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هاني المصري
الخميس, 1 حزيران (يونيو), 2017
"The Palestinian/Israeli negotiations are now certain to resume soon without a freeze on settlement activities and without meeting any of the other preconditions that President Mahmoud 'Abbas has continuously insisted on," writes Hani al-Masri on the Palestinian www.masarat.ps.
There is more than one point of view to assess this position, and I will present two here because they are the most important and most indicative of the general drift of affairs:
- According to the first point of view, the Palestinian president has no option but to agree to join the political process that is in the offing regardless of the price that will be paid, because it will be possible to cut potential losses and achieve political and economic gains by going down this road. This includes [Israeli/U.S.] recognition of Palestinian partner, a contribution to the new [regional] alliance that U.S. President Donald Trump is forming, and holding Israel responsible for the failure to achieve the 'historic' deal that he says he wants to achieve – if only by highlighting the importance of continuing and deepening the security role that the PA is playing against terrorism and in providing security and stability in the region and the world.
Other potential benefits to be gleaned from such a Palestinian position include the possibility of amending the Paris economic protocol, investments in Area-C territories, various facilities at the crossing points and elsewhere, and an end or an alleviation of Palestinian/Arab disagreements, especially with the [Egypt/Saudi/Jordan/UAE] Arab Quartet, relations with which worsened last year after it presented its plan for addressing the Palestinian situation.
Some of those advocating this point of view claim that national reconciliation is not around the corner, thanks to Hamas' intransigence and the fact that it is not ready to empower a national accord or a national unity government that is committed to the president's program and commitments. And they add that if the president does not alter his stance, he will open the door wide to a confrontation with Trump, which would intensify the pressures on the PA and accelerate the search for an alternative (or alternatives) to it.
- The second point of view opposes rejoining the negotiations on bases that are worse than the previous ones. They argue that the negotiating process has not cut [Palestinian] losses, or preserved the status quo, or prevented it from deteriorating. On the contrary; there has been a continuing deterioration on every level.
Anyone considering the status of the Palestinian cause and its position on the region or the world's list of priorities would find that it has retreated in a manner that augurs great danger. It can be liquidated if Trump's current plan – joining which is being presented as a boon – succeeds in giving priority to a regional solution, the formation of an Arab NATO, and the normalization of Arab relations with Israel first. This would place the Palestinians and their cause at the mercy of Israel's ruling rightwing and extreme rightwing. Moreover, it is worth noting that the Israeli government's intransigence need not lead [Trump] to hold Israel responsible for any failure. Pressure on the Palestinians is most likely to be intensified and the Arabs will be employed to compel them to offer even greater concessions.
Resuming the negotiations without a freeze on settlements, without international participation, and without binding terms of reference, will provide cover for the intensification of settler colonialism. It will encourage Israel to proceed with imposing its preconditions and diktats on the Palestinians, which will ultimately be sufficient to impose an Israeli solution. In doing so, it will be bolstered by what it views as a historic opportunity stemming from the wars and conflicts that are hemorrhaging the Arab region, and from a Trump administration that not only backs Israel, but is Zionist in its outlook – as the Director of the Israeli Institute of National Security Studies Amos Yadlin has rightly said in commenting on Trump's speech in Israel.
This point of view insists on a deep conviction in the need to adopt an alternative strategy and putting an end to the merely verbal threats of doing so or resorting to some limited version of it as witnessed in recent years. Over this period, there were [PA official] threats to boycott Israel, to achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation, to resort to popular resistance, to resort to internationalization, and especially, to activate the Palestinian membership in the International Criminal Court and other international institutions. But this approach was just a tactic meant to improve the terms for returning to negotiations and not a strategy that aims to alter the negotiations' rules, bases, and terms of reference. And all this ended with a readiness to resume negotiations under conditions that are worse than before.
What is needed is to replace the strategy adopted since the 1993 Oslo Accords that has only yielded worse results after Yasser Arafat's [2004] assassination, with one that is based on the effort to alter the balance of power, consolidate the requirements for survival and steadfastness, and foil Israeli schemes. This is to be achieved by starting from the assumption that the Palestinian cause is in the midst of a phase of national liberation struggle that partially overlaps with task of the democratic construction of institutions; and from the assumption that a resolution is not around the corner. This is because Israel, especially in the current phase, is not ready or willing to accept any solution that secures any Palestinian rights, and is proceeding to implement its own solution one step at a time via a policy of creeping colonial/settler annexation, the creation of occupation facts on the ground, and passing more racist laws.
The proposed new strategy also includes giving priority to ending the inter-Palestinian split and to regaining national unity, activating, reforming, and renewing the Palestinian institutions and altering their modus operandi after reconstructing them. It requires focusing on the domestic situation in a manner that upholds the law's sovereignty, pluralism, participation, equal opportunity, and equality between all citizens regardless of religion, gender, color, faction, family, or creed.
It also requires respect for institutions and for collective action and accountability, as well as ensuring the judiciary's independence – rather than persisting with a policy of destroying that independence. It requires combating corruption, waste, nepotism, and lack of productivity. And it calls for resorting to the people's verdict by holding regular and periodic elections at every level, whenever possible, in a manner that ensures an end to individualistic rule, the distribution of shares among what remains of the Palestinian political factions, concentrating all power in the hands of a single person, and upholding respect for human rights and freedoms.
Reviving the political-negotiating process in the shadow of the current local, Arab, regional, and international conditions will not help to safeguard the cause. In the best of cases, it may help preserve the PA and its president. Nor will it secure any significant economic benefits, since Israel will always ensure that the Palestinian situation remains on the brink of collapse.
Throughout his rule, Abu Mazin has tried to preserve the status quo in the hope that something will happen to change it, and in order to avoid surrender or confrontation – even though the latter is forced upon the Palestinians. However, despite his serious and continuing concessions, he has failed to even maintain the status quo. It will therefore be difficult for him to avoid surrender in the coming phase if he wishes to remain in his post and pursue the strategy of negotiations. And if he refuses to surrender, the Palestinian situation would be even weaker, and the possibility of pushing him aside and creating alternatives to him would be greater. For valuable years have been wasted that could have been used to create a realistic alternative to Oslo in a gradual and step-by-step manner.
What lends greater credence to the second point of view is the fact that the Palestinian cause's importance stems from the fact that it is a factor for stability that also needs to be preserved. It also stems from the Palestinian people's continuing readiness to defend it. It also bestows legitimacy on Arab states and movements in the region or strips them of it. For this reason, the Palestinians' attitude is very important. Without it, Trump cannot succeed in his policy based on changing the list of priorities, beginning with normalized Arab relations with Israel, which would force the Palestinian cause into a secondary position. It is no achievement to be a player in a game whose essence is to target Palestinian rights and interests.
Had it not been for the 'knives intifada' that began in October 2015, for the individual prisoners' strikes leading up to the collective 'Freedom and Dignity [hunger] Strike,' and for the movement to boycott and resist Israel in all forms, especially via popular resistance and opposition to settlement activities and the Separation Wall, the Palestinian cause would not have remained alive. It would not have imposed itself on everyone, and Trump would not have contacted Abu Mazin or deemed him to be a partner.
There is another realistic path that is neither adventurous nor submits to the facts as they are. Its aim is to end the occupation, not to improve living conditions under it. This is the path of national unity and participation, rather than competition in taking divisive steps. For at present, and in light of its very critical situation, if Hamas were to offered to be a full partner in the political system and receive nothing more or less than what it deserves, it may be willing to accept the offer. And if it rejects it, it would isolate itself and could fragment. A popular majority would be against it. On the other hand, facing it with a choice of 'either this or else' – that is to, requiring it to submit willingly or unwillingly by tightening the Gaza siege and starving the people – is neither a wise nor a realistic policy.
The national aim is neither to preserve the PA nor recognition of a Palestinian partner or the president. The PA can go to hell. The national aim is to recognize the people and their rights. At Oslo, we paid a heavy price for giving priority to recognition of the leadership rather than recognition of rights, which has led us to where we are today. To continue down the same path now will lead us to what is much worse.
"It will lead us to situation where the cause and the rights are lost and where the people's suffering will only increase," concludes Masri.