The persistent decision by the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to go through with his plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip dictates that a second look at the concept of unilateralism.
Unilateralism has properly been painted negatively. Negotiations even between enemies have been and should be the way out of conflict. Nevertheless, if either of the parties refuses to negotiate, as the position of Israel has been, other options must be found.
Politically and at times when leaders are stubborn and the issues seem intractable, an argument for short term relief through unilateralism can certainly be made. And if unilateralism is the flavor of the day, what should the response of Palestinians be.
While seeking a bilateral agreement should continue to be the priority of leaders, one unilateral act no doubt provokes another. If the Israelis refuse to negotiate and choose to act alone, the only short term option left to the Palestinians is unilateralism.
Palestinians have tried unilateral acts. More than once during the past three years, Yasser Arafat the president of the Palestinian Authority as well as the leaders of the Islamic militant groups have made more than one effort to break up the cycle of violence by declaring a unilateral cease fire. Unfortunately on both occasions and despite the passage of weeks without an Palestinian violent act, the Israeli response was very violent. The assassinations of a Fatah leader in Tulkarem and a Hamas leader in Gaza, ended both unilateral acts.
The past few weeks have seen another Palestinian attempt at unilaterally ending the violence, this time an act carried out without any public announcement. But this is clearly not enough. And while it is not fair to expect symmetry from the occupier and the occupied Palestinian leaders canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sit idly by. What is badly needed is for the Palestinian Authority to try and carry out some more political acts that can help kick start real bilateral negotiations.
The possibilities of what the Palestinians can do are obvious. The peace initiatives of Palestinians like Yaser Abed Rabo (co signatory of the Geneva Plan) and Sari Nusseibeh (co signatory of the peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice) have already received informal support from the Palestinian leadership. President Arafat has refrained from full formal support so as not to commit himself before the talks begin. But with the Israelis agreeing to quit Gaza and some of the settlements in the north of the West Bank, the time might be right for a more formal support to one or both of these peace initiatives.
The Palestinian leadership can also think of other more creative ways of staying in the lime light with a variety of political options. It can try and bring Jordan in the political process. The access that JordanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s King has to the White House, as seen recently in the G8 summit shows that the Palestinian cause can be advanced by making use of the good offices of some of PalestineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neighbors.
Previous attempts to delegate sovereign powers to other parties have been opposed by the Palestinian leadership and delegates to the PLOÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s highest ruling body the Palestine National Council. Much of the worry stemmed from the fact that the Hashmite Kingdom of Jordan had annexed the West Bank to it. This was a cause of a lot of differences between Palestinians and the late King Hussein. This should not be a source of worry with the new young King Abdullah who has clearly shown that he and his governments have absolutely no interest in regaining sovereignty for Jordan in the Palestinian areas.
One idea for unilateral Palestinian acts could be some kind of joint actions with PalestineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Arab neighbors. The joint Palestinian-Jordanian committee which was established during the Madrid peace process didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cause any harm to the Palestinian quest for independence. This formula or something like it could help get the Palestinian cause back to the centrality it needs to have. With a strong partner such as JordanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s King, Palestinians can expect much stronger results with the US and Israeli public. It can also provide a political mechanism to help move the real bilateral peace talks back to center stage.
Palestinians and Israelis are hurting more than most people realize. Political leaders are obliged to find short and long term solutions to ease the pain that is happening every single day. Bilateral talks aimed at ending the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state is certainly the best and fastest way ahead. Short of that and with the Israelis refusing to talk and opting to act unilaterally, not doing anything is not an option. The Palestinian leadership must not restrict their actions to reacting to what others say and do. It is high time for a pro active Palestinian position.
* Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist.