The Palestinian threat season is in full swing, although what sounds like a threat to Israeli ears is a promise to anyone who has had his fill of the occupation: to turn weakness into an advantage in the asymmetric balance of power. It's a promise of something that will shake up and disrupt the violent complacency with which Israel continues to dominate the Palestinians.
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Three main promises were given by official Palestinian spokesmen over the past few weeks. Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told the Israeli press that attacks by settlers would no longer be allowed to pass without a Palestinian response. Another promise was that with the United Nations having upgraded their status to that of a nonmember observer state, Palestinians will now turn to the International Criminal Court. Finally, there was the promise/warning issued by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid last week: that if the diplomatic impasse continues after the Israeli election, he will dismantle the PA and return responsibility for the West Bank to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There is one clear, sincere message behind all these promises: Palestinian leaders are truly worried by the blindness of Israeli society, which is certain that the dual regime that has been established between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea - one state for the Jews, many enclaves for the Palestinians - will persist for a Biblical eternity. But is there planning and practical action beyond the worried messages and declarations? Here is where doubt sets in.
If there is any chance of turning to the International Criminal Court, it is over the settlements. (Based on the experience of African countries, a case against alleged Israeli war criminals could become a double-edged sword, ending with a case being filed as well, or even only, against the dispatchers of suicide bombers, for example. ) But any such case would require the best Palestinian legal minds - chosen on the basis of their skill and doggedness, not their personal connections to important individuals or their ability to market themselves - to join forces and work together, in coordination with the many civil-society groups that have amassed great expertise about the settlements. In other words, it would require coordination, concentrating knowledge and experience, and working collectively, with no competition - all the things whose lack so typifies the Palestinian modus operandi, and which are difficult to achieve in a short time.
And what about the promise of a response to settler harassment? If Rajoub, who kept his language ambiguous, meant responses by individuals only, that is already happening. And if he meant that instead of the PA police being trained in how to arrest and interrogate their own people, they will be instructed in how to fend off attacks by settlers, what are they waiting for, and for how long?
Moreover, any talk of a "response" means more Palestinian detainees. But the PA has not so far had the wisdom to instruct its young people, who have been responding to the occupation on their own initiative, regarding how to behave in interrogation rooms and military courtrooms. The PA and the various Palestinian organizations continue to make things easy for Israel's military justice system, because they don't boycott it. They even hasten to sign plea bargains with the prosecution. Thus without a fundamental change in the work of the PA security services and attitudes toward the Israeli military justice system, no real, organized Palestinian response to settler violence can be expected (other than decrying it ).
As for Abbas' statement about returning responsibility for the West Bank to Netanyahu, other Palestinian spokesmen have in fact been careful to say the opposite: that the deliberate dismantling of the PA is inconceivable. What is possible is that the PA will collapse, mainly because of the economic penalties Israel has imposed, in disregard of both agreements and world opinion.
But never mind the internal contradictions. Even if Abbas' statement wasn't meant literally, it reveals the extent to which he is committed to the diplomatic-elitist route. He can imagine "giving back the keys," but he cannot imagine a popular struggle - which, as opposed to an armed struggle by individuals, requires coordination, planning, organization and faith in the power of the people.