Palestinian women at a graduation ceremony in Gaza City today for recruits to Hamas security forces
With peace talks in the doldrums, the Palestinians have fixed their sights on "international activism" and on unity between their rival factions in order to advance their cause. © Mahmud Hams - AFP
Palestinian women at a graduation ceremony in Gaza City today for recruits to Hamas security forces
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Philippe Agret, AFP
Last updated: December 27, 2011

With peace on ice, Palestinians chase UN membership and internal unity

With peace talks in the doldrums, the Palestinians have fixed their sights on global activism and unity between their rival factions in order to advance their cause.

"We are in a 'hudna' (truce) until January 26," senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told reporters at a recent briefing.

"But this political ceasefire will end on January 26," he said, referring to a deadline set by the international peacemaking Quartet, giving the parties 90 days to submit comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

"If on the 26th Israel does not come up with a freeze of the settlements and talks based on the 1967 borders, we will continue our international drive," said Shaath, a senior figure in president Mahmud Abbas' ruling Fatah movement.

Palestinian negotiators say they have laid out their proposals and suggestions in response to the Quartet's proposition and they accuse Israel of failing to reciprocate.

But Israel is reluctant to show its hand except in the framework of direct negotiations, which they say the Palestinians are "boycotting."

"The Quartet has called for the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. In the framework of those direct talks, the Quartet has specific ideas on how to move forward," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Israel has accepted the route laid out by Quartet, it is the Palestinian side that refuses to meet with Israel in face-to-face negotiations," he said.

The Quartet's latest attempt to resuscitate talks was announced on September 23, just hours after the Palestinians submitted a formal request for full state membership at the United Nations.

Both sides welcomed the loosely worded proposal, but with completely different interpretations, prompting each camp to blame the other for the failure to resume talks.

But the Palestinians have low expectations of the Quartet, which groups top diplomats from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which they see as dominated by Washington.

And they also have little faith in its envoy Tony Blair, who has been accused by Shaath of sometimes talking "like an Israeli diplomat."

"It's not a Quartet, it's a 'one-tet'," joked Husam Zomlot, Fatah's international affairs adviser, slamming Washington's "total monopoly" on the peace process.

"If we don't snatch it (back) now, the two-state solution is dead," he told AFP.

"Israel is so keen on sustaining the status quo, in keeping things as they are. For too long, for 20 years, Israel has maintained the status quo.

"This not going anywhere," he said, referring to peace talks which began in Madrid in 1991 and which led to the Oslo Accords two years later, but which since then, have done little to end the conflict.

It is an assessment shared by many in the Palestinian leadership. "We see the process, but not peace," say officials at Abbas's Muqataa presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

"Only the first five years were genuine, until the death of (prime minister Yitzhak) Rabin" who was shot dead by a Jewish extremist in 1995, says Shaath.

"Since then, the peace process is dead -- there has not been any progress. The settlements never stopped, the grabbing of land never stopped," he said.

"While negotiating, Israel has deepened the colonisation of the land," Shaath said.

Negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh agrees. "We have been taken nowhere," he said earlier this month. "The political negotiation has been used to maintain the status quo."

With peace negotiations deadlocked for more than a year and a keen desire to break the status quo, the Palestinians are doing whatever they can to push for implementation of a two-state solution to the conflict, Shaath said.

"We have no alternative but to go to the UN," he said. "It is the only alternative. All the other options are extending the conflict forever."

A return to violence was not an option.

"We Palestinians will never let that happen again because we paid the price in blood. We are not going to allow violence to come back."

The other top priority was to ensure the establishment of unity between the rival Palestinian national factions under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

One of the toughest challenges is bridging the years-long divide between Fatah and Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules Gaza and which could soon join the PLO -- the body which is internationally recognised as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

"The train for reconciliation has left the station," Shtayeh said.

"It's a bit slow but it will happen. The reconciliation is serious."

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