An earlier version of the Netanyahu strategy was tried by Labour when Ehud Barak was prime minister. Barak, unable to complete a promised three-phase withdrawal from the West Bank, dragged PLO negotiators to a summit in Camp David in 2000 and then made sure that the summit would lead to nothing.
Kadima tried the same thing when Ariel Sharon was prime minister. Arafat snubbed him and was subjected to a cruel siege that ended in his death. Were Abbas to snub Netanyahu, he may face a similar fate. But Abbas doesn't seem too eager to take a stand.
Arafat stood firm, even when he ran out of options. He told his people the truth. He told them that he cannot give up their rights, froze the PLO's participation in the talks, and told the Palestinians that they would have to live and die for their rights. "Millions of martyrs will go to Jerusalem," were his famous last words.
You cannot have a national unity government without having credibility. The most Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have so far proposed is a government of technocrats. How can technocrats resolve an issue that is so political at heart? Reconciliation is a political quest, and the concessions it requires are not "technocratic" in nature.
The PLO cannot partner with Hamas before reconciliation is achieved, Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Moheisen told Gulf News on 28 February. This makes a lot of sense, but reconciliation comes at a price. And so far I don't believe that the PLO is willing to pay that price. The way I see it, the PLO cares more for peace talks than it does for national unity.
You cannot have negotiations without resistance, just as you cannot have democracy without fighting for it. We've always known that, and we have the Intifada to prove it. We cannot be united until we're willing to struggle against occupation together. And we cannot be democratic until we've learned how to share. So far, the PLO is neither sharing nor struggling, and its quest for peace is therefore doomed.
* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit in the West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories. This article was translated from Arabic and published by Al-Ahram Weekly on 10-16 March 2011.
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