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Since President Barack Obama assumed leadership of the United States, intensive diplomatic efforts have been made to renew the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The new spirit in the White House has attained some significant achievements. First, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that an independent Palestinian state will be part of the solution. For the first time, an Israeli government has agreed to freeze the construction of new homes in Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim, two major settlement blocs in the Jerusalem suburbs (although this settlement freeze does not apply to east Jerusalem). Lastly, in September, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas publicly met.
Nevertheless, it seems that the US's efforts have only further distanced the Israelis and Palestinians and have not led the sides to announce the renewal of negotiations. This stalemate is neither new nor surprising. While it can perhaps be viewed as a tactical move on the part of the negotiators, the reality on the ground is quite disturbing. Recent months have been marked by violent demonstrations in Jerusalem, a call by many prominent Palestinian leaders to organize a new, nonviolent intifada and statements by Palestinians that a two-state solution might not be possible, due to settlement activity.
An analysis of recent developments reveals that even though a new intifada won't be fought in the near future, it could erupt in several months' time; in fact, we are witnessing how Palestinian society and its leadership have begun laying the groundwork, at least in terms of public opinion, for such an option.
What is so surprising is that Palestinians have remained unfazed by what Israel perceived as "historic" gestures towards Abbas. In fact, the crisis has been bolstered by internal conflicts plaguing the Palestinian political arena; Israeli-Palestinian relations are not the sole factor contributing to the current escalation.
THE PALESTINIAN political landscape has undergone many changes over the last few years, mainly due to the unprecedented crisis between Fatah and Hamas. Current tensions and the failure to reform the "Palestinian home," both within and between the major political parties, have led to widespread frustration among the Fatah leadership and Palestinian people. Scholars widely believe that the competition between the groups over the leadership makes the likelihood of a state nearly impossible. In a similar vein, the Fatah-Hamas schism has been blamed for the outcome of the war in Gaza last winter. The tension between the movements reached new heights after Hamas refused the recent Egyptian proposal to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under one governing system.
The unresolved tension between the two movements is not the only political crisis the Palestinians are facing. Fatah's internal conflicts are entirely unrelated to the peace process - in fact, many leaders of the Tanzim faction, including Kadura Fares, Hatem Abdel Kader and Muhammad Hurani, have openly supported Abbas's positions, including a two-state solution and a compromise on the right of return. They have also publicly stated that the last intifada, including its bloody terror attacks, was a mistake (despite still refusing to publicly accept Israel as a Jewish state). The reason so many Palestinian leaders' refuse to back Abbas is primarily a function of internal political considerations.
In many respects, Abbas's success in the August Fatah convention worked against him, giving him a specious feeling of self-confidence and popular support. Tensions between Abbas and his party emerged after his striking success in convening the convention, and his candidates' electoral victory in the central committee. This victory was marred by harsh allegations by many Fatah activists who claimed incongruity between votes cast and the official results. Leaders in the Tanzim accepted the outcome, but off-the-record criticized Abbas and the electoral process quite strongly. They felt that their faction's popularity, as evinced by their winning the majority of seats in the revolutionary council, was intentionally and illegitimately stifled during elections for the central committee.
Amidst this turmoil, Abbas's declared legislative and presidential elections would be held on January 24, 2010, and said he would not run for a second term. The declaration brought the previous crises to a new height. Many Fatah members were torn between their fear of Abbas's replacement and their criticism of his handling of the Goldstone Report and relations with Hamas.
The expected election is a complex issue with many implications, especially if Abbas indeed will not run. A more dramatic development might be his following through on his threats and resigning, causing other senior PA officials to follow his lead. But in almost every scenario, the elections will be marked by rhetoric that will prove unhelpful to resuming negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, while lending credence to a renewed struggle against Israel.
This development, which could foretell the end of the PA, will pave the road for a new intifada and call for a one-state solution. As long as the political landscape remains on the current trajectory, including holding elections and Abbas's retirement, the current PA leadership will lack the legitimacy to negotiate with Israel and the US. It will face public criticism alone, without the public help of any noteworthy Palestinian public figure, much as Abbas stood alone when he agreed to postpone discussions on the Goldstone report in the UN.
MOREOVER, THE stalemate between Israel and the PA, which is a natural result of the aforementioned crises, will lead to a fierce deterioration of the current calm. In a recent interview with the Maan News Agency, Marwan Barghouti said the "PLO executive committee, with all of its factions, should set a plan and vision for a wide popular and peaceful movement against settlements. We need the executive committee, the factions and Palestinian Legislative Council members to turn up the heat on popular demonstrations."
It is important to remember that prominent Palestinian figures had attributed the previous intifada to two equal causes: Israel and the PA. They claim that one of the intifada's major goals was to push for reforms within the Palestinian political arena. Today, the same reasons are being cited to explain the current escalation, which is indeed taking place regardless of recent developments in the peace negotiations with Israel.
If Abbas can incorporate the young Fatah leadership in the decision-making process, he, and the peace process, will receive more Palestinian public support. Barghouti's involvement in the peace process will grant Abbas more flexibility. But on the current trajectory, further concessions by Israel and the US will have limited effect.
If this is the case, what will the future look like? The boiling point might be a nonviolent intifada, characterized more by rocks and Molotov cocktails than suicide bombers, and backed by strong international judicial and diplomatic activity.
The Palestinians will utilize international objection to the settlements to demand a one-state solution, with a "one man, one vote" political system. For Israel, annexation of the West Bank and granting full and equal political rights to the Palestinians unequivocally means an end to Israel as a Jewish state.
In short, the current stalemate and the increasing tension between the Israelis and Palestinians is not due only to the ongoing building in West Bank settlements; the internal political struggle in the PA, the Fatah-Hamas crisis, the difficulties within Fatah and Abbas's declaration that he will not run for a second term as president have all contributed to the deterioration of relations in the Israeli-Palestinian-American triangle.
The writer is coordinator for programs in the Palestinian Authority at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. This article was first published by the Adelson Institute for
Strategic Studies, at the Shalem Center,