The recent UNSCR 2334 has shown the complex of inferiority that the present Palestinian leadership is affected of, living at the mercy of the United States instead of engaging in face-to-face negotiations with Israel.
The same resolution has shown also the mistake of placing trust in the previous American administration without advancing an effective diplomatic engagement to curb the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to single out Israel.
In the days before the sworn in of Mr Donald Trump as president, he has repeatedly said that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be forced. Some members of his entourage have also given hints on the laissez-faire policy the new president wants to apply to the major international crisis (except the fight against the Islamic State) and avoid to be directly involved. Recently the possibility of involving Arab allies to push for the restart of direct negotiations between the parties is becoming more and more plausible. Indirectly the Russian ministry of foreign affairs has also been approached by its Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, but it is very difficult that the US will give up its prestigious position on the matter, although determined not to push directly.
But whatever is the final decision of the Trump administration, whoever will be involved as mediator, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas will be left without many options but to negotiate with each other.
In the perspective of advancing the peace process, the Israeli government should have the courage and audacity to come up openly with a courageous plan to present during the negotiations. So far the unofficial governmental positions concerning the future of the West Bank expressed by Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Hotovely leave more questions than answers. But even more, they pave the road to a bi-national state that in the long term will only end the Zionist dream of a country for the Jews.
By approving the bill to “regulate settlement in Judea and Samaria and allow its continued establishment and development”, Mr Netanyahu and his government have placed themselves in a very uncomfortable position in front of the international community. Although the bill, nicknamed by Israel’s detractors as “Expropriation Bill”, does not disown Palestinian owners of their lands and grants them the right to compensation, it denies them the right to claim to its use until a diplomatic resolution is reached. The Israeli Supreme Court is carefully analysing the legality of the bill, but this still will not protect Israel from legal and political criticism from the international community. Most of all it allows a strong diplomatic counter-attack from the Palestinian side.
The political atmosphere in the Palestinian Authority is not really different from Israel: the time has come for Mr Abbas to stop using the international arena as the playground to unleash their political strategy, and instead come out with a plan about what he and his entourage intend to do with delicate issues such as the control of the Gaza Strip and the relationship with Hamas.
The Gaza Strip and Hamas are probably the biggest test for Mr Abbas: while the Islamic Movement is still uncertain whether to engage directly Israel or not, its leadership is going through a transition that in Spring time will end with a new leadership and a new strategic plan. Currently there are two wings in the party: the first, backed by Turkey and Qatar, is chaired by Ismayil Anyeh and Abu Marzuk, while the second, backed by Iran, is chaired by Mahmoud Zahar. Each wing and backers have their own interests to protect and agenda to follow. In such circumstances the margin of negotiation for Mr Abbas is very limited.
From the domestic point of view, both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas see their positions challenged by extremist parties that push for unilateral decisions and moves. This has become a moment of choice for the two leaders: secure their political position in the short term by giving in to their demands or accept the challenge and try to persuade and soften these positions, shaping at the same time a policy that can lead to a final solution.
Mr Netanyahu has been able to persuade his government to freeze some of the decisions about the future of the West Bank until his first meeting with Mr Trump, supposedly to take place early February. Mr Abbas has not really expressed a position yet. Certainly the new American administration places the Palestinian leader in the uncomfortable position to present a plan of action. This administration will hardly allow him to play according to the same rules used under Mr Obama. When Israel froze settlement construction for ten months, the Palestinian Authority still refused to engage into direct negotiations. This attitude will not be accepted by Washington.
The new American administration can be an opportunity for the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to assess their strategies and engage a face-to-face negotiation instead of relying on Mr Trump and the international community in general. The time has come for both leaders to choose between shaping an affordable future for their people or pave the way to more violence. The first option is the path less travelled by, the most difficult, but also the most rewarding if taken seriously.