MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas challenged the Hamas-led government to adopt the national reconciliation document of the Palestinian prisoners last week, he created an ingenious challenge to the Hamas, to Israel and to the quartet and the roadmap for Middle East Peace.
Abbas proposed that the Hamas government accept the document within 10 days, or else he would call a referendum to approve it within 40 days. Indications are that Hamas will not accept the document. The formidable nature of the challenge Abbas has issued is due to the fact that the document is a masterpiece of political and diplomatic maneuvering.
The prisoners document is widely misunderstood and misrepresented as offering recognition and peace to Israel and complying with the quartet roadmap. It does none of those things. The prisoner's document calls for:
The document states:
The document does not include the previous Fatah insistence that the Hamas must accept all previous agreements of the PNA and PLO. That would be an implicit call for recognition of Israel. Instead the document states:
A recent poll indicates that nearly 80% of Palestinians support the Prisoners' document. Thus, Abbas's adoption of the document is a shrewd political move.
In the same poll, over 40% of the respondents agreed that Hamas should continue to maintain its position on the elimination of Israel. Therefore, from the point of view of many Palestinians, it is apparently possible to accept the prisoners' document and at the same time to favor elimination of Israel.
Israel Justice minister Haim Ramon was quick to point out that Israel cannot accept the document as a basis for peace because it includes right of return, a point underscored in a New York Times article:
Official Palestinian media (The Palestinian Media Center) billed the proposal a plan that implicitly recognizes Israel and claim that Hamas has rejected the referendum proposal, title their article: Hamas Rejects Referendum on Plan that Implicitly Recognizes Israel.
At the same time, Abbas has managed to garner personal support from Israel, which made an announcement, embarrassing to him, that it would be sending arms to his presidential guard for personal protection. Abbas promptly upped the ante and announced his intention to create a 10,000 man security force that would suppress both Fatah and Hamas extremists. One might be understandably receptive to skepticism that the Palestinians require yet another group of armed men to suppress the other groups of armed men, all presumably bankrolled by the European Union and the United States. However it is intriguing that Abbas, or those who are behind him, have now maneuvered Israel to the point where it is supporting a leader who insists on right of return for refugees. Abbas's initiative managed to put the Fatah "young generation," led by Barghouti, on his side, and he is apparently managing to get US and EU acquiescence in a document that explicitly asserts the right of Palestinians to violate the roadmap and continue violence. All this under the banner of "Support us because we are less bad than the Hamas."
If, as appears likely, Hamas rejects the initiative, it will be bad for peace and bad for the Palestinians. It could result in armed violence, because the issue is who controls the Palestinian Authority, not what terms to offer Israel. If Hamas accepts the initiative, it may mean nothing for peace, but it will present Israel with a formidable peace 'adversary' and it may legitimize the right to continue terror in violation of the roadmap.
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Replies: 7 comments
Perhaps some of the Palestinian contributors here should comment on what the prisoners' statement means to them. My reading is that any proposal which accepts a state on the pre-67 borders is one which implicitly recagnizes Israel.
Regarding the issues of resistance and the Palestinian right of return, Chomsky said recently that it was fine for Palestinians to claim such a right as long as they were not serious about exercising it. Initially the right of return was code for destroying Israel, I suspect nowadays it may be code for return to the West Bank for the Palestinian diaspora, with perhaps some small and essentially symbolic return to villages within Israel. And how many diaspora Palestinians seriously want to go and live in the Jewish state? Somehow I doubt that there will be a massive queue.
"Resistance" can mean a whole lot of things, from suicide bombing at one end to human rights activism at the other; and again claiming a right is different from exercising it. 'Face' is very important to conquered nations generally and victorious nations should not get too hung up about forms of words.
Posted by Chris @ 05/29/2006 04:28 PM CST
The bad news is that the Palestinian consensus is unable to put on paper recognition of Israel, stopping terrorism or concessions concerning the right of return. The norm is still not to compromise or at least not to have public discussions about compromising on these issues. It is also unfortunate that public discussion among the Palestinians is so circumspect (I hope this is the rigt term).
The good news is that apparently Palestinians perceive talking about the 67 borders as moving towards accepting Israel. In a roundabout sort of way this is progress. If Abbas wins than it will be a relative improvement.
The bad news is that resistence means armed resistence. Definitly for Baragouti who said clearly prior to the elections that he supports continued fighting combined with negotiations.
The slightly better news is that the document speaks of resistance in tthe 67 borders, which means targeting soldiers and settlers. This is not a cause for celebration -- they only want to kill settlers and soldiers -- it is not acceptable to Israel, annd Bargouti is wrong if he thinks that negotiating under Palestinian fire will somehow help the Palestinians, the opposite is true, even on the unlikely circumstance that Israel does agree to negotiate under fire. However, this also is some progress.
"claiming a right is different from exercising it"
"'Face' is very important to conquered nations generally and victorious nations should not get too hung up about forms of words."
"'Face' is very important to conquered nations"
Some other good new is that Abbas seems to be more emboldened than ever before. The bad news is that Israeli pressure on the Palestinians is one of the reasons. It is unfortunate the pressure gets people (on both sides) to move in the right direction (but alway very slowly)
The good news it also that he is considering joining in on the Palestinian armed democracy with his own militia. This is also the bad news. Do we really want another gang of gun-crazy young Palestinians? I'm not sure either way.
Chomsky got into some hot water for his statements about the right of return.
To the best of my knowledge what it means to the Palestinians is return to the specific homes their parents or grandparents were expelled or run away from. This is not a code for the distruction of Israel or return to a Palestinian state. Just as "the right of settling everywhere in the land of Israel" is not a code for subjugating the Palestinians. However, in both cases it is the inevitable result, whether the promoters of these 'rights' are willing to admit it or not.
"perhaps some small and essentially symbolic return to villages within Israel."
Some Palestinians have hinted that what they want is an acceptance of the principal of the right of return,but that most Palestinians would not actually choose return to their villages. But Israel cannot simply open its borders and cross its fingers that only a few Palestinians will actually return. In any case, the Geneva accords which did cal for some symbolic acceptance of return were perceived by Palestinians as betrayal of return because Palestinian public discourse is still unable to actually talk about not fullfilling that right.
"And how many diaspora Palestinians seriously want to go and live in the Jewish state? Somehow I doubt that there will be a massive queue."
There are 3 reasons why Palestinians might want to go to a Jewish state:
Posted by Micha @ 05/29/2006 09:19 PM CST
...for your comments. I'd still be more interested to hear a Palestinian view however.
A couple of points; has Barghouti signed up to the current PLO ceasefire? If so his comments about resistance need to be seen in that context.
Regarding the Chomsky/Return issue, it's interesting that much of the "left" has a more intransigent position on this and on 2-states generally than the PLO leadership.
I think the unfortunate thing about violence is that when the Palestinians have used violence and also when they have not used violence, settlement expansion has continued. Since land is what the conflict is really about, that seems to go more to the root of the problem. Palestinians have probably concluded that since neither approach has any effect on settlement they will continue to at least passively support the armed struggle.
Posted by Chris @ 05/30/2006 02:44 PM CST
"I'd still be more interested to hear a Palestinian view however."
So would I. But not all Palestiians wil say the same thing. The Palestinian opinions about the return are blurry partialy because the Palestinians have not really discussed it among themselves.
"A couple of points; has Barghouti signed up to the current PLO ceasefire? If so his comments about resistance need to be seen in that context."
"I think the unfortunate thing about violence is that when the Palestinians have used violence and also when they have not used violence, settlement expansion has continued. Since land is what the conflict is really about, that seems to go more to the root of the problem. Palestinians have probably concluded that since neither approach has any effect on settlement they will continue to at least passively support the armed struggle."
This is half true. The Israelis became complacent about the occupation and settlements at times when violence was low, like in the 70's and early 80's and for a while in the 90's. There is no denying that at these times Israelis started thinking that they can continue occupying. there is also no denying that the first Intifada helped make Israelis aware that the occupation is a problem. However, the Palestinians have never not used violence, it's more a matter of more or less. Even worse, the times when terrorism was less often follow being struck by Israel, which seems to convince Israelis that military force works. In fact the times when Israelis moved towards peace were times of quiet, when Israelis started dreaming about peace, while increase in violence pushed them to the right.
This does not mean that Israel does not need pushing. If I were Abu Mazenn I would explore looking for non-violent ways to confront Israel if it seems that we become complacent again. But the sad truth is that violence has always been the norm with the Palestinians since the 1920. And other methods were used only by a minority and not in a very smart way. For Israelis it seems that there is terror or capitulation, when the Palestinians are so beaten that they humbly accept Israel. This is a bad way of thinking for both sides. The least violent method used by Palestinians was the first Intifada, which involved stone throwing, molotov cocktails and shooting. This was also the most successful effort by the Palestinians in all its history. It did have a major effect on Israeli public opinion.
I should say that many Israelis in the left dream that the Palestinians adopt non violent methods (there is some small scale stuff but nothing significant). I don't. I don't think the Palestinians are capable of doing it both for objective and subjective reasons. When I was politically active in the first four years of the Intifada I felt the Israeli left should use non-violence for its own reasons regardless of the Palestinians. Hopefully that would encourage them but even if not, it was worth while. I also felt that Israeli-Palestinians could do things that the other Palestinians could not, like mounting a large case legal demonstration in Tel-Aviv. But this did not happen.
The only real attempt of non-violent resistence was done by a small group of Palestinians and Israelis against the fence. But this attempt is flawed in many ways. The Israelis are 'anarchists' who have no way of communicating with the Israeli public, they are blind to its concerns and fears. The demonstration are against the fence, an object built to protect Israelis from suicide bombers. The struggle is to allow Palestinians access to farmland. most Israelis are not farmers and don't consider this a major humanitarian issue. This attempt is not a major drive for non-violence or against violence; the Palestinians want something, they use a method, while elsewhere other Palestinians use terror. This effort also has no national support, it is local. And they lack the spirit or the discipline to maintain non violence. Stones are thrown. And even when not, the demeanor of the demonstrators is not one of non-violence, but of aggressiveness and hostilaty. I know that maintaining calm in the face of violence is hard. But if you try to be non-violent and fail you end up giving excuse to the violence of the Israeli army while seeming weak to Palestinian children (that was how I felt in earlier demonstrations of a similar kind i participated in). And lastly, these people seem to lack the self-criticism to try to think what they are doing wrong and how to improve it. Nevertheless, these demonstrations had some success drawing attention to Israeli practices. It is certainly more useful that throwing ridiculuous kassam rockets on Israel.
Posted by Micha @ 05/30/2006 03:55 PM CST
I agree entirely with your comments regarding strategy and tactics. The frustrating thing is that most people want a similar outcome, yet groups representing minority opinion control policy on both sides. This poll is very interesting:-
Inter alia, 62% of Israelis support peace negotiations with Hamas. 68% of Israelis (67% of Jews) and 66% of Palestinians support mutual recognition of 2 states. Only 28% of Israelis and 32% of Palestinians oppose this.
However only 50% of Israelis and 57% of Palestinians THINK that a majority in their society supports mutual recognition. An education job by the 'doves' would appear to be a priority.
And quite crucially, only 7% of Palestinians believe Hamas was elected due to its hardline stance on Israel. That's _seven percent_.
75% on people on either side feel under personal threat from the other side.
All in all, that says to me that Hamas would probably move on the recognition issue provided it was set in a wider context (they are politicians too, they will be aware what their support rests on), and that the main obstacle to progress is not conflicting objectives but fear.
Posted by Chris @ 06/01/2006 04:24 PM CST
I think that Abu-Mazen thinks that if he get get into a mode of negotiation or even reach peace than the current hamas (as opposed to the mid 90s Hamas) will find it difficult to oppose it. But getting into that place is very hard for both sides.
Posted by Micha @ 06/03/2006 02:07 AM CST
Here's what Hanan Ashrawi says about the referendum plan:-
"First of all, this is an internal issue; it doesnâ€™t have to do with Israel right now. This is something that Palestinians resort to in order to get the Palestinian people to have their say, to make an impact on policy. There is a real need to have a national consensus. The referendum is an instrument of democracy and it is a means, not an end. Therefore, it is used in order to help Hamas, for example, to say that they will respond to peopleâ€™s needs, they will accept the public voice on this plan.
Two, it should not be transformed into a bone of contention, which it has become. It is ridiculous they way it has been portrayed as coup dâ€™etat or as undemocratic or unconstitutional. To me this is totally uncalled for. On the contrary, it is one way of avoiding violence and armed conflict and confrontations in Palestine and getting the people engaged in something positive."
Posted by Chris @ 06/13/2006 07:49 PM CST
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