A new announcement by Hamas and PLO is in offing according to highly placed sources in Middle East.
Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central Fatah faction, and 11 other Palestinian groups weighed a draft document that could spell a cessation of terror attacks in Israeli cities.
Hamas and Fatah might find common ground in reversing what he called a slide in the furtherance of the cause of eventual Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian senior leadership believes that after years of terror attacks the Palestinians are losing across a very broad front, they are on the threshold of de-legitimization by the United States, the gravest of matters. More importantly the Palestinian leadership has finally realised that the blood of martyrs can no longer make up for lost aspirations, false glory and tactical blunders.
The draft document coincided with an unprecedented internal criticism within Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. In recent days, ranking Palestinian officials have begun speaking out against the institution of the Authority itself. West Bank and Gaza natives like Fatah lawmaker Fares Kadura have proposed dismantling the PA altogether, arguing that Arafat’s current leadership line-up – which led the PLO from the Palestinian diaspora until signing peace deals with Israel in 1993-4 – placed self-perpetuation over the plight of their hard-hit constituents. The calls for breaking up the PA came from quarters as high profile as Hanan Ashrawi, long a prominent spokeswoman for the Authority.
The united front of the Palestinians can not be maintained under the present conditions and this peace offering is also inspired by the fact that more political & civic Palestinian organisations under realists might turn to collaboration with Israel and form peace agreements on their own. Indeed the central fear of the Palestinian authority has been the loss of a viable Palestinian state if Palestinian regions (such as Gaza) and rival enclaves come to form independent agreements with Israel.
Nevertheless such a complete cessation is predicated if Hamas, the powerful Islamic organisation responsible behind many suicide bombings, were to consent to such an understanding and it is expected to give its answer in a couple of days. If there is assent then “I believe we are speaking of a total halt to attacks on civilians within the state of Israel,” said Arab MK and ex-senior Arafat advisor Ahmed Tibi.
Asked when Hamas might signal its agreement to the document, Tibi told Army Radio: “They are closer than they have ever been in the past.” He said that Hamas had helped word the document, “and I believe it is a matter of days until they will give their answer regarding the substance.”
The draft document includes a clause endorsing Palestinian independence within the 1967 borders, an apparent departure for Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and is explicitly dedicated to an Islamic Palestine encompassing the borders of present-day Israel as well as the territories.
A senior Hamas official indicated that Hamas would reserve the right to continue to argue for a Palestinian state on all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Hamas appreciates that if it wishes to be a political presence in any future Palestine it will have to avoid decimating its own constituency and help bring about Palestine, albeit an incomplete one, by ceasing its efforts to pursue a vain dream to destroy Israel.
Nonetheless, Tibi said, “The fact that Hamas is meeting in a kind of modus vivendi with the Fatah organization over establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the 1967 borders, is an important point. Tibi added that the agreement constituted “important progress” despite the implication that attacks would continue in the West Bank and Gaza.
Alluding to previous cease-fire discussions that ended when Hamas military chief Salah Shehadeh was killed in an July IAF bombing that killed 11 children and a number of adult civilians, Tibi said he hoped that until Hamas was ready to sign the current accord “no F-16 airplane will kill any Palestinian leader.” Tibi said the assassination “cut off a historic move.”
Hamas’ ultimate fear is its leadership and its cadres will be perishing in further Israeli attacks thereby eradicating its considerable power base and presence in the West Bank. Rival organisations will replace it and when a Palestinian state does arise Hamas will not have an active presence.
A new game theory has arisen in the Palestinian territories and is one, which involves the Palestinian terrorist organisations. These organisations are battling Israel for a “just” cause, and all wish to have a viable political future in a future Palestinian state. If they are too prominent they could risk Israeli incursions and eventual decimation by Israeli security forces nevertheless if they aren’t shown to be battling the cause of Palestine then they risk alienating the population. They have been quite active until recently nevertheless with the recent assassinations of Hamas’s leader, a more cautious approach has been adopted and no organisation is willing to singularly face Israel’s wrath. What pundits predicted to be an exponential spiral of death in the Middle East is now being replaced by a deflationary cooling with the power play in the West Bank serving as a measure to prudence.
Irony abounds in such a conflict with the Palestinians, who were thought to be able to sacrifice everything now signifying their assent to a lasting peace because of rival power struggles.
Having a hardline image of its own to maintain, even if hardline Hamas decides to join the effort to quell attacks, it may well refrain from any public acknowledgement of having done so. There is very wide Palestinian public support for terror attacks within Israel, and Hamas, which enjoys the massive backing of the majority of the public, will not want to commit itself. In order to avoid the appearance of having capitulated to Israel, ‘”Perhaps Hamas will stop the attacks in practice, but it is almost 100 percent sure that it will make no official announcement to that effect.”
The continuing Palestinian loss of faith in the peace process was reflected in a public opinion poll conducted by the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University showed that support for peace talks with Israel had sharply declined over the last six months – from 70 to 55 percent. Hopes for a diplomatic solution have also dimmed markedly on the Israeli side. There is a lack of hope & trust but the Palestinians have realised to continue under the present status quo will only result in further marginalisation and victimisation. That realisation alone will bring about the path to peace.
An Israeli prime minister with a peace plan could still marshal broad public support behind a diplomatic offensive. A majority in Israel still exists for re-opening negotiations with the Palestinians. Also, once a leader here stands behind such an initiative, all of a sudden it can garner support from a number of sources, among them the frustration of the Israeli public and the fact that Israelis basically want to live in peace, just as, basically, Palestinians want to live in peace.
Sharon-led military offensives had definitely weakened the Palestinian leadership. If one of the outcomes is that Fatah as well as Hamas are ready to negotiate, that could constitute an achievement, providing – and this is a big caveat – that Sharon did this with the sincere intention of using this momentum in order to enter negotiations.”
No evidence has yet been seen to suggest that Sharon would bend to pick up a truce gauntlet, were it to be thrown. The last time around, when was serious news that such talks were going on and more were underway, he bombed Shehadeh. Many believe that the timing of the attack on Shehadeh – which had been called off eight times previously – had to do with news of an impending agreement over a cessation of terror strikes. Another leader might have used the opportunity either sincerely to sit down and discuss an opening, or to call their bluff. He didn’t do either.
Moreover, as the Israeli political climate heats up and elections loom, Sharon believes that this is not a good time – if there is such a thing – to make a move that might lead to wider negotiations, which could eventually necessitate far-reaching concessions on Israel’s part. He doesn’t want to step into the electoral arena with what he thinks many would see as selling out, as a blot, a stain on his record.
The failure to initiate diplomacy or to take advantage of a string of opportunities if the draft document which could spell a cessation of terror attacks in Israeli cities is signed by Hamas, will appear to be meeting of a major stringent conditions for a return to a peace process set by Sharon, and unfortunately if it is rejected, it is going to continue to be Sharon’s major fault as a leader. First time by calling Sharon’s bluff may be the Palestinians will help the political demise of Sharon in the Jan elections. Sharon dangled the possibility of early elections – as soon as January, nearly a year in advance of a scheduled poll. The Palestinians can test Sharon and his particular political vulnerability at this point.
The Palestinian decision and the future interaction, which is expected in few days could start series of serious discussions that may result in cooling down of Middle East hottest spot.
For the Palestinians such a step may be a right step will take the heat of their leadership and once again make some inroads on diplomatic front, the de-legimitization of the struggle is a threat that the Palestinians are actively preventing.
The writer is in Paris, France.