After talk of handing over the PA's keys to the occupation, and the president's surprising steps, and after speaking of a shocking decision that no one expects, the president has now told us that his speech to the UN will contain a bombshell," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Citizens, observers, and analysts have wondered what it could be. Will he resign? Disband the PA? Cancel the  Oslo Accords? End security coordination? Reconsider the relationship with the occupation?
One of the president's advisors totally excluded the possibility that the PA would be dissolved, while [senior Fateh official] Nabil Sha’ath tried to tone down expectations, noting that the president will cancel some clauses of the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, a prominent official has revealed the speech's content, saying that 'the bombshell that President 'Abbas threatened to detonate will appear in the last point of his speech, after reviewing all the current conditions facing the Palestinian cause and the national project, as well as the occupation's repressive practices in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza.' He added that it would include a declaration of 'the state of Palestine under Israeli occupation,' as result of which the occupation will become 'responsible for the Palestinian state before the international community, placing the burden of governing the territories totally in Israel's hands as an occupying power.'
With these statements, and whether he realized it or not, this official has revealed that the purported bombshell is really a 'dud' or a 'damp squib', because ever since the Palestinian State secured observer status at the UN, the president, his spokesperson and the PLO and the PA's spokespersons have all been repeating that it is under occupation, and that the occupation bears responsibility for it before the international community; but this has not changed nothing on the ground or led anywhere.
Such a declaration would have been effective if it had been accompanied by practical steps, even only gradual, that take the Palestinian territories back to their pre-Oslo status. That would mean that the occupation was responsible for administering the territories in accordance with the four treaties of the Geneva Convention, having to provide municipal, health, education and other services. But such a step is not on the cards because – according to reports in the Israeli daily Haaretz quoting European diplomats who met with him, President Abbas does not intend to abrogate the Oslo Accords in his speech; in fact, he reassured the diplomats that he will not even go so far as to declare an end to security coordination with Israel.
In fact, there is reason to believe that steps of this magnitude are unlikely. For, six months after the PLO Central Committee's decision to end security coordination, its pace has intensified in fact as notable from the manner in which the [Palestinian] protests against the [Israeli] attacks on al-Aqsa have been repressed. Had the president had any plans to end security coordination, he would have behaved differently, because such a step entails confrontation, and confrontation has its requirements and prerequisites that do not seem to be on the cards.
A senior Palestinian official has noted the UN speech will incorporate the Central Committee's decisions, adding that they are not open to debate, since they have been issued by the highest Palestinian legislative body. But such talk is merely intended to catch the international community's attention, nothing more. The real position can be gleaned from what the presidency's spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeineh has said. He lowered expectations by emphasizing that the president would consult with all parties in order to confront them with their responsibilities; that the coming ten days will be decisive; that, if the president were to find any hope no matter how small, of resuming negotiations, he would not squander that opportunity; and that what the president will finally say will be determined in light of all the above.
So the president has threatened to detonate a bombshell to stir the international community, and if that community acts, there would be no need to detonate anything. But if that community does not act, then the president will find himself in a more difficult position, in which case he will either continue to wait and adopt a policy that aims at survival but nothing more, or the temple will collapse on all those inside, and may the deluge sweep everyone in its path.
The truly pressing question is this: What sort of action does the president consider sufficient? Will international supervision of the negotiations by expanding the International Quartet be enough? Or will a UN Security Council resolution based on the French draft proposal be sufficient? But we have to bear in mind that this draft detracts from Palestinian national rights, whereas amending it and addressing its shortcomings would expose it to an American veto, because after the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Obama administration wants to appease Israel and compensate it, not to anger it again. Moreover, Washington wants to maintain its monopoly over sponsorship of the bilateral negotiations, and its opposition to activating the UN role is a matter of principle. Furthermore, if the French draft as it stands is accepted as the terms of reference, this would lower an already low Palestinian ceiling.
The president was – and remains – capable of heading to the UN and announcing that he will invite the PLO's Temporary Leadership Framework – which includes all shades of the political spectrum, including Fateh and Hamas – to an open-ended meeting. This meeting will continue until an agreement is reached on the principles and terms for achieving a genuine national unity on patriotic and democratic bases, leading to a real political partnership that safeguards the PLO as an effective entity recognized internationally and by the Arab world. The meeting will also continue until it ends the [Fateh/Hamas Gaza/West Bank] split and the plurality of authorities, strategies and centers of decision-making. Once that happens, he can speak on behalf of all Palestinians and that would put him in a much stronger position.
The president was – and remains – able to declare that Israel has destroyed the Oslo Accords and has violated its commitments as required a long time ago. He can add that the schemes that Israel is implementing in the Palestinian territories in general, and in Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque in particular, and what it is paving the path for next, go far beyond cancellation of the Oslo Accords. These steps threaten to liquidate the Palestinian cause, and threaten the Palestinians with expulsion and forced displacement; as well as threatening the land with confiscation and Judaization. Therefore, he can add, the Palestinian response will not be confined to calling on the international community to assume its responsibilities, or restrict itself to verbal threats to resign or disband the PA or detonate a ‘bombshell’.
The response will totally alter the rules of the game, with all that that entails as regards pursuing a new and totally different political track from that of Oslo that has brought us to our current plight. This new track should include the following definite steps:
- First, it will give priority to ending the internal split and regaining unity, and strengthening the prerequisites of our steadfastness and presence on Palestine's land based on the conviction that the current phase is not one of reaching a national solution or plucking its fruits, if only on a minimal level. It is a phase when we should preserve what we have, limit the damages and losses we are suffering, and frustrate Israel’s schemes, alternatives and options, with all that this requires in terms of gathering Palestinian, Arab and international cards and means of pressure in our hands, and working gradually to alter the balance of power until it allows for the fulfillment of at least part of our national rights.
- Second, this new track will include a refusal to return to the U.S.-sponsored bilateral negotiations or those in the presence of the false witness that goes by the name of 'International Quartet,' whether in its current form or by expanding it to include Arab or other states. Attempts are apparently underway to resume the negotiations in return for a few merely formal consolation prizes, such as international supervision for the negotiations; European and perhaps American promises of financial and economic aid and efforts to ensure the negotiations' success; the adoption of certain measures but without a total freeze on settlement activities; and a commitment (at most) that if the negotiations were to fail in a year or so, there would be European and American recognition of the Palestinian state.
But judging by past experience, such promises cannot be fulfilled because there is a strong probability that those who have made them will renege on them, or that they will not be honored by the next American or next French president.
All that the international community, the Arab states, and the Palestinian political system are concerned about is to keep matters as they are, reduce the prospects of collapse and prevent an all-out confrontation that seems inevitable if the so-called 'peace process' were to come to an end. What they seek is merely to manage the conflict, not to resolve it, even though all that has been happening since Oslo and up till now is precisely because the conflict is being managed. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ legitimacies, lands, rights, and institutions are eroding, and the Palestinian cause is losing its way.
Returning to negotiations is not a mistake; it is a crime against the cause and the people, unless the following can be ensured:
First, that a UN Security Council resolution is issued that specifies the terms and conditions for a settlement in a manner that ensures that Palestinian rights as specified in international law and UN resolutions are recognized – especially the right to self-determination, including the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
Second, that the negotiations be conducted under the UN’s ongoing sponsorship within the framework of a fully-authorized international conference, with a short time frame that specifies how long they will last. There must also be agreement on a guaranteed Israeli withdrawal and that a fully sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital will be established. And there must be a binding mechanism for implementing these decisions.
Third, the PLO's institutions must be rebuilt and united so as to include the various constituents of the national movement, rendering the PLO the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people wherever they may be, in both word and deed. This requires that the new developments, experiences, and facts be taken into consideration on the basis of a deep and bold review of former experiences, deriving the necessary lessons and morals, and forming a new Palestinian National Council (PNC) with no more than 350 members, as has been agreed.
This new council must have drafting a new national covenant on its agenda; one that preserves the Palestinian narrative and rights, and clarifies our basic principles and aims. A new political program can then be established on the basis of this new covenant, and an agreement should be reached on the terms for a political partnership. The formation of the new PNC can be preceded by inviting the old PNC to meet with the participation of all of the patriotic and Islamist factions.
One of the most important decisions that can be taken is to transfer the PLO's headquarters as well as a number of its other centers, from the occupied territories to a number of Arab countries, especially those that host large numbers of Palestinians. For it makes no sense to keep the PLO under the occupation's mercy.
- Fourth, the PA's shape, tasks, and commitments must be reconsidered in a manner that renders them consistent with international recognition of the Palestinian state and Israel's reneging on its commitments. This must also be done in a manner that restores the PA to its natural size by ensuring that it assumes its place as just one of the PLO's tools and not as the 'daughter that consumed its mother.' And this requires, among other things, that political issues and foreign relations will be referred back to the PLO's Political Department.
"Yes, where there is a will, there is a way," concludes Masri.