The Palestinians’ 21st-Century Strategy Has Failed Them

December 24, 2020 | Eran Lerman
About the author: Eran Lerman is vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and teaches Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College.

With a Democratic administration about to be sworn in in Washington, the Palestinian Authority’s leaders are hoping to get more sympathy from the White House than they did over the past four years. Undoubtedly, they will. But, writes Eran Lerman, they shouldn’t assume that they can easily return to their policy of trying to boycott, isolate, and anathematize Israel until it is forced to give in to their demands. Lerman argues that this approach died in November along with its chief architect, the veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat—due to much larger geopolitical forces:

The “grand strategy” [Erekat] masterminded . . . called for the abandonment of negotiations with Israel, thus avoiding the need for compromise and for mutual recognition between the two national movements. Instead, it envisioned an imposed solution by the international community leading to a return to the 1967 lines, the partition of Jerusalem, and some redress on the so-called “right of return.”

In the spring of 2014, in line with Erekat’s strategy, the PA took the decision to join several international agencies, most significantly, the Rome Statutes and the International Criminal Court (ICC). This, too, was part and parcel of the grand strategy based on isolating Israel in the international arena and placing its leadership in the dock.

The basic idea was not new, and in some respects goes back to the 1950s and 1960s. The deliberate terrorist campaign in the autumn of 2000, often referred to as the “second intifada” was to a large extent knowingly designed to bring about . . . international intervention; meaning “protection” that would replace IDF forces in the territories. Moreover, the UN Conference on Racism in Durban (2001), and particularly the NGO forum associated with it, laid out the foundations of a strategy of boycott and isolation.

But Israel’s improving relations with Asia and Africa, let alone the more recent breakthroughs in the Middle East, show the inefficacy of attempts to isolate it. “Moreover,” writes Lerman:

the utter ruin of countries such as Syria and Libya point to the deeper problems besetting the Arab world, which go well beyond the Palestinian question. This also has underlined the legitimacy of Israel’s security concerns. Thus, the grand effort by Palestinians to mark Israel out as an international pariah, and to impose economic boycotts and diplomatic isolation on Israel, has come to naught. This was true already in 2017, well before the full impact of Donald Trump’s policies kicked in. Such a realization is now being reflected even in aspects of European policy.

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