With Bibi Netanyahu turning out to be just another Yitzhak Shamir - the one who doesn't initiate, doesn't lead and does nothing to get things moving - the ball has been thrown into the Palestinians' court. And if we stick with the sports metaphors for a bit, what a pleasure it is to see that someone has stepped up to the plate, on the other side, and has decided not to wait for the Israelis.
But what's even more impressive is the change of tactics, a change that might actually work. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister serving under Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen, is now leading what many around the world are calling the White Intifada: a struggle consisting of weekly non-violent protests against settlements and the separation fence, while striving for a declaration of independence by the summer of 2011. Fayyad, a former economist and technocrat, is also leading the ban on products from the settlements (seen below throwing products into a bonfire) and has shunned the use of Israeli VIP cards given to senior Palestinian figures so as not to be seen as collaborators with the occupation.
Overnight, Fayyad has turned from a dull official into a charismatic politician, enough for Shimon Peres to call him the Palestinian Ben Gurion. He's also done much to rid Palestinian school books of anti-Israeli propoganda, and is getting good grades from everybody, especially the Americans, who are happy with the "yes to peace, no to violence" approach. As Aluf Benn writes:
"He is receiving enthusiastic approval from the U.S. administration as a successful manager. Some 2,600 Palestinian policemen have already graduated from the training course run by U.S. General Keith Dayton in Jordan and are back in the territories, expecting to serve an independent state, not as subordinate agents of an Israeli occupation."
This new strategy from the Palestinian side was successfully set out in a recent op-ed by Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former minister and PLC member in the Palestinian Authority:
"There is a lesson to be learned here by us Palestinians: We cannot quash the Israeli repression machine with violence, because our violence will be used to justify and legitimize the brutality of the strong against the weak. Furthermore, Palestinians need to take into account the fact that they have allies on the Israeli side who share their rejection of the occupation and of discrimination; it is crucial to reinforce and nurture this relationship with them.
"Disseminating a culture of passive resistance against the oppression and atrocities of the occupation is the most efficacious method for fighting it: It should be promulgated and its circle expanded. It must not remain restricted to pockets of protest here and there, but should become a generalized modus operandi that encompasses all points of contact with the occupation and the settlements, which are trying to gobble up the land and obliterate all features of Palestinian identity. It must be clearly said that nonviolence is morally superior to force."
This is a new kind of language coming out of the West Bank, and this new attitude and leadership from the Palestinian side is already bearing fruit on the diplomatic front. The foreign ministers of France and Spain, in a joint article recently published in Le Monde, called to expedite the establishment of a Palestinian state and complete its recognition by October 2011.
Fayyad and the White Intifada are the most refreshing and genuine attempt lately to get things moving in the right direction. As opposed to Israel's long-standing policy of dunking its head in the sand, we're finally seeing some true wisdom from the Palestinian side: mainly, that violence only makes Israelis react with more violence. The Fatah in the West Bank saw exactly where the violent struggle of the Hamas led to: the deadly Operation Cast Lead. Their biggest achievement since then has only been the Goldstone report, contested by many and supported by few.
The Europeans seem ready for a declaration in 2011. Will the U.S. be wise enough to not miss this train?
P.S. Just a few more words on Biden
There's not much else to say about Israel announcing the construction of more housing units in East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's visit. All the usual phrases have already been used: slap in the face, humiliation and so on.
As an Israeli, this is infuriating. The excuses make it even worse. When Netanyahu says that the "timing of the announcement was horrible", what exactly was he thinking? That there's a GOOD time to announce building in East Jerusalem? And what's even worse than that, are the excuses along the lines of I wasn't aware of the announcement". A prime minister shouldn't be too proud to show that he's not exactly running a tight ship, to say the least.
But the most disappointing, maddening part of this was Biden's light slap on Israel's wrist. That's all? We're going to get away with it? Again?!?!
If I was an American watching Biden's little reprimand on TV, I'd be mad at Israel - but even more embarrassed with the overwhelming weakness shown by the U.S. Vice President and the administration he represents.