One of the most important lessons any negotiator needs to know is that the ability to conduct effective negotiations requires one to have a credible alternative in case negotiations fails.
As US Secretary of State John Kerry begins a new round of talks in the region, Palestinian leaders' need for a plan B has never been more necessary.
Any credible alternative to negotiations must by costly enough to the other side to make it prefer negotiations to the risk of the unknown.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' leadership has made clear that violence is not an alternative, so that means that the only credible alternative has to be of the nonviolent kind.
Although not enough effort has been invested in this area, the options in this regard are many.Politically, Palestinians have always had a negative option. While the balance of forces might not help Palestinians meet their minimum needs, the refusal to meet and talk becomes an easy fallback position.
This negative power, of course, has its limits and like all alternative options weakens with time.Another option open to the Palestinians is to work at regional level. The two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel possess powers that can prove useful to Palestinian negotiators if used properly and carefully.
Again, while the idea of withdrawing Arab ambassadors from Tel Aviv and suspending the peace treaties are powerful options, they may not be the best. Neither Egypt nor Jordan are willing, at this time, to sacrifice the peace treaties they signed with Israel and the possible regional and international price that would come with rescinding them. As much as they might support the Palestinian cause, these countries naturally look for their own interests before those of others.This means that this political weapon can only be used as the very last option, and only when local turmoil and opposition make it necessary to use it.Jordan last week partially chose this option in the face of Israel's permission to radical Jewish elements to violate a long-standing agreement regarding the status quo of the Haram Al Sharif compound.The unanimous decision by the Jordanian Parliament to demand the forced departure of the Israeli ambassador to Jordan has partially succeeded (he left voluntarily), but more importantly, the Israeli public has become aware of the cost of allowing radicals to ruin the sensitive arrangements on Al Aqsa Mosque.
Palestinians have three other fields to work on: international, Israeli and local.At international level, Palestinians have the biggest chance to make some headway with the Europeans. The EU appears to be concerned with being repeatedly asked to follow the US lead, especially when the latter does not seem to have much will to put serious pressure on Israel.But the EU this week announced that it would delay ; for a short period; the requirement that products produced in settlements in Palestine not be labelled as made in Israel.EU officials are said to have accepted this temporary delay to give US Secretary of State John Kerry a chance at making peace.Unofficial international efforts like the boycott divestment and sanctions efforts (BDS) continue to win favour from many, including leading scientists and artists.At the Israeli level, the Palestinians shackled themselves by raising the bar of any cooperation with the Israeli peace movement by labelling anything to do with Israelis as a sign of normalisation. With the exception of a few Israelis who regularly join some of the anti-wall activities, there are very few attempts to change the public mood in Israel.
A group of Palestinians, including some leaders from the Fateh movement, like Radi Jarai, used the 65th anniversary of the Nakbeh to launch a new effort calling for a democratic movement in all of Palestine/Israel.While this one-state option has been talked about abroad for years, this is the first time that credible Palestinian leaders have made a commitment to it. It remains to be seen if they are able to attract any serious Israeli voices.
This leaves the remaining plan B option, the need to work within occupied Palestine.A popular non-violent resistance movement has been much talked about and received verbal support from Abbas and former prime minister Salam Fayyad, and has been supported by grassroots movements of all types. This movement, however, has not yet taken root and become strong enough to cause political change.The spectre of the Intifada (especially the more violent second Intifada) prevents this option from becoming more widespread.As Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders discuss this week the modalities of a possible return to peace talks, it is incumbent on all Palestinians to think seriously about the need to work on a long-term strategy that will make Israel pay a high price for keeping its occupation, and thus push it to be more forthcoming in the ensuing peace talks so that a just solution that is not simply based on the current balance of forces between both sides can be reached.