The Fatah Congress was held at a time when the reality of Israeli-Palestinian existence is not so bad: Political negotiations are indeed not taking place, yet quiet has been maintained across Judea and Samaria and both Israelis and Palestinians are relieved to see terrorism largely drawing to a halt.
Israel has responded accordingly: Military limitations have been annulled, roadblocks have been removed, cooperation with the Palestinian Authority has improved, and as result the economy flourishes and life in Judea and Samaria is easier.
The Palestinian Authority enjoys universal support while the United States, Israel’s greatest ally, is friendlier to the Palestinians than ever. The Palestinians certainly have a reason to be satisfied. Even though they won’t admit it, something has also changed in their attitude to Israel in the wake of Hamas’ rise in Gaza: The fears of an “Iranian lifestyle” and the hurling of Fatah activists from rooftops made it clear to the Palestinians that their real trouble at this time is in Gaza.
We could therefore expect that the voices and decisions to come out of the Fatah Congress will reflect to some extent at least the improving reality and show the emergence of practical moderation. Yet the Palestinians have remained true to their tradition: Plethora of threatening and radical slogans, most of them detached from reality and some of them foolish; for example, the decision regarding “Israel’s responsibility for Arafat’s killing.”
PA leaders – and particularly those who turned to us at the time and requested that Arafat be allowed to leave Ramallah and fly abroad because of his grave disease – know well that this illness was the reason for his death. Nonetheless, they endorsed the above-mentioned decision. This has no significance, except for attesting to the pitiful nature of the decision-makers: Leaders who are scared to openly reject a ridiculous but popular lie.
The reactions in Israel were predictable: The Right saw the Congress as further reinforcement for the perpetual conclusion that there is nobody to talk to, and therefore we should continue to settle everywhere. The Left, meanwhile, attempted to convince us that an in-depth analysis of the Fatah text shows that “it isn’t so bad.”
Practical diplomatic objective
Both sides are wrong. There is no practical significance to the substance of the words or decisions uttered and taken at the Congress, yet the clear and disappointing conclusion emerging from them is that such leadership cannot boldly and honestly face its people, as required in order to conclude a final-status agreement with Israel.
Israeli-Palestinian peace will require painful concessions, and not only on Israel’s part, but also on the Palestinian side: The maintenance of the large settlement blocs in Israel’s hands, renunciation of the right of return, and any possible agreement on Jerusalem all constitute difficult decisions for the Palestinians. Who exactly will enforce them? Those who in order to appease the radicals on the street endorsed a series of radical and detached decisions? Those who were scared to speak out against the foolish decision regarding Israel’s responsibility for Arafat’s death?
I am not writing these words in order to criticize or provoke the Palestinians (notably, the Israeli government also did not display impressive diplomatic boldness thus far,) but rather, as a sad conclusion: Regardless of the substance of a final-status agreement to be proposed to the Palestinians, there is no Palestinian leadership today – certainly not the one that convened in Bethlehem – that is capable of accepting a final-status agreement, enforcing it, and implementing it.
It would therefore be good for Israelis and Palestinians to deal with upgrading reality and improving the terms of coexistence between the people instead of engaging in final-status illusions: Israel will minimize – as much as is possible, given security considerations – its military presence in Judea and Samaria and hand over more areas to the control of Palestinian security forces; it will remove illegal outposts and limit the development of existing communities to those in the large settlement blocs; it will remove roadblocks and improve transportation conditions, assisting the Palestinians in nurturing the economy, a sense of entrepreneurship, industry, and commerce.
In other words: Israel and the Palestinians will make an effort to realize the first chapter of the Road Map, while aspiring to reach the second chapter, which rules that in the future – once conditions allow for it – a Palestinian state will be established. This is a practical diplomatic objective, which for the time being absolves the leaderships of the need to make decisions they cannot make.