Anything but negotiations
Salam Fayyad’s resignation as Palestinian PM has opened the door to various possibilities, but anything would be better than returning to the futile talks with Israel, says Hani al-Masri on Palestinian www.masarat.ps
Hamas Politburo Head Khalid Mish’al called President Mahmoud Abbas and informed him that the Politburo agreed to set a date for legislative and presidential elections and to form a national unity government under Abbas's leadership, writes Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
IMAGINARY SCENARIOS: Abbas welcomed Hamas' positive gesture, and initiated consultations to form a new government. Abbas is also due to issue decrees to form a government and to set the date for elections (in late July).
This prompted the Israeli government to issue a statement in which it said that Abbas had chosen to ally himself with terror and against peace. The Israelis decided to withhold tax revenues and threatened the PA with further punitive steps. The Israeli government also said that Abbas's decision absolves it of taking part in peace talks, since it does no longer has a partner for peace.
Moreover, the Israelis said that they could not agree to elections that would legitimize terror, especially in Jerusalem, ‘Israel's eternal capital’ and that they would never tolerate elections in which Hamas and ‘other terror organizations’ take part.
For its part, the Obama administration said that reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas would enable the latter to take part in consultations to form a new Palestinians government without agreeing first to the conditions of the International Quartet, which would weaken American efforts to restart peace talks. Reconciliation, the Americans said, would weaken Abbas and Fateh and strengthen Hamas, facilitating its membership of the PLO and its eventual takeover of the organization. Thus, the U.S. government decided to stop all financial aid to the Palestinians, since it would otherwise be helping a group the State Department lists as a terror organization – which would be a violation of U.S. law.
Should this imaginary scenario come true, it would put President Abbas in an extremely uncomfortable position, which is why it is likely that Abbas would ask Mish’al for some respite (equal in length to the period Secretary of State John Kerry asked for to restart peace talks) before a new Palestinian government is formed in order for the Palestinians not to be held responsible for the Americans' failure.
Should Hamas win the next election, it would not be able to exercise power in the West Bank because of Israel's opposition – despite Abbas' and Fateh's approval. If Fateh won on the other hand, Hamas would not allow it to exercise power in Gaza because it could never tolerate losing everything.
A second scenario goes like this: Abbas calls Mish’al and informs him that he was prepared to grant Hamas' wish for a respite before elections are held. Abbas agrees with Mish’al on a date for the election nine months (or more) after a new government is formed, which should be in three months' time (the time frame Kerry demanded) in order not to give the American Secretary of State the excuse he wants to justify his failure.
After the three months are up, Kerry would either have succeeded in his mission (which is highly unlikely, given the intransigence of the Israelis), which would mean that the Palestinians have given up on all their preconditions (stopping settlement building, recognizing the borders of 1967, and releasing prisoners jailed before Oslo) which would increase inter-Palestinian tensions and lead to the fall of the new government of national accord; or he would have asked for a new respite, the Israeli government having agreed to take ‘confidence-building steps’ to placate the Palestinians, such as the economic measures Kerry said Abbas and Netanyahu agreed upon as well as other steps designed to improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians under occupation. These steps would be a down payment until a settlement is achieved, which Kerry estimates would take two years after which it would become impossible to reach a settlement.
In this case, given the Palestinian leadership's conviction that no other options are available, there is no alternative but to give Kerry the respite he wants despite the knowledge that his aim would be to undermine the Palestinian position to Israel's advantage and to encourage other Arabs to take part in talks in order to provide cover for the Palestinians and persuade them to abandon or at least water down their conditions. Meanwhile, Israel feverishly continues apace with its expansionist, racist, and colonialist plans, building in Area E1 and dividing the al-Aqsa compound.
If, for arguments' sake, we assume that the Palestinians succeed in forming a government of national accord that would serve for a transitional period of 3 to 6 months, that government would come under attack from the Israelis and Americans if it fails to profess that it abides by the conditions of the International Quartet. On the other hand, if it does so, Hamas would object on the basis that it is a transitional government of professionals with no political program, and that political matters are the preserve of the PLO not the PA and its government.
Should the new government try to tamper with the security dossier, it would collide with a mountain of problems. It would therefore prefer to implement the agreement signed by Fateh and Hamas to postpone delving into matters of security until after the elections. In other words, the current situation will persist throughout the transitional period, which makes the national unity government (NUG) a government that manages the split rather than one that ends it.
Should the NUG try to deal with the question of unifying ministries and government departments (which includes the issue of returning sacked employees to their former positions), it would open the gates of hell, what with Fateh and Hamas sacking one another's supporters from their respective administrations. So this issue would also have to wait until after the elections.
In other words, the only function of the NUG would be to cover up the split. Furthermore, it would be liable to splitting itself, since it would be required to enlarge its budget in order to pay for what would in essence be a symbolic unity without knowing which party would be responsible for bearing these extra costs at a time when Abbas would be PM and President at the same time. Abbas would be like a punching bag, held responsible for everything – unless Hamas agrees to pay for its own employees, in which case the NUG would become a farce.
With all this in mind, all scenarios are bad if only past agreements are relied upon with no amendments or improvements to remedy the gaps therein. This applies especially to the political angle, which is totally absent in the reconciliation agreement.
Does this mean that all is lost, or is there a way out if there is the will? There is a way out. The Palestinians must launch a comprehensive national dialogue in which every sector of Palestinian society must take part. The aim of this dialogue is to agree on a new strategy to confront all threats and challenges, a strategy that defines commonalities and how best to approach negotiations and resistance, a strategy that puts the PA in its proper place, as a tool of the PLO, which itself should be rebuilt so as to become more active and inclusive. This process should begin by forming an interim leadership with full powers – so long as they do not impinge on those of the PLO executive committee, as is stated in the Cairo agreement.
The road to salvation is clear, but it is difficult to traverse because of the vested interests that grew up under the split, and because of the tendency to dominate and exclude others, and to raise their own private and factional interests above the national interest.
The solution lies in the people imposing their will on all parties. This cannot come about through reconciliation alone; it also requires struggle and sacrifice in order to revive the Palestinian cause and restore the conflict to its original state.
In short, if Salam Fayyad continues to lead the government indefinitely in a caretaker capacity (which is against the basic law), or if Abbas asks Fayyad or an independent or a Fateh leader (or even himself) to lead a new government, or even if a NUG is formed with Abbas at its head, the price would be less than continuing to bet on the futile negotiating process, which would only waste time, and squander the Palestinians' land, rights, and the Palestinian cause itself.