x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Palestine's key battleground is public opinion

John Kerry deserves credit for making progress towards new Palestinian talks. But the greatest weapon the Palestinians have is global public opinion

John Kerry has visited the Middle East six times since he took office as the US secretary of state in February. Each time, he has faced accusations that he is wasting his time. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone on so long and with so little prospect of a resolution that most observers have given up hope. Negotiations have been dead for the past half-decade. The two-state solution is, if not buried, at least cold on the table.

And yet Mr Kerry's single-minded determination has brought a success, of sorts, with the announcement that talks between the two parties will restart, perhaps as early as next week. The US remains the only country able to bring the parties together and Mr Kerry's determination deserves praise.

The details of the discussion are still unknown: Mr Kerry has said the best chance for the negotiations is if they remain private. But it is likely that Israel has - at least publicly - given up its reluctance to accept the 1967 borders as a starting point. There is some natural scepticism on the part of the Palestinians, especially after an unnamed official close to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested the purpose of agreeing was merely to show willingness to negotiate, rather than to make any concessions. Given Mr Netanyahu's politics and inclinations, that appears likely.

Yet the Palestinians must negotiate. This is the last possible chance to create a two-state solution. With the US focused on restarting negotiations, there is as good a chance as there ever will be to achieve a proper, functioning, sovereign state. In four years, it will be half a century since Israel seized and colonised the remnants of Palestine. If the two-state solution dies, it could be another 50 years before something emerges to replace it.

Palestinians must communicate their positions better. Ultimately, the battle for an independent Palestine will be won in the court of world opinion. Palestine leaders are often willing to make concessions at the negotiating table, but appear intransigent when they talk to the media afterwards. Israel's slick PR machine is the opposite: few tangible benefits, but much public talk of moderation and negotiation.

There is no guarantee that these talks will achieve anything in themselves - in fact, the likelihood is that they will fail. But they will once again return the issue of Palestine to the forefront of the world's attention. And that is is the key battle.