PALESTINIAN leaders are planning a series of tough steps against Israel to be taken if, as polls predict, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected and peace efforts remain stalled.
Emboldened by their newly-upgraded status at the United Nations, the Palestinians are talking of filing war crimes charges against the Jewish state, staging mass demonstrations in the West Bank, encouraging the international community to impose sanctions, and ending the security co-operation that has helped preserve quiet in recent years.
These plans, combined with growing international impatience with Israeli settlement construction on occupied land, could spell trouble and international isolation for the Israeli leader.
In a series of interviews, a number of Palestinian officials voiced a similar theme, saying that following the UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state in November, the status quo could not continue.
Hussam Zumlot, an official in president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, said next year would “see a new Palestinian political track. There will be new rules in our relationship with Israel and the world”.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down shortly before Mr Netanyahu’s election in early 2009 and have remained frozen throughout his term, mostly due to the dispute over Israel’s settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Palestinians claim the areas, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state. Israel captured the areas in the 1967 Six Day War.
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt settlement construction before negotiations can resume, saying the continued building is a show of bad faith.
Mr Netanyahu says talks should resume without pre-conditions and notes that a 10-month partial freeze on settlements he imposed two years ago failed to bring about meaningful negotiations.
Frustrated with the impasse, the Palestinians turned to the United Nations for recognition of an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005, rejects a return to its 1967 lines.
Although the UN vote did not change the situation on the ground, it had deep implications.
Opposed by just nine countries, it amounted to a strong international endorsement of the Palestinian position on future borders. It also cleared the way for them to join international agencies to press their grievances against Israel.
At the heart of the deadlock are the huge gaps between the two sides’ conditions. Mr Netanyahu has embraced the idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Without action soon, the thinking goes, Israel will find itself in permanent control of millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, threatening its status as a democracy with a Jewish majority.
However, Mr Netanyahu has added so many caveats, including a refusal to turn Jerusalem into a shared capital and demands to retain significant parts of the West Bank, that the Palestinians believe negotiations would be futile.
Palestinian officials say they hope a formula for restarting talks can be found after Israel’s election on 22 January, perhaps through a new initiative from US president Barack Obama.
The officials said they will not rush towards any punitive measure, but “we have to prepare ourselves for a long and tough battle,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Palestinians’ top decision-making body. “We will use all the political tools available.”