President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the 69th United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2014 in New York City.
Credit: Andrew Burton

By Gary A. Grappo

DENVER — Since last August, the Palestinians have suffered serious blows to their aspirations of statehood. Their own leaders failed them twice and Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected after rejecting the idea that there would be a Palestinian state under his leadership. So, what now for the nearly 4.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza?

In the disastrous Gaza campaign launched last August by Israel against Hamas, more than 2,000 Gazans and 70 Israelis were killed. Damage to Gaza’s dilapidated infrastructure amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. More than 120,000 Gazan homes were destroyed.

The accord that eventually ended the senseless violence did nothing to improve the misery in Gaza. As of today, Gazans have seen little of the $5.4 billion in aid pledged after the conflict ended.

Not to be outdone, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority went to the UN Security Council in December seeking a UN Security Council resolution to force Israel into a peace agreement within one year.

Despite warnings against this maneuver by the US and other governments friendly to the Palestinian cause, President Mahmoud Abbas persisted. He resisted softer language that might have earned him a few more votes and even an American abstention. He also rebuffed offers of a vote postponement that might have given him a new and more receptive Security Council.

Then, Israeli voters re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pledged in his campaign never to accept a Palestinian state. Though he later recanted, Netanyahu’s re-election merely reaffirms what many Palestinians long suspected: Israel will never accept a Palestinian state under any terms.

These events are the latest of a long series of one-step-forward-two-steps-back disappointments for the Palestinians since the 1948 Palestine War. They, along with their sympathizers in the region and elsewhere, may be justified in concluding that there is no option now but to resist harshly.

But harsh tactics aimed at punishing Israelis won’t work. Palestinians must especially avoid violence. Such a response would fall into the trap laid for them by Netanyahu that independence for Palestinians is tantamount to a launch pad for extremist violence against Israel.

Netanyahu is wrong, and the Palestinians must prove him wrong. Palestinians must turn inward and ask themselves what they can do to change the dynamic. They must take firm control of matters in which their actions can genuinely advance their interests. They must take charge of their own affairs, beginning with elections to choose new leaders.

Last August and December, the leaders of Hamas and Fatah launched respective campaigns for the same reason — to shore up declining support for themselves. 

Palestinians have scant regard for their leaders, who predictably resort to well-worn playbooks when they detect a decline in their political support. The Hamas game is costly armed conflict against Israel. For the Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, it is fruitless appeals to the UN or the Security Council.

Such repeated and hopeless efforts demonstrate the bankrupt policies and uninspired leadership of Palestine’s political mainstays. It is time for the Palestinian people, with international community support, to rise up and clean their own house.

Fatah celebrated its 50th anniversary in December. That’s 50 years of failing to improve Palestinian lives and 50 years of rejecting multiple opportunities to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Camp David in 1979; Oslo and its immediate aftermath in the 1990s; Camp David II in 2000; the Condi Rice-Abu Alaa negotiations of 2007; and the Secretary of State Kerry-brokered talks that broke down last spring.

In those recent talks, the Palestinians finally got an American-inspired, presidentially backed framework with which to work, one that even had the tacit acceptance of Netanyahu. But Abbas demurred, preferring instead to sign pointless documents of accession to various international organizations.

Hamas, barely half as old but just as ineffective, has instigated multiple armed conflicts with Israel that have not improved the lives of Gazans. It has repeatedly resisted negotiation and will not recognize of the state of Israel. This has earned Hamas marginalization by the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States.

Palestinians are unjustly constrained by Israel’s illegal occupation and building of settlements. But that doesn’t excuse the endemic corruption, political featherbedding and aimless, selfish leadership that characterized Hamas and Fatah.

Both parties have become an anachronism. Hamas is rejected by the international community for espousing violence against Israel. Fatah is a virtual carbon copy absent the advocacy of violence.

The Palestinians must bring to power leaders who are pragmatic, honest and genuinely committed to meet with Israel and negotiate a final settlement.

The new leadership must level with the Palestinian people about the tough compromises necessary to reach such an agreement. They must not squander foreign aid, which has totaled $8.5 billion since 2007. They must be committed to establishing effective and responsive institutions of democratic governance.

Palestinians need leaders dedicated to the betterment of their people and determined to establish a functioning and independent state that can live peacefully and work effectively with Israel.

Such leaders will be impossible for Israelis and even for Mr. Netanyahu to ignore.

Gary Grappo is a retired senior Foreign Service officer from the State Department. He has served in the Middle East, including as US ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman, Head of Mission of the Jerusalem-based Office of the Quartet Representative and Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

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