The Palestinian Central Council, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s second-highest decision-making body, declared last week that the U.S. administration “has lost its eligibility to function as a mediator and sponsor of the peace process.” The council called on the PLO Executive Committee, the body with the power to implement policy decisions, to “work to reverse” the Trump administration’s declaration of Jerusalem of Israel’s capital and find “other international pathways” to sponsor the Palestinian cause. While the Executive Committee is unlikely to act upon some of the Central Council’s more ambitious recommendations – such as the wholesale suspension of the Oslo Accords – it does seem to be considering other avenues for mediation. In a speech given before the Central Council, PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas explained that the Palestinians “would be open to a similar negotiations format to the P5+1 and Iran nuclear negotiations.” Abbas’s statement begs the question: Can a P5+1 arrangement work for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse?The P5+1 refers to the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members – the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China – plus Germany. In 2015, these six powers struck an agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by which Tehran would dismantle much of its nuclear program and grant international inspectors access to sensitive sites in exchange for the lifting of U.S., EU, and UN sanctions. Multi-party mediation can find success in certain contexts, as it did in Iran. The P5+1 states shared an interest in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program and were willing to exert significant leverage to do so. The United States, hoping to seize a perceived opening with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, proved willing to ease up on foreign policy priorities in Syria and Ukraine to ensure Russia’s cooperation. Russia, for its part, saw preventing the emergence of a nuclear power near its borders as a vital security interest. China, the U.K., Germany, and France found the appeal of a new trade and energy partner hard to resist. And Iran, under pressure fromeconomic sanctions, felt compelled to participate to avoid a domestic political crisis and re-engage in the global economy. Shared interest, coupled with the tailored application of leverage, drove cooperation.Such a confluence of interest does not exist with regard toIsrael and Palestine. To begin, it is unlikely the Trump administration would allow the multilateralization of a process it promised would lead to the “deal of the century.” Rather, it will view overtures from the likes of France and Russia as attempts to sideline the United States in matters of international peace and security. Nor is there evidence the other P5+1 countries would agree to participate in a multi-party mediation process on Israel and Palestine. The parties simply do not share enough interest to resolve an issue that falls towards the bottom of their foreign policy priorities. The wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, the migration crisis, and counterterrorism in Africa’s Sahel region pose far greater challenges to the P5+1 with deeper implications for Middle East security. Against this backdrop, the Israeli-Palestinian status quo might actually be seen as a source of relative regional stability. Of course, the Palestinians cannot be blamed for seeking alternatives to what they perceive to be unjust mediation. The U.S.-backed process has wrought decades of tangible pressure on the Palestinians, forcing their hand on key issues such as settlement construction and water rights. The Trump administration’s decision last week to cut funding to UNRWA – the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – until the Palestinians return to the negotiating table was perhaps the icing on the cake. Israel, on the other hand, has experienced little pressure throughout recent years of the U.S.-backed process. In fact, the status quo serves its interests quite well. Aside from occasional pontification by U.S. presidents, Israel has proceeded with its settlement program, maintained its strategic depth through permanent military presence in the West Bank, appeased domestic right-wing groups which demand absolute Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and continued the process of regional normalization. Absent tangible pressure, Israel is unlikely to change its behavior and allow Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Would a change in the mediation arrangement lead to more tangible pressure on Israel? Not likely. The P5+1 countries are unlikely to exert leverage on an issue that falls towards the bottom of their regional priorities and on which they share little strategic interest. It follows, then, that the mediation arrangement doesn’t really matter. The Palestinian leadership, rather than forum shopping, should focus on building new sources of leverage. These sources are political, not technical. Tangibleprogress comes from strategic shifts, not methodological troubleshooting. Expanding the political playing field would be a good start.Bringing new, young, and gender-diverse leadership into the mix will help re-build trust with domestic constituencies and inspire new hope in the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian people remain the PLO’s most significant asset – and potential source of leverage.

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