Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Palestine and the Arabs: An inescapable relationship | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Arab-Israeli conflict is an ever-present strategic issue for any Arab state or regime, regardless of its [political] trend. This has resulted in the emergence of popular anti-Israeli [political] movements; some are Palestinian, whilst others are Arab. These movements represent a tool in the struggle against the Israeli challenge. The majority of them are military [Fedayeen] movements, whilst some are political movements, whether via the Oslo Accords or via the political framework of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, circumstances raise the question: Has the Palestinian national operation, whether via its military or political framework, reached a dead end?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is the author of the “negotiate and then negotiate some more” approach. We do not want to discuss whether this approach is correct or not, rather we only want to monitor his trend. In his position [as president], Mahmoud Abbas applied his approach to Israel with regards to political action. However what was clear from the first moment was that the Israeli political leadership is not prepared or ready for any political negotiation. Since the first moment, Israel put in place its own conditions for political negotiations, namely to determine the results of the negotiations beforehand, thereby guaranteeing their failure. Israel demanded that negotiations should begin with the border issue, so that it did not have to recognize the 1967 borders in advance. Days and weeks passed without a change in the Israeli stance, and of course without the negotiating process beginning in earnest.

Despite this result, President Abbas did not despair with regards to proceeding with the negotiation approach, but this time he has attempted to transfer the issue to the international arena, by pursuing the issue of Palestine’s UN membership to the UN Security Council. This has resulted in the break out of an international diplomatic war, after Israel announced that it rejected this issue in principle, and was backed by the US, which had initially raised the slogan that the only way to solve this issue was through negotiation. Mahmoud Abbas was committed to his stance, and he went to the UN to deliver the Palestine address, demanding UN Security Council approval for Palestine’s request for full UN membership.

In fact, going to the UN was a success for the Palestinian Authority, and Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly marked another success. Yet a problem soon emerged: the major demand of the Palestinian speech – that of Palestine being accepted as a full member state of the UN – was transferred to the UN Security Council, which then transferred this issue to the UN Committee on the Admission of New Members. Here, a state of counter-diligence emerged, saying that UN membership is only granted to states and that the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] is not a state, hence the new political movement came to a deadlock.

Meanwhile, there is another Palestinian approach, that of guerrilla activity as a tool to challenge the state of Israel. This commando work has helped to keep the [Palestinian] cause alive, to keep the attention of the international community focussed on what is happening, and to attempt to press towards a conclusion. Thanks to guerrilla activities, Israel agreed to negotiate, and the PLO agreed to cease commando operations against the occupying force, a policy that resulted in the Oslo Agreement in 1993. Thus the Palestinian guerrilla operation was ceased, yet the negotiations yielded no results during the reign of late President Arafat and former US President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Between the years 2000 and 2002, Arafat tried to merge the commando and resistance efforts, yet Israel besieged his residence in Ramallah, and he later became ill and died, so this stage ended without results.

When President Mahmoud Abbas assumed the presidency, for his part, he based his policies upon negotiation, aiming to encourage Israel to incline towards acceptance. Nevertheless, his efforts were fruitless, and as a result Palestinian guerrilla warfare against the occupier re-emerged. Hamas was qualified for this and sought to resume its old role. Yet, it was not long before a disagreement emerged between Hamas, the influential movement in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, the influential authority in the West Bank, which soon developed into clashes. The end result was that Hamas controlled the Gaza Strip with military force, and two Palestinian authorities emerged. Hamas was expected to lead commando operations based in the Gaza Strip against Israel, but this never happened. This is because after it gained control of Gaza, Hamas was no longer a mere opposition movement, but was now in charge of ruling part of the homeland. Of course, such a position brings further responsibilities, such as ensuring the living standards for a population of nearly two million in the Gaza Strip. Here, Hamas was conscious that it could not afford to confront Israel’s aggressions. It is true that it stifled the first Israeli military campaign on Gaza, yet it was successful only in withstanding the aggression, but failed to achieve anything else. If Israel sought to repeat such an act, this could result in the reoccupation of Gaza.

According to this image, it is apparent that Palestinian diplomacy with Israel has not been fruitful, and cannot currently function as a plan of action. It is also apparent that the war guerrilla warfare has also been unsuccessful, as we can see in the current reality in Gaza, because the balance of power tilts towards Israel. So, what is the way out of this impasse?

This question is not only about Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas, but it is about both of them together. A reconciliation dialogue is currently being held between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement, so will the dialogue discuss this issue and its consequences?

Unless this issue and its ramifications are discussed within the framework of the reconciliation dialogue, and unless an answer – which refuses to accept the current established facts – is provided, this will mean on-going deadlock. As it stands, neither political work nor guerrilla warfare will be beneficial.

There is another dimension of this issue which we cannot ignore; namely the change that has occurred in Egypt following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. Now Egypt has an authority that deals positively with Hamas, and Hamas in Gaza cannot ignore its natural relations with Egypt, especially as Egypt recently played political roles to its advantage, such as mediating the exchange of prisoners, and also secretly mediating the prevention of Israeli military campaigns against the Gaza Strip.

For all these reasons everyone must search for an agreeable alternative, and this is the great challenge currently facing all parties. The essence of such a challenge is the ever-present idea, even if ignored by many; that this is not a purely Palestinian issue, whether from a military or political standpoint, but rather it is an Arab issue. Otherwise, Israel will be left to unilaterally harvest the fruit.

Here we must ask the question: When will the Palestinian Authority lead dialogue with the Arabs? When will the Arab authorities lead dialogue with the Palestinians?

No one should think that they can proceed along the road alone.