The Serious Threats Facing the Palestinian National Project
A variety of shifts and developments have occurred in the Palestinian political arena, with the positions of the various political forces interlocking after Hamas started to gradually distance itself from its project of liberating Palestine "from the river to the sea," and to talk about a solution based on the return of the lands occupied in 1967. At this stage, a review of the Palestinian national project is in order, lest we lose sight of the core principles underpinning that project.

Genesis of the Independent State

The Palestinians voiced their central goals and aspirations when they laid out their peace initiative during the 20th Palestinian National Council in Algiers (1991), which sprang from the desire to implement the international resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian question - in particular, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and General Assembly Resolution 194, relating to the return of the Palestinian refugees. All this came against the backdrop of the declaration of independence (1988), which had won international and Arab recognition and had consolidated Palestinian diplomatic and political presence. The PLO had been recognized as the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people during the Rabat Summit (1974); this had been followed a few months later by the recognition of the PLO by the UN.
Consequently, the concept of an independent Palestinian state was fixed as the basis of what is referred to as "the solution of two states for two peoples." It was built over the ruins of the notion of a secular democratic state on the land of historic Palestine, which had found neither impetus nor support on either side of the conflict, nor among the Arab states and the international community. This, in addition to the fact that it hit at the heart of the concept of a Jewish state, promoted and executed by the Zionist movement at the expense of the national identity of the Palestinian people and its right to return, freedom, independence and the establishment of its own independent state. The idea of an independent Palestinian state came to be considered as the only option - the only possible one - on the lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, with the right of return for the Palestinian refugees in accordance with Resolution 194. This was a development of the Transitional Program (1973-1974), which took up the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination on any liberated Palestinian land, including the right to establish an independent state within the borders of June 4, 1967."

A Defined and Consistent Vision

Despite the divergences and the disagreements that have arisen periodically among its various factions, the Palestinian national movement has focused all its concern and concentrated all its struggle on the implementation of this aim, which was, and still is, articulated through the Palestinian national project.
While the PLO has defined its vision as expressed in the paradigm of a two-state solution, based on the resolutions of international legitimacy, the Hamas movement has not presented an official and independent vision. From its founding leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, down to the lower echelons, no one has come up with any official formula that could be in concordance with the resolutions of the Palestinian national consensus as expressed in the various national councils. Their rhetoric remains confused and ambivalent. Their reluctance to recognize the Arab Peace Initiative remains one of the sticking points that have effectively aborted the national unity government that was formed in the aftermath of the Mecca Agreement (2007), and has hindered the international acceptance of that government.
The Palestinian national project continues to be raised in political and academic circles, despite the derailment of the Madrid process initiated in the 1990s, successive Israeli governments' reneging on their commitments to the Oslo agreements and their obstructing the start of final status negotiations at the conclusion of the interim period in 1999. Then came the collapse of Camp David (2000), where the American broker showed an overt bias in favor of Israel, providing it with political and diplomatic cover - even unstinting support - and later allowing it to reformulate the political process and to impose an agenda that departs from previous agreements and the stipulations of the Road Map.
Although the Road Map was drafted by the Bush administration, it did not include implementation mechanisms. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised the 14 Israeli reservations, blocking the implementation of the first stage. Thus, Israel was given a free hand to redraw the situation on the ground, and Sharon went ahead with his project of a unilateral solution and separation from the Palestinians under the pretext that there was no Palestinian partner. He withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and implemented the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank. The Bush administration rushed to adopt Israel's vision for a solution, and even went as far as to impose it on the other members of the Quartet (the UN, the European Union and Russia), who now consider it the basis for arriving at the two-state solution, even though at this juncture, it begs the question: What two states are we talking about, when the separation wall has fragmented the West Bank and turned it into a collection of cantons isolated from one another?
The results of the second legislative elections and the victory of Hamas with a parliamentary majority have exacerbated the deadlocked process; it has led to a new and dangerous turning point with the political isolation and the economic and financial siege that was clamped down not only on the Hamas government, but also on the entire Palestinian people and the other political forces. And when the national unity government was formed with the participation of Hamas, many promises were made but none of them were carried out, and not a single step was taken to end the siege and the political isolation, despite the contacts the American administration and the EU have held with non-Hamas ministers.
Palestinian in fighting, and especially the recent crisis between Hamas and Fateh, have rendered the feasibility of a two-state solution a very remote possibility - without any settlement on the horizon and with a comatose peace process. The situation has led many in the political and academic fields to rethink the situation and to start considering alternative options, reviewed below:

A Return to the Secular Democratic State

The proponents of this idea rely on the rationale that since Israel rejects the two-state option and prefers to see it disappear, it would be preferable to revert to the bi-national state project. Perhaps those who call for this option have failed to notice the transformations that have occurred on the ground since this concept first came into being in 1947. Among the most significant changes is the creation of the State of Israel and its overriding concern to preserve its Jewish character and to get rid of the Palestinian Arab minority inside Israel. The annual strategic Herzliya Conference inevitably winds up with a discussion of the dangers of Palestinian demography and the threat it poses to the Jewish character of the State of Israel; and with calls for transfer or population exchange with the Palestinian Authority (PA), but not for a withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.
Moreover, the call for a bi-national state has become, for all practical purposes, largely academic, against the background of the separation wall that constitutes a unilateral Israeli delineation of the political and demographic borders for the Palestinian entity. And even if the bi-national state were ever to materialize, with the existing balance of power, it will be nothing more than a replication of the defunct apartheid state in South Africa.

Confederation with Jordan

The implication here is that the problem is merely one of interlocutors - i.e., With whom should Israel negotiate? With the Palestinian leadership or with Jordan? - and that, once this problem had been solved, Israel would be ready to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 borders and Jerusalem and to envisage peace with a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation.
Translated on the ground, this option is unfeasible, especially because of the so-called "security zone" in the Ghor Valley, for which Israel has slashed between 3-15 kilometers from Palestinian land. The idea of a confederation with Jordan has been incorporated into the resolution of the Palestinian National Council, but it is contingent on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and would take place only through the free and voluntary choice of the two peoples. Therefore, a confederation now would not extricate the peace process from its crisis, but would drag the Palestinians and the Jordanians into a premature and an uncalled-for struggle.

Dissolving the Palestinian National Authority

The old-new call for dissolving the PNA and calling upon the international community to assume its responsibilities vis-à-vis the Palestinian territories, since they are occupied territories to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies, comes from a number of Palestinian academics and intellectuals. It derives its justification from the existing conditions on the internal scene, with the absence of any political breakthrough on the horizon, on one hand, and the abysmal performance of the Palestinian governments and the rampant corruption that has characterized them. These periodic calls for international intervention, in point of fact, mean nothing other than a return of the occupation of the Palestinian towns and villages, including the Gaza Strip. Those in favor of such an option tend to forget the reality on the ground and Israel's plan to cut off Gaza from the West Bank, to divide the West Bank into six cantons, to isolate Jerusalem and to separate Palestinian urban conglomerations from Jewish settlements and the Green Line as a result of the separation wall. Against this backdrop, such an option becomes nothing more than a political fantasy, devoid of any political realism - if only due to Israel's desire and interest to reoccupy the Palestinian territories.

Acceptance of the Israeli Plan for a State with Temporary Borders, or a Protracted Interim Solution

Israel rationalizes its predilection for this plan on the grounds that it constitutes Phase II of the Road Map. There is a consensus among all PLO forces to reject this plan. Hamas, however, showed serious interest in the plan when Sharon embarked on his unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. At the time, many calls came from the Hamas leadership to form a so-called independent administration in Gaza. This was rejected by all the Palestinian forces and the presidency of the PNA, as it was perceived as resonating with the Israeli plan for a protracted interim solution.

The Separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank

With this option, we will be faced with a new paradigm of three states for two peoples. This option was consolidated after the Hamas coup in Gaza in mid-June 2007. This is what Khaled Mash'al intimated in a press conference in Damascus when he talked about setting up one central government within the framework of two separate entities. Undoubtedly, this option conforms with the Israeli plan for a state with temporary boundaries. Moreover, it offers on a silver platter to Israel the opportunity to implement its plan for a protracted interim solution, which it will then proceed to make final by dealing with two weak, independent entities that are in reality dependent on it and on international aid and humanitarian relief. More importantly, this will strike at the heart of the national project, which is the unity of the people and the land and the establishment of an independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital and with the return of the refugees.

The Independent Palestinian State or the Two States for Two Peoples Paradigm

Holding on to this option would first allow the PLO to counteract the Israeli project of unilateral separation, and/or the creation of two separate entities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It will also block Israel's evasion of concluding a peace agreement through the implementation of the resolutions of international legitimacy on the claim that there is no Palestinian partner, or that the partner is weak and impotent to guarantee any signed agreement, since an important portion of the Palestinian territories have fallen outside its legitimate control.
Secondly, this option will ensure the renewal of the national project grounded in the reactivation of the PLO and the holding of legislative elections in the homeland and the diaspora based on proportional representation. These will extend to all national and Islamic forces that adhere to the PLO's political program and its charter of independence, and consider them the national, political and constitutional reference underpinning the integrity of the Palestinian political system.
The de facto situation created by the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip must be addressed, and a search for a political formula for dialogue with Hamas should be reached, based on Hamas' renunciation of its revolutionary venture and on the restoration of legitimacy. Hamas must recognize the dire consequences of its actions if it were to stay on its course and the consequent damage to the national project. The path to follow is to go back to the people and to hold new presidential and legislative elections according to proportional representation.
The aim is to deal swiftly with the situation to contain the exacerbation of the split and the creation of a force whose interest is to see a separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Bringing the option of the independent state to fruition demands persistence and perseverance on the part of the Palestinians, and requires the international community and the Arab states to assume their responsibilities in order to ensure its implementation. A consensus already exists, both among the international community and the Arab states, on the necessity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the solution of two states for two peoples.