AFTER A LONG ABSENCE
"There are reports that the [PLO’s] Palestinian Central Council [PCC] will finally convene after a long absence so as to 'renew the legitimate Palestinian authorities'," writes Hani al-Masri in Tuesday's Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
These reports also indicate that members of the leadership, primarily the PA’s president, have announced that the PCC will decide to 'hand over the PA's keys' – as if it were some simple gate or company – to the most junior officer representing the occupation, or to the UN – and as if Israel will simply agree to receive the PA’s keys rather than hand them over to local leaderships or various armed groups, with the result that anarchy would ensue and consume what remains of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian unity.
All this is happening at the same time as a leadership delegation is preparing to visit the Gaza Strip to meet with [Hamas Gaza PM] Ismail Haniyeh and discuss the means of implementing the [Fatah/Hamas] Cairo agreement – specifically the formation of a national accord government and setting the date for new PA legislative and presidential elections, or to leave the matter to the president to decide as he wishes. All talk of new Palestinian National Council [PNC] elections and rebuilding and reforming the PLO’s institutions, seems to have fallen by the wayside by default!
There have also been reports that the Palestinian security forces' commanders have informed their Israeli counterparts that they have drawn up plans for dismantling the PA’s security apparatuses as a prelude to handing over the PA's keys to Israel. Yet, the PA president has simultaneously announced that he is determined to maintain security coordination with the occupation. And there are leaks to the effect that the PLO’s Negotiations Department [responsible for the talks with Israel] has begun to study the steps towards disbanding the PA.
So what is happening? Extending the negotiations or disbanding the PA? Forming a national accord government and holding elections, or holding elections regardless of who takes part? Completing the steps towards joining the UN, or maintaining the situation as is while 'waiting for Godot' who will not arrive?
It is pointless to expect winter and summer simultaneously under the same roof, and to expect to go to hell and heaven at the same time. Either continue to wager on the so-called 'peace process' and on the U.S. administration on the pretext that it alone holds the keys to pressuring Israel; or adopt new strategies that basically aim to alter the balance of power that is heavily tilted in Israel's favor, thereby allowing for the realization of Palestinian rights.
It is pointless to maintain the current miserable situation, using every means possible – including threats to achieve national unity or to head to the UN or to boycott Israel or to resort to popular resistance or to disband the PA and hand over its keys – merely as a tactic intended to exert pressure in the hope of resuming the negotiations and improving their terms. We have conclusive proof by now that the path of bilateral negotiations under U.S. sponsorship only leads to hell. It has already led to the erosion of our cause, rights, land, and national unity. The starting point begins with shutting down this path completely, never to return to it again.
In the absence of any vision and the requisite will, and in the shadow of frustration, confusion, and loss between the various conflicting options, everything becomes simultaneously possible and impossible. It is not sufficient to refuse the U.S./Israeli offer, despite the importance of such an act. Repeated threats to disband the PA may turn from a maneuver used to exert pressure into a desperate move that offers no hope or way out.
All eyes are now focused on two issues:
- The first and decisive issue concerns the U.S. efforts, and the results of [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry's new tour in particular, and whether it will succeed or fail to find a formula for extending the negotiations. At best, this would be a repetition of the agreement on the basis of which the negotiations were resumed at the end of last July  – that is, negotiations in return for the release of a new batch of Palestinian prisoners, including leading figures as well as the [suspended] fourth installment of pre-Oslo prisoners, of course.
- The second and more secondary issue concerns the success or failure of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation delegation that is meant to reach an agreement on forming a new PA government and setting a date for elections.
But even if Kerry were to fail, this would not necessarily slam the door shut in the face of the option that claims that 'life is negotiations.' It could entail a leap towards deepening the inter-Palestinian split instead by holding elections regardless of who takes part and without including the Gaza Strip and in which the president either does not run, or runs together with a deputy so that he can leave whenever he wishes with no serious repercussions for his departure.
This may be the result, despite the claim that the Gaza Strip will take part by being 'represented' but not by a vote, or will take part at a later stage when conditions allow for elections to be held in the Strip. Moreover, the elections may be held without [the Palestinians of East] Jerusalem, if they are held against the background of frozen negotiations or of growing signs of confrontation, and in the shadow of the most extremist and racist Israeli government since the establishment of the state. In light of all this, the current Israeli government will not allow elections in Jerusalem unless they are part of a political process that offers Israel some gains by deepening the inter-Palestinian split and extending the negotiations over a framework agreement, or a transitional, or a final agreement.
'A book may be judged by its cover,' as the saying goes. It can be judged by the continual focus on the efforts to extend the negotiations. In fact, the negotiations to save and extend the negotiations have been more numerous and intense than the negotiations we witnessed in the period before the latest crisis. This is because Israel, the U.S., and certain Palestinian interest and influence groups have an interest in maintaining the ruse of the so-called 'peace process.' Pulling out of that process would lead to other options, alternatives, and parties, and to Israel's isolation and boycott, reaching the point of imposing sanctions on it.
But even if the negotiations cease, this does not necessarily mean that the 'peace process' will collapse. There will be continued efforts to save them and keep them alive, even if only in the intensive care unit via oxygen tubes and serums. This is exactly what the situation was like in the years that preceded the latest round of talks. There were no public and official negotiations during these years; but there were rounds of secret talks that were more numerous and intensive than the public rounds. But everything remained almost as it was before, especially the Palestinian one-sided commitment to signed agreements, despite the fact that successive Israeli governments have long abandoned those agreements and headed instead towards deepening the occupation, expanding the settlements, cutting up the homeland into separate parts, and imposing their siege [on Gaza].
Of course, it is difficult to maintain the situation in its current state, now that it has become clear to all that the negotiations cannot produce a just or balanced solution, or even a lame compromise – all thanks to Israel's insistence on imposing its preconditions, diktats, and solutions, very clearly rejecting the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with [East] Jerusalem as its capital.
In fact, the establishment of this state is now more distant than before. It requires new strategies and a long struggle that renders the occupation very costly for Israel. However, it appears that the current Palestinian leadership and factions have neither the conviction nor the ability to provide the prerequisites for this option.
The PCC meeting should have been preceded by inviting the Provisional Leadership Framework that includes all parties, to meet, adding new elements that represent youth, women, and the Palestinian Diaspora. This meeting should discuss the means of confronting the challenges and threats to the Palestinian cause in the age of revolutions, novel developments, and changes that the region and the entire world are witnessing, against the background of the Palestinian state's success in securing international recognition – albeit with 'observer' status – after 138 states voted in its favor.
After obtaining this recognition, it simply makes no sense for the Palestinian leadership to behave as it used to before and in a manner that has rendered the decision to recognize the Palestinian state devoid of any value. It makes little sense to think of leaping towards a solution that consists of holding elections which can never be either free or open under occupation and whose repetition only grants the occupation legitimacy and fans the flames of inter-Palestinian competition, at a time when we are in the dire need of what would consolidate and develop the common denominators required for a successful confrontation with a racist colonialist settlement-driven occupation.
After the decision to recognize the Palestinian state, the PA continued as before, an authority without authority, committed to the same political, security, and economic commitments despite the fact that international recognition provided it with an opportunity to adopt a new and different approach based on the following:
- First, the formation of a government for the State of Palestine in which all parties take part based on a ratio that matches previously agreed criteria; and the formation of a temporary Constitutive Assembly that can include members of both the Palestinian Central Council and the Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC], as well as new elements to represent previously unrepresented factions and sectors, until the elections of the Palestinian State parliament are held.
- Second, an announcement that the Oslo commitments would no longer be honored, changing the shape and function of the PA, making it more responsive to the national interest; also calling for negotiations within a continuous international framework on the basis of international law and UN resolutions, leading to the realization of the state that has been recognized together with its borders and capital in the international resolution that recognized the State of Palestine.
"Negotiations will then not be over these borders, but over the means of securing Israel's withdrawal from them, without linking this to anything in particular, especially to ending the conflict, refraining from demanding our rights, or the liquidation of the refugees' cause by denuding the right of return of any substance," concludes Masri.