UNSURE HOW TO RESPOND
The Palestinians are unsure of how to respond to Kerry's long-anticipated Framework Agreement. Should they agree, refuse, or give an ambivalent reply? Kerry could conceivably be asked to prolong the negotiations in the hope that he could come up with the settlement that has so far eluded him.
Take the PLO Executive Committee, which is supposed to be the ultimate point of reference for the Palestinian people. The PLO/EC only recently bothered to convene a meeting, having last done so more than two months ago. During this time, Kerry came to the region several times. Yet it seems that EC members had other more pressing issues and simply did not have the time to discuss Kerry's mission. Or perhaps their failure to meet was some form of punishment for them for the ambiguous positions they took when deciding to resume peace talks. It is said that six or seven EC members objected to taking part in the current round of direct talks. Some say however that a majority of members were opposed. Still others say that EC members opposed the resumed peace process in the beginning, but changed their minds later.
This confusion is the result of the fact that the PLO/EC does not function as a proper institution on the basis of partnership and joint action. The EC seldom votes, which highlights the need for a review of its decision making mechanism instead of allowing one individual to monopolize the decision making process. In its last meeting, most PLO EC members called for Kerry's plan to be rejected and for the peace talks to be called off. Instead, they called on the Palestinian leadership to go to the UN, join its various institutions, and sign up to its conventions.
But PA President Abbas called on them to at least wait until Kerry's nine months are up (at the end of April), and told them that the Fatah Central Committee overwhelmingly supports the positions adopted by the PLO/EC. But Abbas stressed that the PLO EC had the sole authority when it came to deciding whether to continue or abandon peace talks.
In order to find a way out of the impasse, Abbas called on the issue to be referred to the PLO politburo. The politburo would then decide and refer its recommendations back to the EC. The politburo duly met, and recommended that the Palestinian issue be referred to the UN but without mentioning specific dates. Moreover, it did not link going to the UN with the decision to continue or abandon peace talks. The PLO/EC is now supposed to debate the politburo's recommendations, but it is still unknown when that will happen, or whether it will occur before or after the nine months are up.
As for Hamas, it is in a similar dilemma. Hamas appears unable to decide how to move forward after its relations with Egypt, Iran, and Syria collapsed. Should it wait for [deposed Muslim Brotherhood president] Mohammad Mursi to be reinstated (despite the fact that the political Roadmap in Egypt is making progress, and in all likelihood, [Defense Minister] Gen. Sissi is going to become the country's new president)?
Should it escalate the confrontation with Israel? Hamas knows that it would have to pay a very heavy price if it decides to go down that route, especially as the Arab, regional, and international mood is not that sympathetic. Hamas is unlikely to receive the same level of support as it did during Israel's last two incursions. In fact, Israel could use the opportunity to deliver decisive blows to Hamas and the other resistance factions. That is why Hamas appears so keen to maintain its truce with Israel.
Or should Hamas deliberately choose to raise tensions with Egypt, especially after the Egyptians closed all smuggling tunnels, tightened the blockade of Gaza, and openly accused Hamas of being an extension of the banned Muslim Brotherhood? This option is also too costly for Hamas, because Egypt's response this time round is expected to be very harsh.
The only available option is to reactivate the process of reconciliation. But Hamas fears a reconciliation that takes place at an inappropriate time, on Fateh's terms, and one that could be used to cover up for the peace talks – without leading to partnership in the PA and PLO. In his most recent statements, President Abbas (after saying that he was not interested in returning to [his town of birth] Safad, and that he distinguishes between Israel's legitimacy and that of the occupation) spoke of the refugees' personal choice on whether to return or not.
Abbas also invited Binyamin Netanyahu to address the (all but defunct) Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and expressed readiness to address the Knesset on condition that he be allowed to say what he pleases and not to be bound by Netanyahu's conditions (Netanyahu has already invited Abbas to address the Knesset, but said that the Palestinian president must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, among other conditions, all of which Abbas rejected).
What is the purpose of this invitation? Why accommodate Netanyahu when he and his government have shown themselves to be so utterly hostile to the Palestinians? It would be far more beneficial for Abbas to concentrate on bringing the Palestinian house in order and come up with new strategies that could help the Palestinians confront the considerable challenges facing them.
At this juncture, it is worth mentioning that we still do not know when Hamas' Musa Abu Marzouq is going to reply to the questions posed to him by Azzam al-Ahmad, and when the latter's visit to Gaza (to discuss the formation of a new government and setting a date for new elections) would take place. Nor do we know who will lead the new government (Abbas, PA/PM al-Hamdallah, or some other independent individual), and when the next elections will take place.
Let us speak about PLO/EC Chairman Yasser Abed Rabbo. It is no longer possible to recognize him when we hear him criticizing the peace talks and Kerry's plan. Rabbo demanded that the Palestinians refer their case to the UN forthwith, and called for convening a Palestinian Geneva conference. Has Rabbo finally woken up? Has he decided to change his mind regarding the Geneva agreement, part of which was recognizing Israel as a state for the Jews?
As for Sa’eb Ereikat, we no longer know whether he is still the Chief PLO negotiator, or whether he has turned into the chief oppositionist. Has he reigned or not? And is someone else been appointed to replace him as head of the Palestinian negotiating team? Ereikat now says that we committed a grave strategic error by not referring our case to the UN. He is calling for that error to be corrected at once. Ereikat's Fateh Central Committee comrade Mohamed Shtayyieh (who resigned from the negotiating team together with Ereikat) says the same. Shtayyieh also called for transforming the PA into a 'resistance authority.'
Meanwhile, their Central Committee colleague Tawfiq al-Tirawi went a step further and called for the reinstatement of resistance in all its forms. [Former PA minister and Fateh official] Nabil Amr is virtually the only person who continues to express optimism despite the continued enmity between him and president Abbas. Amr believes that a settlement is possible, and that an incomplete settlement would be better than no settlement at all.
As for prominent Palestinian thinker Munir Shafiq, he believes that Israel, after the revolts of the Arab Spring, America's diminished role in the region, and the consequences of its wars on Lebanon and Gaza, is in its worst state. Shafiq believes that a Palestinian revolt is inevitable – and would defeat the occupation within a few months.
Hamas's interior minister Fathi Hamad predicted that Israel would disappear within eight years. But looking at what is happening at Damascus' Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees, which has been under siege for many months, and where Palestinians have been starving to death, we find that the PLO, the supposed sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, was very slow to go to the refugees' aid. All political considerations that are preventing us from extending support to our starving brethren must be cast aside.
All these are examples of the chaotic nature of the Palestinian situation.