THE MAIN ISSUE
THE MAIN ISSUE: “In this article, I will focus on what prevents the agreed Temporary Leadership Framework (TLF) from convening,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
I will thus ignore important issues, such as the existence of interest groups that have invested in the inter-Palestinian split, have grown in influence and wealth during it, and want it to continue. These groups exist inside and outside the PA and the various factions.
I will also ignore issues such as the fact that the president [Abbas] wants reconciliation on his own terms that would insure his exclusive and sole leadership; that each of Fateh and Hamas wants a reconciliation that eliminates the other, thereby guaranteeing their sole control of decision-making and positions of influence; and the roles of foreign parties, especially Israel.
Any genuine national unity first requires reconstruction and reform of the PLO’s institutions in a manner that is consistent with the new realities, makes use of the acquired expertise, and ensures the participation of the various shades of the political and social spectrum, including the Diaspora, women, and the youth.
The starting point is the PLO. It is the supreme political point of reference, the sole legitimate representative, and the legitimacy that is recognized as such at the Palestinian, Arab, and international levels. Moreover, Israel’s ability to influence it and its decisions is less than its ability to influence the PA. This is especially true if – as it is supposed to do – decides to base some of its leaders and its institutions inside the homeland, and others outside, provided that an important part of them are located in Gaza, since the occupation there assumes the form of siege, aggression, and incursions, which is different from the direct occupation of the West Bank.
And the starting point in the PLO lies in the activation of the TLF as called for by the Cairo [Fateh/Hamas] Agreement. That agreement states that the ‘PLO’s committees’ should be activated as a temporary leadership framework whose decisions cannot be suspended, provided that this does not encroach on the PLO’s Executive Committee’s powers, until the Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections are held.
The TLF has only convened two or three times since and at long intervals from each other, and without assuming any of its agreed-upon powers. This is despite the fact the agreement states that it should convene within five weeks of signing the  ‘Shati’ Declaration.’ So what has obstructed the TLF from convening despite that the Palestinian ‘consensus’ calls for this, and even though it would have provided the all-inclusive national institution that could organize a comprehensive national dialogue and assume responsibility for reaching decisions regarding on all the Palestinian people’s affairs?
People close to the president say that he sent a message to Egypt after the Shati’ Declaration was issued. In that message, he asked for a TLF meeting; but he did not receive a written response. The response came, it said that Cairo welcomes a TLF meeting, but without Khaled Mish’al’s participation because of the enmity between him and the Egyptian leadership. And that meant that the meeting could not be held because Hamas would not attend without its Politburo head; nor would it be possible to hold the meeting in Gaza because this would require Hamas’s Qatar-based leadership to come to Gaza via Egypt.
In light of all this, there were proposals to hold the TFL meetings in Kuwait when the latter headed the Arab summit; or at the Arab League since it is supposed to be the Arabs’ ‘home’; or in Amman because this is where the PNC is located; or in Algeria because it has good relations with all parties.
But the weak point of all of these proposals is that they have dealt with the issue of the TLF meeting as if it were a technical matter stemming from the inability to find a venue, not as a political problem having to do with numerous issues without a solution for which the hoped-for result cannot be achieved.
- The first issue obstructing a TFL meeting – and it is one of the issues preventing the president from seriously trying to convene it – has to do with the extent to which he may be ready to suffer the consequences of Hamas and Islamic Jihad joining the PLO, since that might lead to the withdrawal of American, Israeli, and perhaps even European and international, recognition of the PLO.
In fact, other sanctions may be imposed on the PLO since there is an international position demanding that Hamas and Islamic Jihad should accept the International Quartet’s terms before taking part in a national unity government, or joining the PLO. The 2009 Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo was foiled as a result of the two organizations’ refusal to accept the Quartet’s preconditions, and the national unity government formed after the 2007 Mecca Agreement was boycotted for the same reason.
Yet there is a view worth considering here that claims that conditions are different from what they were during the 2007-2009. This is because the illusions of that time regarding the possibility of resuming bilateral [Israeli-Palestinian] negotiations and reaching an agreement no longer exist. At the time, inter-Palestinian reconciliation was viewed as a factor that could help to launch the peace process, undermining the pretext used by the Israeli government after the split, namely, that there is no Palestinian partner since President Abu Mazin no longer represents all the Palestinians and his PA no longer rules Gaza.
Now, and after the results of the Israeli elections, there are no illusions left about resuming bilateral negotiations. The European and international position is less intransigent towards Hamas and Islamic Jihad joining the PLO. However, new illusions have emerged regarding the possibility of imposing an international solution on both sides via negotiations to be held as part of an international conference and setting a timeframe for ending the occupation.
This gives the Palestinian leadership a margin of manoeuvre during which it may contribute to these efforts but it would be obstructed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad joining the PLO without agreeing to the Quartet’s unfair preconditions that are prejudicial to the Palestinian people’s rights.
One attempt to resolve this problem suggests distinguishing between Hamas and Islamic Jihad joining the TFL, and joining the PLO. In other words, attending TFL meetings does not mean immediately joining the PLO; moreover, the PLO Executive Committee will remain the final and legitimate decision-maker until PNC elections are held and the new institutions are formed. So the TFL can meet and reach an accord on issues that do not become effective until the PLO Executive Committee endorses them.
But will Washington and Tel Aviv accept this formula? And will Palestinian decisions remain hostage to their acceptance? Or is it time to adopt a new approach that steers clear of mistaken wagers?
Whether this formula is sufficient or not and it can be a temporary way out, it is no substitute for an agreement over a comprehensive package that includes agreement over a political program for the PA/Palestinian-State that safeguards national rights, is based on international law and UN resolutions, and respects signed agreements if the Israeli government respects them as well, but without abiding by the Quartet’s preconditions.
Anyway, we ought to bear in mind that successive Israeli governments have totally bypassed these agreements, at least since Yitzhak Rabin’s  assassination up till now. Nothing remains of them except the Palestinians’ commitments.
- The second issue has to do with Egypt’s opposition to convening a TFL meeting in light of the continuing enmity between Egypt and Hamas. It would be futile to belittle this problem or to try to be ‘clever’ and seek another venue for the meeting. This is because Abu Mazin [Abbas] will not risk angering Egypt, which is the sponsor of the reconciliation agreement and has huge weight and an important role in Palestinian affairs in light of its geographic location.
The appropriate way out lies in finding a solution for the Egyptian/Hamas enmity by creating sufficient distance between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is at loggerheads with the Egyptian regime. The idea is that Hamas is part of the Palestinian national movement and, given the justice of the Palestinian cause and its need and ability to secure the backing of all Arab parties no matter how intense the disagreements between them, this requires that no Palestinian party should intervene in internal Arab affairs.
The Palestinians should recognize the current presidents and rulers whether or not these are chosen by their respective peoples. In return, the Arab states should not intervene in internal Palestinian affairs. This should go in tandem with the Palestinian people, their leadership, and various forces’ concern to defend the right to self-determination, development, justice, democracy, and respect for human rights and basic human freedoms.
In this regard, this policy of steering clear that the PLO is pursuing in Egypt’s case applies to the events of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya as well. It is no use for the PLO’s leadership to be all in favor of neutrality in Syria but to side together with Hamas with Operation Decisive Storm and Yemeni ‘legitimacy.’
- The third issue obstructing the TFL meeting is that Fateh believes that the PLO – the Palestinian people’s most important historical achievement under its leadership – is the last united institution led by Fateh without any serious competitor. It is unlikely that Fateh will allow its main competitor, Hamas, to join the PLO at the time when the latter is in control of the Gaza Strip and on occasions that are not so rare makes no secret of its intention to control the PA and the PLO’s means of decision and leadership.
Therefore, if we wish to convince Fateh to open the PLO’s gates to Hamas, and if we wish to convince Hamas to relinquish its control of Gaza, this must be within the framework of a new vision and an agreement that includes the ‘bases of the supreme national interest’ (the National Covenant) a national program, and the bases of partnership.
It must ensure the participation of all shades of the political spectrum within the context of implementing an accord-based democracy that matches the special character of the Palestinian situation, based on the realization that Palestine is in the phase of national liberation and that priority belongs to ending the occupation and defeating the settler colonial project.
What we may conclude from the above is that an agreement to convene the TFL is impossible. In other words, it would be impossible to agree on one thing without agreeing on everything. This is because all the issues and problems are connected to each other.
“But it is possible, and it must be the case, that an agreement must include numerous issues as a single package, based on the understanding that their implementation will be in phases and an agreed timetable,” concludes Masri.