel insists that talks resume without preconditions the Palestinians seek to create a state along the borders that defined Israel before the 1967 war.

Palestinians have watched the spreading Arab revolts with envy and admiration. Some protesters in Arab countries said they took their cue from the Palestinian intifada of the late 1980s, a youthful, mostly peaceful uprising against Israel that riveted the world's attention the way young Egyptians and Tunisians have done today.

The intifada led to accords in the 1990s that established the semiautonomous Palestinian territories. But an armed Palestinian uprising a decade ago hardened the conflict, stalling talks on statehood. The four-year-old split between Hamas and Mr. Abbas's Fatah party is doubly frustrating for Palestinians, who say it saps their independence drive.

"The message that Palestinians are getting back from the Arab revolutions is the power of nonviolence," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian politician who has organized recent protests and helped focus them on a demand to heal the split.

So far Hamas has resisted West Bank overtures to form a power-sharing government. But in Ramallah on Thursday, Mr. Barghouti, wearing an "I-love-Egypt" lapel pin, beamed with satisfaction as hundreds of people from Hamas, Fatah and other groups set aside their symbols and marched under the Palestinian flag.


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