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Palestinian unity: Ominous signs

02/17/2007

The Palestinian unity deal reached in Mecca is VERY IMPORTANT. That much is clear. It is certainly better for Palestinians, at least temporarily, to be united, then it is to fight each other. In the longer term, however, unity is not necessarily good. As the fog begins to lift on the Palestinian unity deal, what is revealed is increasingly less pleasant.

The deal has brought us to a crossroads. Everone has a different opinion about where the roads lead, however. The Israel government is considering suspending ties with the Palestinians, because the deal does not recognize Israel and does undertake to end violence. The US is either boycotting the Palestinian government or reserving judgement. A poll shows that about half of Jewish Israelis want the Israeli government to negotiate with the Palestinians, but a different poll shows that most Israelis oppose cooperation with the Palestinian government.

The Hamas made their views abundantly clear. Hamas says will not recognize Israel. They will never make peace with Israel, and the deal doesn't commit them to making peace with Israel. According to a Reuters chronology:

"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally asked Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Thursday to form a new unity government and urged him to respect peace accords signed with Israel."

On this point, we can at least ascertain that Reuters is regrettably mistaken. No Palestinian organization signed any peace accords with Israel. Perhaps Reuters is referring to the Egyptian or Jordanian peace treaties. Moreover, Abbas did not ask Hamas to respect any such accords. The letter charging Ismail Hanyiyeh with forming a new government states, in various translations:

From this premise, I call upon you to respect the resolutions of international legitimacy and the agreements signed by the PLO."

That is all it says, though some render "respect" as "honor" or "recognize." Israel is not mentioned. Peace is not mentioned.

Fatah member and ex-cabinet minister Sufian Abu Zeideh was quite frank in characterizing this agreement. He explained that everyone can interpret it as they wish. Consequently, it was not at all surprising that WAFA, the PLO News Agency could inform its readers:

"President Mahmoud Abbas said we have totally abided by the agreements signed by the PLO and we are committed to the international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause, we are also committed to the Road Map and the vision of President Bush of two states.

In an interview with Palestine TV the President affirmed: We are also committed to renouncing terrorism which late President Yasser Arafat announced in 1988. We are abided by all these issues as we are also
committed to the Arab peace initiative in 2002 which we honorably participated in its formulation.
"

And in the interview Abbas said:

"...I think that the letter of commissioning is enough for the upcoming government which is asked to abide by this letter....we are committed to all the Palestinian legitimacies, I mean the resolutions of the Palestinian National Council and the agreements signed by the PLO as well as the Arab and international legitimacies. Accordingly these issues are reflected in the Agreement...All these issues were undoubtedly mentioned in the letter of commissioning..."

But it appears that it is a matter of interpretation nonetheless. At the same time as Abbas was more or less proclaiming that the Mecca agreement commits the Palestinian government to peace, the Islamic Jihad group was also welcoming the unity agreement, declaring that the clause about respecting agreements was open to "interpretation." Their own prolitical program, however, is not open to interpretation, as noted in this Maannews article, which quotes Dr. Muhamad El Hindi, their leader as saying that that Islamic Jihad has:

"a clear political horizon, represented in the refusal to recognize Israel, and the Quartet, in addition to our dedication to resistance."

Now however, as the tripartite summit of Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert and Condoleeza Rice draws nigh, there are ominous signs. According to Haaretz:

"Abbas told senior State Department official David Welch that the Mecca agreement was the only possible agreement and the world must deal with it, Abba aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said, after the meeting in Ramallah with Welch. "

So, we see that Abu Rdeneh, at least, believes that the Palestinian authority is now such a superpower, that it can tell the USA where to get off. One can almost hear Yasser Arafat saying, "And anyone who doesn't like it can drink the waters of the Dead Sea."

Equally ominous is this quote from Fatah spokesman Mahir Moqdad in Maannews:

"this government should have the right to have alternatives and substitutes instead of the siege lifting."

To be clear, it means that Fatah is saying that the Palestinians should have alternatives to agreeing to recognize the right of Israel to exist and to seek peace. It is another sign that in the struggle with Hamas, Abbas has thrown in the towel. After threatening to go to elections if Hamas would not meet quartet requirements in a unity government, after repeatedly giving one week deadlines, and two week deadlines and insisting that PLO would honor its commitments under Oslo, Abbas is saying: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

If we take these pronouncements at face value, they are most discouraging. Literally, they mean the end of the Oslo process. The Mecca unity deal is said to be a GOOD THING, because it means that Saudis have wrested control of the Palestinians from Iran. Well at least, it could be a less bad thing. In the Middle East, the bad is always the enemy of the much worse. But it is questionable if anyone controling Palestinian politics is ever much more in control then the lady riding the tiger. And given these pronouncements, one may also question what it is that the Saudis wish to accomplish. Have they too thrown in the towel? Have they decided that the US has been beaten in Iraq and vis-a-vis Iran, and that they have to pursue an independent policy, or are they going to use the Palestinians perhaps, for their own ends? For the alternatives to lifting the siege, are of course, financing the Palestinian authority from Arab sources and Iran, and ignoring the EU, the United States and the Russians. Provided that Israel and the Quartet allow this to happen, it is a good strategy for the Palestinians, from their point of view. They would now be independent of the Quartet, and free to pursue the Hamas program of unending Jihad for Palestine. The quartet would probably split, because Russia and France for example, would be anxious to retain influence in the Palestinian authority. By ignoring the siege, the siege would be effectively ended.

And what of the upcoming summit? Can it be more than a "hot air summit" as Aluf Benn wrote in Ha'aretz? It might be much more than a hot air summit, if Israel and the US offer Abbas a clear alternative and a clear "horizon." In other words, a big carrot and a big stick. Only Israel has the power to lift the physical siege of Gaza and the checkpoints in the West Bank, and to really give Palestinians a better life. Of the quartet players, only the United States has the influence and leverage to make Israel do it.

The actions of both Israel and the Palestinians are dictated by short term political considerations. Unity is a good thing in principle and politically popular. Too much of a good thing can be bad. In the immediate future, the unity deal will answer the requirements of the Saudis and also give Fatah a measure of importance in Palestinian political life. It will hopefully restore peace to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, though that is not certain. But national unity on a disastrous course can lead to disastrous confrontations. In the short term, it is politically inexpedient for the Olmert government to offer concessions, and it is inconvenient for the Americans, mired in Iraq, to pressure either side or to embarrass the Sauids. We want to restore a real peace process. For that to happen, all sides need to consider not just short term political goals, but long term outcomes. Unfortunately, the three sides who will be meeting at Monday's summit are probably too weak to ignore the demands of political expediency.

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/00000569.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: 3 comments

If someone looks at a map of (British Mandate) Palestine prior to 1948 they will see that there are very few areas where Jews were settled. The area now called Israel was Arab land. The Palestinians were forced off of their lands, no wonder they are are mad, any reasonable person would be angry. It seems very doubtful that the Zionists will ever reach agreements that will afford the Palestinians justice and equity. The Palestinians must submit to Zionist colonialism and Western imperialism. The Palestinians must renounce violence, but the Israelis are not compelled to do the same. It is sad that the Palestinians must suffer for the crimes of the Nazis. The Ashkenazic Jews were killed by Germans. Part of Germany should have been annexed for a Jewish homeland.

Posted by Abu Rafi @ 02/18/2007 07:58 PM CST

Abu Rafi's argument makes sense except for two things. First, it was not only the Jews who took over other people's land. The Arabs conquered much of the Middle East, North Africa, and even southern Europe. Jews in North Africa had the same choice that Palestinians had after Israel was created. Second, what has this to do with the Palestinians? The Palestinian Arab Charter/Covenant declares Palestine to be part of the Arab Nation. In the 1948, 1956, and 1967 wars there was simply an exchange of populations with Arab Jews going to Israel while Palestinians went into the surrounding Arab countries. The longer the Palestinians refuse to end the conflict and carry it out by terrorist means, the longer they will put off any rectifications of this exchange and will ensure that this exchange will be one-sided to their detriment. The Greeks and Turks proved to be wiser and ended their population exchange after the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor and of Turks from Greece.

Posted by Tom Mitchell @ 02/20/2007 01:44 AM CST

I'm a little confused by the article. Hamas have agreed to "respect" prior agreements made by the PA, which presumably includes the Oslo accords. Islamic Jihad are not part of Hamas or the PA so would seem as irrelevant as a lunatic fringe settler party is to Israeli government agreements. Bearing in mind that no-one is about to announce they love Big Brother, where is the hard evidence that the unity government represents a backward step and not a forward one? (in terms of relations with Israel - it's clearly a step backward for secularism in Palestine).

Posted by Spike @ 03/21/2007 02:47 PM CST


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