The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations reinforced the Palestinians’ propensity to unleash a campaign of political and legal warfare against Israel in the international arena. At the same time, they seek to undercut the “direct negotiations with American mediation” model with an alternative one – “a multinationally initiated solution backed by the UN” model. “There are Palestinians who refer to these steps – including increasing BDS and de-legitimization steps against Israel – as an “international intifada.” One example of this was the Palestinian initiative to boot Israel out of FIFA – the International Football Federation, (a move the Palestinians themselves aborted on the day a vote was expected – May 29, 2015).
Abu Mazen is 80 and nearing retirement. He is looking to leave behind a legacy of achievements, and is not seeing results from the reconciliation agreement with Hamas. Hamas is dependent upon the Palestinian Authority to pay its Gaza-based employee salaries, to channel the flow of aid money to rebuild Gaza, and to operate border crossings that allow Gaza’s residents freedom of movement in and out. However Abu Mazen does not believe that Hamas intends to disarm itself or commit itself to the principle of “one government – one gun.” He is even wary that Hamas will reach an indirect long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel and will gain international legitimacy for its Gaza regime, thus perpetuating the inter-Palestinian split. A victory for Hamas supporters in the student council elections at Bir Zeit University (on April 22, 2014) could signal a change in the political atmosphere in the West Bank, to the detriment of Abu Mazen and Fatah.
The turning point in Palestinian strategy already played out politically toward the end of the last round of failed negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians presented requests to gain membership in 15 UN treaties, and, through Jordan, petitioned the UN Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, and bring an end to the occupation within two years. However, the Palestinians failed to convince a majority of the nine member states, which spared the U.S. the need to use its veto. (The permanent Security Council members that supported the petition were: Russia, China, and France. The U.S. objected and the UK abstained.) Following this failure, Abu Mazen signed (December 31, 2014) accession agreements to 22 additional international treaties including the Rome Treaty, which paved the way to joining the International Criminal Court in the Hague. This new reality puts Israel at risk of war crimes charges. Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the ICC, approved an open-ended preliminary investigation of alleged crimes committed within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already been initiated, however it is not defined as an official investigation.9 That said, the assessment of various legal experts is that the court will not rush to involve itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so investigating Palestinian complaints could take many years. Furthermore, the PLO Executive Committee authorized Abu Mazen to implement the decision to cease security cooperation with Israel (March 19, 2015). Abu Mazen has yet to decide whether or not to implement this decision, but he continuously threatens to do so.
Given the stalled political process, France has increased its involvement aimed at relaunching the peace process. The French initiative is based on achieving a Security Council resolution that defines the principles of a final deal, especially borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed adjustments. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius explained that the initiative is guided by the need to change the way in which negotiations are conducted, implying it should be led by the international community. Fabius essentially came out against American exclusivity in managing the peace process thus far. “We want to avoid the pitfall of endless negotiations… Clear parameters for resolving the conflict adopted by the international community in advance will provide the basis for future negotiations. And we must set a timetable…”10 The French are interested in convening an international conference to jump-start the negotiations that would follow the Security Council’s resolution. In the context of Israel’s recent elections, the French were persuaded to hold off until a new government is formed and can reexamine Israeli positions on the Palestinian matter.
The Americans have made it clear that they have yet to rule out the possibility of supporting the French move, but continue to press the French to postpone their move until after the nuclear agreement with Iran is signed (June 30). The White House suspects that opening an additional front vis-à-vis the Israeli government would make gaining congressional approval for such a deal more difficult. Fabius referred to the timing of the tabling of the French proposal, noting, “We think that soon, not within days but soon … we need to agree on timing with John Kerry. There are other issues to deal with. One negotiation should not hurt another, but at the same time, there’s always a lot going on, so the risk is we never find the time.”11
Netanyahu’s Election Day remarks (March 16, 2015), that a Palestinian State would not be established under his watch,12 clarified the question mark hanging over how Israel plans to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.13 Netanyahu’s attempt to walk back his reversal of the policy stated in his Bar-Ilan speech (2009) did not succeed in winning back the international community’s trust in his commitment to the principle of a two-state solution. Netanyahu told NBC in an interview: “I haven’t changed my policy, what has changed is the reality, I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.”14
The White House, however, did not accept Netanyahu’s explanation, and administration spokespeople made it clear that the U.S. would reassess its options in the wake of his new positions on the Palestinian issue. White House spokesman Josh Ernest, clarified that the U.S. government “has doubts” about Netanyahu’s reassurance to the American media that he supports a two-state solution, “There now is doubt about whether or not this is what the true view is of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government that he will form.”15 President Obama himself said (March 25, 2015): “We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security. … and Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach…. We can’t pretend that there’s a possibility of something that’s not there. And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen…. The question is, do you create a process and a framework that gives the Palestinians hope, the possibility, that down the road they have a secure state of their own … it’s hard to envision how that happens based on the Prime Minister’s statements.” 16
The near future will reveal whether the new Israeli government has a real interest and the political wherewithal to present a diplomatic plan that will gain the trust of the international community. Similarly, it is import to note that in his speech to the UN General Assembly (September 29, 2014), Netanyahu announced his willingness to make “a historic compromise” and called on Arab countries to “update the old template for peace…. Israel is prepared to work with Arab partners and the international community. Together, we can strengthen regional security… I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace…. And therefore, to achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere.”17 However, the option to craft a regional political initiative that would essentially “skip” over the Palestinian issue is unacceptable to the Arab world. Egyptian President Al-Sisi described the Arab position (October 12, 2014) when he called on Israel to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative, which includes the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with agreed adjustments and a capital in East Jerusalem, as its focus.
The diplomatic deadlock is encouraging various parliaments around the world to pass decisions calling on their governments to recognize a Palestinian state (in Europe, such decisions were made in Belgium, the UK, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and in the EU parliament). Although these decisions amount to little more than a recommendation, they reflect the political trends in Europe. Until now, the Palestinians have gained recognition in 135 countries (80 percent of the world’s population). Even the Vatican joined the wave of countries recognizing the Palestinians, using the term “State of Palestine” for the first time (May 13, 2015) referring to an agreement signed with the Palestinian Authority regarding the Church’s activities within PA territory. However, of the 50 countries that have yet to recognize the country of Palestine are three of the five permanent Security Council members (the U.S., UK and France), and a number of other important countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Japan.
If the diplomatic deadlock continues, the balance of international support for a Palestinian state could shift, and we could see an increase in other anti-Israel measures. These could also come as a result of continued settlement construction. In this regard, 16 EU foreign ministers sent letters (April 13, 2015) to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini calling for labels on goods produced in the settlements and sold in European retail outlets. The ministers wrote that: “the continued expansion of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian territory and other territory occupied by Israel since 1967 threatens the chances to reach a final and just peace agreement.” 18 To this end, a group of former European leaders and diplomats sent a forceful letter to Mogherini demanding that the EU toughen its policy toward Israel, not to hide behind the U.S., but rather, “find an effective way of holding Israel to account for the way it maintains the occupation.”19