Mahmoud Abbas The Hero? Not So Fast
According to this news article by Yahoo! News and this news article by The Jerusalem Post, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to submit to the Palestinian people a referendum unless Hamas and al-Fath come to some sort of agreement. Obviously, Abbas is putting pressure on Hamas to compromise as al-Fath are loyal to him and his party. The referendum he threatens to put before the Palestinian people concerns the parameters of a future Palestinian state. As innocuous as this seems, one must remember that according to Hamas there is no need to carve out a Palestinian state. The Palestinian state will come into being once The State of Israel ceases to exist. That is, whereas the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which is secular) will agree to establishing borders between The State of Israel and a Palestinian state, which effectively recognizes Israel as a state, Hamas (which is religious/theocratic) does not want two states (Israel and Palestine) but rather one state (Palestine). The referendum is one which various Palestinian leaders have hammered out.
Which may seem like a very nice thing until one examines what exactly the referendum may entail. According to The Jerusalem Post, this referendum may include some of the following points (the whole page is posted here in case the one on The Jerusalem Post's website becomes unavailable):
The document, negotiated earlier this month by senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel has 18 points:In short, this is to ask Palestinians to approve the Arabs' demands. There is nothing new. What is new is that this will establish a principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than trying to establish a one-state solution. What with references to resistance, this also seems to indicate a continuation of the intifaaDah: it all depends on what they mean by "resistance" and "struggle." The inclusion of The United States along with Israel as those sieging the Palestinians is puzzling but reflects the conspiracism of Arabs. What is also striking is that this documents seem to promote a united and concerted diplomatic and international public relations campaign.
1. Establishment of a Palestinian state, return of refugees to their homes.
2. Incorporate Hamas and Islamic Jihad into PLO.
3. Resist Israeli occupation of lands captured in 1967 (West Bank and Gaza).
4. Formulate political plan including Arab summit resolutions, PLO platform and fair international proposals.
5. Consolidate the Palestinian Authority as the core of the state.
6. Set up a national unity government for all factions, especially Fatah and Hamas.
7. PLO and President Mahmoud Abbas would be in charge of peace negotiations.
8. Freedom for all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
9. Aid for refugees.
10. Set up united movement for resistance against Israeli occupation with political backing.
11. Maintain democratic elections and politics.
12. Condemn Israeli and US siege on Palestinian people.
13. Promote national unity by backing the Palestinian Authority, president, PLO and government.
14. Ban on use of weapons in internal conflicts and renouncing divisions and (internal) violence.
15. Improve participation of people of Gaza in freedom and independence.
16. Reform and develop the security forces.
17. Pass laws to reorganize the security forces and ban security officers from political activity.
18. Boost efforts of international solidarity groups in struggles against Israeli occupation, settlements and security barrier.
Two points also stand out: the Palestinians' right of return and the borders-to-be. What will matter is what exactly is meant by Palestinians returning to their home. Does this refer to the West Bank or to Israel proper as well? What exactly does "return to their homes" mean? There is nothing new here concerning the borders of the Palestinian territory: withdrawal to pre-1967 borders (that is, before the Six Day War; that is, withdrawing from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which would include Jerusalem).
How will Israel take this referendum, which people say will pass? The Israeli authorities would not be pleased. It would be, in fact, a step back in the peace process. Rather than accomodating with Israel, the palestinians are effectively backtracking to their original demands and demanding that they be met. They are, to use a phrase now in currency, moving the goalposts. Whereas before there was a chance for accomodation or agreement, this referendum essentially ends all chances for a successful bilateral solution.
Israel, however, has gone beyond depending on the Palestinians. After the success of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities are now set to draw their own borders and consolidate its territory. The Palestinians, for better or for worse, are not given any choice in the matter: they will be faced with a fait accompli. This referndum would validate the Israeli authorities' policy: whereas the Israeli authorities are moving to a solution, the Palestinians are moving back into a position from which it would be virtually impossible for there to be a bilateral solution. This referendum ties down the Palestinian Authority's hands. How much can they compromise when the Palestinians have unequivocally said what they want? Would Palestinians accept any deviation therefrom? If they do not, how will they express their rejection of any compromise made by the Palestinian Authority?
It is difficult to determine which is the better of the two evils: Hamas, which openly declares it will not negotiate or recognize Israel as a state, or the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which says it will negotiate but with ridiculous and impractical demands.
One must be very cautious about this supposedly brave venture by Mahmoud Abbas to dampen (or rein in) Hamas and establish parameters for a solution with Israel.