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Prisoners' document dilemmas

06/08/2006

There is no doubt that Mahmoud Abbas's proposal for adopting the Prisoners' document was a master stroke, though the power behind the throne may be Marwan Barghouti, who engineered the document. He used his National and Islamic coalition to push it through. He used the document to make the National and Islamic front, dormant since the fizzle out of the "al-Aqsa Intifada," relevant again.

The document creates more than one dilemma however, in part because it is a masterpiece of ambiguity, in part because Fatah and PLO supremacy are woven into the document in such a way that it is hard for the Hamas to object, in part because it was a product of processes in Palestinian society, and in part because that was the purpose of the document. The Prisoners' document was not meant to solve everyone's problems and make peace, but to sow confusion among the enemies of Barghouti, including Israel and the Hamas, as well as hitching Mahmoud Abbas's fortunes irrevocably to the National and Islamic front.

The first dilemma is for the Hamas government. As noted previously, about 80% of Palestinians support the Prisoners' document. This is not surprising because prisoners are immensely popular in Palestinian society, and the leaders who signed the document have immense personal prestige. Hamas cannot oppose this initiative. On the other hand, the document poses two problems for the Hamas. The document does not exactly recognize Israel, but it might do so implicitly. Much worse for Hamas is the proposal that the PLO and President Abbas would be in charge of the negotiations.

For those who support the Palestinian cause, the document has all the right buzzwords. On the other hand, it calls for a state in 1967 borders. It looks like a national manifesto, but is it?

For the Arab league, the document refers to "Arab legitimacy." That might be a reference to the Arab peace initiative, but is it?

Israel has more or less rejected the document as a basis for negotiations because it is understood as alluding to of right of return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel, because it insists on 1967 borders and calls for continued resistance and for other reasons. Both Israeli and Palestinian commentators have noted that this is not a comfortable document for Israel. In Al Jazeera, Khaled Amayreh predicted that Hamas might find a way to adopt and adapt the Prisoner's document, emphasizing that the document insists on right of return of refugees to Israel. In Yediot Ahronot, Moshe Elad noted likewise that the document is uncompromising about the refugee issue, and likewise uncompromising about 1967 borders, without a hint of explicit recognition for Israel. The document is in fact deliberately ambiguous, and much of its import is in the eyes of the beholder. An optimist will say that the reference to "international legitimacy" points to UN Security Council Resolution 242, and that the elliptical reference to "Arab legitimacy" points to the Arab peace initiative, both of which implicitly recognize Israel's right to exist. The fact is, however, that the document doesn't say anything about recognition of Israel. That is not surprising. It was not intended to be comfortable for Israel. It was not intended to be a peace manifesto either, but rather a political instrument for uniting Palestinian society. It is the creation of Barghouti, whose main political aim has always been to neutralize both the moderate factions of Fatah and the extremists of the Hamas, and to build a political force around his National and Islamic Front, where Marxists and Islamists live side by side in peace and harmony. From that point of view, the document, if adopted, will create a serious problem for Israeli diplomacy, and also may be an obstacle to peace negotiations rather than a support. It looks like a peace document, but is it?

Assuming the document is eventually adopted, the question is, what happens next? Ehud Olmert has promised to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians seriously. He made the promise both to President Bush and more recently to President Mubarak. With the adoption of the Prisoners' document by the Palestinians, it might appear that all the pieces would fall into place for renewal of the peace process. Not the same film as the Oslo process, but perhaps a remake, or a sequel. Or would they really? Right now neither Hamas nor the Fatah PLO seem capable of maintaining order in Gaza. Missiles continue to rain down upon southern Israel. The Prisoners' document legitimizes this "resistance," which is not going to be conducive to political concessions on Israel's part. If Abbas and the Palestinian authority cannot deliver peace and quiet, Olmert will be able to say "there is no peace partner."

An even worse dilemma lurks in the process of politicization of the Hamas. They have not yet changed their hard line stance, which officially refuses to recognize Israel. However, the very fact that Hamas were willing to join the political superstructure unleashed a sinister process of radicalization and splintering. As I related elsewhere, the Al Qaeda or the "International Jihad" is now installed in the West Bank. This was announced by Israeli security services head Yuval Dichter recently, but it was foreseen in a remarkable two part series by Al Hayat. The politicization of Hamas was an indication that their leaders concluded that their cause could no longer be served by violence. However, al Hayat explained that politicization of the Hamas had alienated a hard core of Hamas terrorists who were intent on pursuing violence regardless of political goals. They are in the violence business. If the Palestinian cause, or the Hamas cause, could no longer be served by violence, they would find a different cause: the a-national Islamic Jihad. Given the chaotic nature of Palestinian governance, al-Qaida like movements have a tremendous potential for creating mayhem -- even more so than in Iraq. The "Iraqization" of Palestinian society could be worse than the Lebanonization of Iraq. Thus, the greatest dilemma is created by the paradox that the closer Palestinian political leadership and the Palestinian majority moves toward peace, the closer Palestinian society moves toward civil war, anarchy, extremism and violence.

Restoring order in Palestinian society must therefore take precedence over peace negotiations and grandiose schemes for economic development. Or is it? The chaos is itself fed by the absence of peace and Israeli closures and punitive measures -- yet another dilemma.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 2 comments

The right of return. The obstacle Israel always uses for not accepting the 1967 border solution. I am not a politican or a king, however, I have a possible solution that I am sure many have had before.
In Israel, some towns and cities would not object to some Palestinians returning to Israel as was stated on this site by a mayor of one of the Israeli cities. The numbers who can return would be counted by a non governmental agency to reduce cheating. Next ask the Palestinians who are in Lebanon and give them the choice: would you like to go to Australia or Canada or the other countries offering to take in Palestinians from Lebanon. Why I specify Lebanon is because Lebanon will not accept the Palestinians because of the religious make up of the country. Next ask the other arab countries that have Palestinian refugees the number that they would accept. Once that is done we can do the math.
I am certain that most of the refugees in Lebanon would choose to leave the middle east all together. Someone provide me with 200,000 visas to the west and the refugess in lebanon would be reduced by 200,000. A small number would want to go back to Israel and could easily be absrobed by Israel. Some may wish to go to Palestine instead of Israel.
Refugees in other arab countries: once a peace deal is in sight, the arab governments and Israel and the world body would come up with a solution. Some Palestinians may be happy where they are living if certain economical conditions were improved. Some may leave and some would be happy with a citizenship from the country where they are living.

As to your comment "The chaos is itself fed by the absence of peace and Israeli closures and punitive measures -- yet another dilemma." You have hit the nail on the head.
Israel should have learned by now that it's methods of dealing with the Palestinians is wrong. All what Israel does is create generation after generation of people who are desperate and full of hatred for Israel. Caging people is not a solution to getting peace. Caging people causes people to become wild. The picture that Israel has painted for many years is that it wants to live in a war situation. Accept the 1967 border and then deal with the minor issues.

Posted by Mike Jebara @ 06/09/2006 12:07 PM CST

It never ceases to amaze me at how gullible well-meaning western bourgeois leftists are when these sorts of announcements are made. Hamas is to "recognize Israel's right ot exist!!??" And this is a reason to celebrate? Israel does not require any such thing from Hamas. Hamas is the administrator of a patch of land that is not even considerdd by the UNGA a "state". It is Hamas and the PA that has to do the crawling, not Israel.

And let us never forget these 2 little gems that they always slip in whenever they make statements like this:

"including the establishment of an independent state on all the land occupied in 1967, and to assure the right of return for refugees and the liberation of all prisoners and detainees."

Israel is never, ever going to pull down all its settlements; and nor should it. Yes, it should pull out of many, but not the ones in the Jerusalem area.

Also, the refugees have NEVER had a "right of return." I cannot understand why they so foolishly think they ever HAVE had such a "right."

Posted by NeoCommie @ 06/24/2006 10:49 AM CST


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