My initial reaction to the resignation of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat was sadness. Erekat has been a staple of negotiations for as long as I can remember and his leaving marks the end of an era. Erekat claims he left because he had to assume responsibility for the fact that the leaked Palestine Papers came out of his offices. His leaving underscores that a resolution has been depressingly unattainable – that he had an impossible job, a truly Kafkaesque experience. As his aides told Al Jazeera, when asked about his successor: “there’s no point. Why would we have a chief negotiator if there are no negotiations?’”
After reading this line, I thought to myself, “Why have a Palestinian Authority at all if there is no chance for negotiations?” Indeed the PA was formed as a political arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization following the Oslo Accords in 1994. If there is no negotiation and no continuation of Oslo, then why have a PA? Maybe this indicates that Israel’s war of attrition has succeeded, that it has rendered a moderate Palestinian leadership seeking a two-state solution futile and meaningless.
Erekat’s resignation is obviously indicative of how bleak the prospect for genuine negotiations has been, but it is also indicative of something far more ominous. It highlights that the PLO has become a shell of itself, a mechanism existing almost solely for the purpose of holding (endless and fruitless) negotiations – and not a national leadership that represents its people with a vision, which it seemed to become in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, its legitimacy and continued existence rests entirely on its ability to achieve a viable Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel. As such, it is between a rock and a hard place, its fate having been placed entirely in Israel’s hands – and the result is unraveling before our eyes.
In the meantime, Hamas has become a player that cannot be marginalized or ignored. In the last Palestinian elections held in 2006, it won a majority of the votes (74 of the 132 seats ) and as such, holds a significant place in the future of any Palestinian state. It has rejected the call by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to hold elections in July, stating that the PLO alone does not represent the Palestinian people and that there cannot be a continued division between the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has called on the PLO to engage in a process of “internal Palestinian reconciliation” before heading to the ballot boxes, while the latter claims that the elections are meant to restore unity.
With all the problems posed by Hamas’s repressive and theocratic rule, at least they remind us that the Palestinians have their own stuff to figure out, irrespective of negotiations with Israel. Hamas demonstrates how important it is for a national entity to try and determine its existence before its essence, and not allow everything to be determined by the occupier’s generosity.
Erekat’s resignation, on the other hand, highlights the fact that the means of negotiations towards a Palestinian state have turned into the end, making the PA hollow and futile.