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Palestinians need to develop a parallel strategy to peace talks

Amid the Middle East’s current political upheavals, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been invited to Riyadh. The reason behind his invitation is unclear. The most perceptive guess is that the visit is connected to the long-awaited US plan for the Palestine/Israel peace process.
Having triggered — and succeeded in accomplishing — important steps in Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas, Abbas is now seen as a legitimate peace negotiator who represents all Palestinians. But the 82-year-old Palestinian leader has rebuffed so many previous inadequate offers, it seems unlikely he would now surrender to any US deal that fails to deliver even the lowest Palestinian aspirations.
For example, any deal that does not lead to an independent and contiguous Palestinian state roughly on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as part of that state, and a satisfactory resolution to the refugee problem, will surely be unacceptable to Abbas.
However, Abbas is unlikely to oppose any reasonable suggestions that do not negate those goals.
One of the most important lessons any effective negotiator learns is to have a credible alternative in case negotiations fail. And any credible alternative must be costly enough to the other side to ensure it prefers to keep negotiating. Abbas has made it clear that he does not consider violence to be the way forward, so he needs to find a credible, non-violent alternative.
Politically, Palestinians have always had a “negative” option. When they have been unable to attain their minimum goals, refusal to meet and talk has become an easy fallback position. But that position, of course, has its limits and weakens with time.
Another option open to the Palestinians is to work at a regional level. The two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel — Egypt and Jordan — can prove useful to Palestinian negotiators. If either, or both, were to withdraw their ambassadors from Tel Aviv and suspend their peace treaties, that would be a powerful statement.
But it is unlikely that Egypt or Jordan would be willing, at this time, to sacrifice their treaties, considering the potential price that would come with rescinding them. This political weapon could really only be used as a last resort, when local turmoil and opposition have made it unavoidable. 
Palestinians have three other areas to work on: International, Israeli and local. At the international level, it seems European governments offer Palestine the greatest opportunity to win powerful allies. 
The global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to win over many people, including leading scientists and artists.
Palestinians have complicated things for themselves at the Israeli level by labeling any involvement with Israelis as a sign of normalization. So, with the exception of a few Israelis who regularly join anti-wall activities, there are few attempts — by Palestinians — to change the public mood in Israel. 

As US, Saudi and Palestinian leaders discuss the path to a possible return to peace talks, it is incumbent on all Palestinians to seriously consider the need to work on a long-term, non-violent liberation strategy, in parallel to peace talks.

Daoud Kuttab 

While a single-state solution has previously been discussed internationally, local activists calling for a democratic movement combining Palestine and Israel received a boost when Abbas referred to this option in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September.
At a local level, working in occupied Palestine, a popular non-violent resistance movement has been adopted by grassroots movements of all types, and has received verbal support from Abbas and even from former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. However, it has not yet taken root and become strong enough to force political change.
As US, Saudi and Palestinian leaders discuss the path to a possible return to peace talks, it is incumbent on all Palestinians to seriously consider the need to work on a long-term, non-violent liberation strategy, in parallel to peace talks.
Such a strategy needs to make Israel pay a high price for its intransigence. Only if the price of occupation is high will Israel be more forthcoming in negotiations so that a just solution — one that is not simply based on the current balance of power — can be reached.

• Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist.
Twitter: @daoudkuttab