There is a chance that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will soon end and an independent Palestinian state will emerge. The direct peace talks taking place in Washington is a necessary step towards that goal, but it is not the only option that Palestinians have.
Despite all the Palestinian opposition to the direct Palestinian-Israeli meet (with the settlement freeze about to expire) there is hope in many quarters. Before leaving to Washington Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said publicly that he would have gone to the peace talks even if the chances of success were no more than one percent.
It is easy to be pessimistic or apathetic. History has been very unfavorable to Palestinians accomplishing anything of substance in peace talks. Current Israeli policy is not helpful.
Israel's heavy handedness' in Gaza, coupled with Israel's insistence on continuing violating international law by building exclusive Jewish only buildings in occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank cause many to doubt Israel's sincerity for peace. The incitement by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (the spiritual leader of Shas, a major coalition partner in the government) for the death (by a plague) of all Palestinians, including president Abbas, cause many to doubt Israel's willingness to live in peace with its Palestinian, Arab and Muslim neighbors in the Middle East. Things are not easier on the Palestinian side. For the first time a Fatah leader goes to the talks with opposition even within his own party let alone opposition from PLO factions as well as independents and groups outside the PLO.
The opposition of Hamas has not been only verbal but has taken on a violent track with the gunning down of four Jewish settlers near Hebron.
So what is the cause of this illogical Palestinian hope?
The hope from the simple fact that after decades of haphazardness, the Palestinians have a strategy for statehood in Palestine. This strategy is determined, well thought out and totally nonviolent. According to this strategy the state of Palestine will soon become a reality regardless of whether the upcoming 12-month negotiations produce that result or not.
Palestine's new strategy for statehood has been spearheaded by the energetic western trained, former World Bank executive Palestinian prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. In brief, the strategy is focused on building up the Palestinian state rather than cursing the Israeli occupation. The two-year blueprint which was unveiled last year to international praise, has produced tangible change on the ground. Dr. Fayyad's government has succeeded, with the admission of Israeli army generals, to deliver security and the rule of law while at the same time introducing far reaching reform in education, health and the local economy.
It is true that President Abbas agreed reluctantly to go to Washington. Palestinians and the Arab League had hoped that some agreement on the borders would have been reached in four months of proximity talks. The idea was that if the western borders of Palestine are agreed upon, then it would be obvious that settlement building in housing units to be included inside Israel's international borders will be Israel's decision, while the status of lands and buildings on areas set for the state of Palestine would be decided on by the Palestinians. Now September 26 (which marks the end of the 10 month partial Israeli building moratorium) will come without a clear idea as to where the freeze can be rescinded and where settlement building activities must cease.
The American commitment is another reason for the Palestinian hope. In the end it was the Americans that pulled it through. With Americans chairing tripartite talks and their commitment to stay in the negotiating room for an entire year, Palestinians were assured that the stronger party, Israel will not try to bully the weaker Palestinian delegation.
By agreeing to participate (and not just to mediate) the US has forsaken an argument that America can't be more interested in peace than the parties. The creation of an independent and continuous Palestinian state has been declared by both Presidents Bush and Obama to be in the national interest of the United States.
The talks are cleverly sandwiched in to allow for positive press and a photo opportunity before the midterm elections while the necessary arm twisting will be left completed long before the beginning of the start of the presidential reelection season.
If as a result of Israeli obstructionism the talks fail, Palestinians will have no choice but to declare their state unilaterally and hope the world will recognize it. Americans who will be witnesses to the Palestinian conduct in the negotiating room will then have to decide whether to recognize such a declaration or to keep this conflict festering on and on.