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Palestinian opportunity

The Palestinian strategy to achieve statehood and independence has focused on ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza as well as east Jerusalem. In the absence of trust between the parties, the likelihood of successful negotiations in the near future is remote.

Israel has initiated a process of unilateralism which I had hoped could be leveraged into a bilateral, internationally assisted political process. But real coordination of the disengagement has little chance of taking place.

Israel is not going to make any significant efforts to coordinate the disengagement, nor will the Palestinian Authority make a strong enough case in favor of real coordination for there to be a real possibility of creating a bilateral political process.

In projecting "day after" scenarios, it is essential to conceive of a plan that will ensure that Gaza "first" will not result in Gaza "only" the biggest Palestinian fear. So something must be done to gain support from both Palestinians and Israelis for a bilateral peace process.

The first condition for creating a new reality on the ground is a Palestinian determination, and an implementable plan, to govern effectively for the benefit of the people of Gaza. The natural Palestinian tendency to reject this idea by saying "What about Jerusalem, or what about the West Bank" must be put on the back burner.

The entire world will be looking to see if the Palestinians can control Gaza effectively. The world will also be waiting to see if the Palestinians are ready for statehood, meaning if they will create a regime that governs effectively, without corruption, and democratically, one that provides freedom and dignity for its citizens.

Failure to succeed in this test will probably not create a more tragic reality for the Palestinians than the one they are now living. On the other hand, success is likely to bring about far-reaching possibilities for improvement and better chances of achieving real statehood, independence and viability in terms that Palestinians speak of: real territorial control, east Jerusalem as a capital, and real linkages between Gaza and the West Bank and peace.

THE REALITY of life for Palestinians is much worse than it was 10 years ago during the Oslo era. It is time for Palestinians to reevaluate their strategy and come up with something new that will actually improve the lives of their people.

Previous Palestinian strategies have placed the most important key issues at the top of the agenda Jerusalem, the right of return, borders, sovereignty, etc. This strategy is perhaps still valid in terms of a grand Palestinian strategy, a plan for the end game. However, since the second intifada and the emergence of an Israeli strategy of unilateralism, sticking to the old strategy will more likely lead nowhere.

It is time to reverse the strategy, to embrace a plan for reaching Jerusalem, sovereignty and full statehood by working from the bottom up. The foundations for the achievement of the end-game goals can be achieved by accepting the Gaza first plan. If the Palestinians can build the first layer of statehood in Gaza, the other layers will follow with greater ease. The most essential element of creating the Palestinian state is effective and good governance of Gaza first.

It is also essential for the Palestinians to understand that Israel will not make it easy. There has always been a kind dialectic relationship between Israelis and Palestinians that enforces the rule of mutually hurting actions. After the disengagement from Gaza it is unlikely that a sudden behavioral change will occur and that the Gaza-Israel border will look like two states in the EU.

There is little reason to assume that after Israel leaves Gaza, life for the Palestinians will suddenly improve by itself. Israel will be out of Gaza, but Israel will still be there for the Palestinians to blame for any lack of progress or improvement in their lives (and the Palestinians will probably have due cause to blame Israel).

This is the normal course of events in the Middle East, but it does not have to be the permanent pattern of developments. It is possible to design a strategy that could turn it around.

President Mahmoud Abbas should immediately move his main seat of government to Gaza. The minister of interior, in charge of the security forces, should also spend most of his time in Gaza.

The Palestinians can issue declarations that the Palestinian state will be within the 1967 Green Line; they can announce their determination that Gaza first will be the first real concrete step toward the establishment of sovereignty and independence for the Palestinian state.

I don't think the Palestinians will adopt this strategy. But I believe that if they did, they would be taking their own fate in their own hands, creating a new and more positive reality for themselves.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information.

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