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Palestinian face-off on Prisoner's document


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:

3- the right of the Palestinian people in resistance and clinging to the option of resistance with the various means and focusing the resistance in the occupied territories of 1967....

This is the line adopted by Marwan Barghouti, instigator of the second Intifada and one of the principal cosignatories of the prisoners' document: Keep fighting and keep talking. It is in conflict with specific roadmap stipulations for an end to terror and incitement, and it is also unacceptable to Israel.

The document states:

the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora seek to liberate their land and to achieve their right in freedom, return and independence and to exercise their right in self determination, including the right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Shareef as its capital on all territories occupied in 1967 and to secure the right of return for the refugees and to liberate all prisoners and detainees based on the historical right of our people on the land of the fathers and grandfathers and based on the UN Charter and the international law and international legitimacy.

While a state in 1967 borders is accepted, a state in the remainder of the land is not ruled out, nor is recognition of Israel or the right of Israel to exist mentioned explicitly or implicitly anywhere in the document.

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:

7- Administration of the negotiations is the jurisdiction of the PLO and the President of the PNA on the basis of clinging to the Palestinian national goals and to achieve these goals on condition that any final agreement must be presented to the new PNC for ratification or to hold a general referendum wherever it is possible.

Therefore, the document is not about recognizing Israel at all, but rather about granting the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas jurisdiction over the negotiations.

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.

Despite his vaunted weakness, it would appear that Abbas has succeeded in outmaneuvering everyone. He has gained the support of the Fatah "activists" led by Marwan Barghouti who crafted the document. He has gained popular support among the Palestinians. He has forced the Hamas to either accept the supremacy of the Fatah/PLO in negotiations or find itself in a distinct minority. He has managed to appear to the international community and, to some extent to the Israelis as a champion of peace and moderation, while at the same time advocating a program that is compatible with elimination of Israel and that calls for continued violence in violation of the roadmap.

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:

Israel has so far called the prisoners' proposal an internal Palestinian matter, but strongly objects to it as a basis for talks. The proposal does not explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist, insists on the right of return of refugees and their families to their pre-1948 homes and supports "resistance" against Israel in areas occupied in 1967 - in other words, attacks on Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as on the Israeli Army.

Hamas doesn't appear to be rising to the bait either:

Ziad Dia, a Hamas participant in the talks with Fatah, said in a statement that any document that even implied recognition of "the Zionist entity and ceding an inch of Palestine" would be rejected. That is also likely to be the view of the Hamas political leadership in exile, including central figures like Khaled Meshal and Mousa Abu Marzook.

Hamas has also rejected the ten day deadline imposed by Abbas, and is seeking to procrastinate.

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.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000466.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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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.
Furthermore, if Abbas succeeds and becomes stronger from this, he may be better able to folow his way of thinking rejection of violent methods. Ami assumes elsewhere that Baragouti is coopting Abbas, who is giving up on his rejection of violence, but I think it is too early to tell. The opposite may also be true.
If Abbas does try to promote stopping armed resistence he will probably try to use the word games Chris uses in order to justify supposedly looking for other methods of resistence. But for the Palestinians resistence usually means stones, molotov cocktails and guns, other methods have been used by a small minority with little popular acceptance and usually without being seen as a rejectio of the old methods as much as an addition to them. As of yet leaders on the national level like Abbas have not tried to find or recruit people to other methods of resistence.

"claiming a right is different from exercising it"
Compare: Jews havethe right to liveeverywhere inthe land of Israel.
I think such a statement should betaken at face value if the person saying it doesn't feel confident enough to add the "but,"as in "but it is wrong for Jews to exercise this right at present."

"'Face' is very important to conquered nations generally and victorious nations should not get too hung up about forms of words."
Back in the years of negotiations every time Arafat or someone else said something that sounded like support of violence, the destruction of Israel and so on, a host of peace-camp Israelis came out explaining, making excuses, and offering alternative interpretations. I did this myself in private arguments. The result is that the credibility of the Israeli peace camp, and peace, and the Palestinians, were crushed, especially when the violence returned. People believe what they hear.

"'Face' is very important to conquered nations"
A large part of this conflict onthe Palestinian and to some degree the Israeli side is unfortunatly about 'face'and such. The Palestinians cannot stop the violence without some success since that would mean that it was a mistaken choice to use violence. The Israelis don't want to make concessions in the face of violence. The withdrawl from Gaza was insome part an Israeli attempt toget out of this cycle.

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:
1) It wouldn't be Jewish much longer.
2) Thanks to the Arab countries their situation is sometimes worse where they are.
3) The idea of return to the lost Paradise of the original houses and villages is a significant aspect of Palestinian culture.

Posted by Micha @ 05/29/2006 09:19 PM CST

Thanks Micha...

...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."
To the best of my knowledge the only group to keep a one sided ceasefire is the Hamas.

"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.
In 1988 in the beginning of the Intifada there was a shift to the right.
In 1992-3 a (limited) shift to towards peace (Oslo) occured in the context of Palestinian weakness, a lessening of the Intifada, and negotiations with the Palestinians in Madrid, in which the right was challenged for dragging its feet.
In 1996 the right came back to power as a result of sucide bombings during the time of negotiations. However,
In 1999 The left came back to power after a reduction of violence during the rule of Netanyahu, and the perception that he was dragging his feet. Barak was perceived as a militay kind of guy, but prior to his election he has spoken clearly about withdrawl.
In 2000 the israelis broght Sharon to power after the start of the current intifada.
The ideas of unilateral withdrawl started gaining momentum after Israel crushed the Palestinians in 2003 and there was a relative lessing of violence.

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 doesn’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 people’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 d’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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