The Palestinian Arabs have to decide what their objective is.
Slogans will not do.
They seem to aspire to get emotional satisfaction more than practical results. For instance, getting a large number of United Nations resolutions condemning Israel or extolling their national cause or threatening ad nauseam that Israel and Israelis will be brought to trial before international tribunals have had scant positive effect on the conditions of the Palestinian Arabs.
Further, shouting loudly that the gates of hell will open each time anyone does anything that runs counter to their narrative adds only a poetic dimension to their cause, but nothing else.
Setting preconditions to any negotiations with Israel or leaving them when it suits the Palestinian Arabs have hardly improved their negotiating position vis a vis Israel.
They had eight years of a positively-disposed US administration led by president Barak Obama, which were wasted in vain. An opportunity was presented to them to try to forge a diplomatic process convenient to them, but they didn’t. The Palestinian Arab leadership alternated between preconditions and post-conditions, between stating what Israel must do prior to negotiations and demanding Israel meet further conditions after negotiations had already started.
There is a limit to how much the Palestinian Arabs can ascribe responsibility to Israel for anything wrong that has happened to them.
Now they have found an additional culprit: the United States. Their mode of conduct with the US is peculiar, though consistent: rather than try to shape reality for their own good, they remain on the sidelines finger-pointing and boycotting. President Donald Trump has said explicitly that US official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not predetermine the future boundaries of the city. Moreover, he made it clear that Israel was supposed to “pay” for it. Where were the Palestinian Arabs to ask for such a payment? The Palestinian Arabs are responsible for their fate no less than anyone else is. Within certain limits, they have a freedom of choice. The problem is that they know that no matter how many mistakes they might make, there will always be an automatic majority in the international community supporting them. To be sure, that may afford them scant tangible success, but it gives them considerable emotional satisfaction.
If the Zionist movement had made even a fraction of the mistakes the Palestinian Arabs have made since 1947, by now it would have been consigned to oblivion.
The Palestinian Arabs act as though they are immune from such a fate, as though they can afford to err as many times as they wish. After all, they can always blame Israel and get the regular automatic backing in international organizations.
Their strategy of weakening Israel has failed. They believed that attacks on Israeli civilians would weaken their resolve (in this context it should be stressed that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has been consistently opposed to terrorism since the Oslo Accords of 1993); that a hostile diplomatic and legal campaign would weaken Israel’s international position; that boycotting Israeli products would weaken Israel’s economy; that threatening to engulf the region with hatred and violence would weaken Israel’s control of Jerusalem and other areas.
If they wish to wait until Israel disappears or becomes significantly weaker, then many more generations of Palestinian Arabs will continue to cheer, applaud and announce that the gates of hell are going to open as Israelis prospers and become even more powerful and successful.
To be sure, success is not assured even to the most capable of people, as the Palestinian Arabs know.
Israel can have its ups and downs. Israelis might suffer still more.
The question is how do the Palestinian Arabs see their own future? Are they going to determine the extent of their national destiny by defining the limits of Israel’s national fate? Shouldn’t their objective be depicted in positive rather than negative terms? Any success the Palestinian Arabs have in the international arena is ephemeral and hardly consequential.
It’s up to them to decide if they wish to continue waiting passively for a better future until hell freezes over or decide to shape actively their political environment in a constructive way.
To be sure, any leader who wishes to do so has to face a large portion of the Palestinian Arab community opposed to any compromise, attached to an emotionally uplifting but politically destructive national narrative.
However, whether such a leader exists or not the fact remains that rather than forge a positive national credo with which to carry its people forward, the Palestinian leadership has so far preferred to adhere to a negative collective memory leading its people to a diplomatic dead end. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: never have so many enjoyed so much international support in order to achieve so little.
The author is a lecturer at the Diplomacy Studies Program of Tel Aviv University’s Political Science Department.
He holds a doctorate in modern history from Oxford University and a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge University. He read for his BA in history at Tel Aviv University.