Palestinians discuss tougher strategies

Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 00:00

The already tense relations between Israel and the Palestinians appear to be on a collision course after warnings from Palestinian officials that a series of steps will be taken if a new right-wing government is elected in next month’s Israeli elections and the diplomatic deadlock continues.

Following last month’s overwhelming endorsement from the international community, when only nine states voted against upgrading the status of Palestine at the United Nations, the message from the Palestinian leadership is that the status quo is no longer tenable.

Among the measures being considered are filing war crime charges against Israel, staging mass demonstrations in the West Bank, encouraging the international community to impose sanctions against Israel and ending security co-operation in the West Bank.

Hussam Zumlot, an aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said 2013 will see a new Palestinian strategy. “There will be new rules in our relationship with Israel and the world,” he said.

Israel is worried, and responded angrily to the Palestinian threats.

The foreign ministry accused Mr Abbas of seeking to incite a confrontation with Israel. “The ‘new rules’ the Palestinians are talking about are no different than the old rules that have always resulted in conflict, hatred, violence and their defeat,” spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Little sympathy

The unprecedented international condemnation in response to recent Israeli announcements of stepped-up settlement construction underscored the fact that as long as the sides are not talking there is little sympathy worldwide for Israel.

Another right-wing Israeli coalition following January’s election, headed again by incumbent prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, looks inevitable. Israel’s global isolation is of particular concern to decision-makers in Jerusalem because the coming months will be critical in the campaign to gain international support for actions to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down shortly before Mr Netanyahu’s election in early 2009 and have remained frozen throughout his term. Even a 10-month settlement failed to persuade the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table.

Israel insists on direct bilateral talks “without pre-conditions” and notes that Mr Abbas promised to resume negotiations if the UN upgraded Palestine’s status. Some Palestinian officials have talked of a six-month window for the diplomatic track after the Israeli elections, but there is little optimism of a breakthrough. Compounding the pessimism is the fact that there is no indication of a new Middle East peace initiative from the incoming Obama administration.

Nimr Hammad, a political adviser to Mr Abbas, confirmed that if the UN security council did not take action against Israeli settlements, Palestine would consider complaining to the international criminal court (ICC)in the Hague, an option made possible in the wake of the November UN upgrade.

Atmosphere of threat

PLO official Qais Abdelkareem said the aim of such a move would be to “reach a point of having the international community impose sanctions on Israel”. Israeli officials have already indicated that Jerusalem may declare the Oslo peace agreement null and void if the Palestinians appeal to the ICC.

The atmosphere of threat and counter threat bodes ill for moderates on both sides.

A recent opinion poll showed Hamas was now more popular than Mr Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank, and an overwhelming 88 per cent of Palestinians thought that armed struggle was the best way to achieve Palestinian independence.