“A Brighter Palestinian Future”

The new unity government accepts the demands, waters down the wording and expands on the stipulation.

By Liam Bailey

The new Palestinian Authority (PA) unity government is being hailed as a great thing for Palestinians. I don’t deny it is a step in the right direction but tough decisions, and hopefully negotiations lie ahead. If the right decisions aren’t made by all parties involved it will not improve one thing in the occupied territories. Speaking to Israel’s Haaretz daily, on condition of anonymity one Israeli official said: “The conditions have not been met. This is not something we can live with.” The U.S. State Department reiterated its call that the new government must meet international demands. It is clear from recent U.S. and Israel policies and their reactions to the new accord, that a serious change in Hamas’ overtures will be needed if the unity government is to be treated differently than its predecessor.

The reason for hostility towards Hamas is because their charter calls for the destruction of Israel and despite the international siege since early last year they have continually refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and adhere to previous agreements made between the palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. The unity accord makes no mention of recognizing Israel or the other demand to renounce violence, only stipulating that Hamas will “respect” previous agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Abbas had held out for a commitment to adhere to previous agreements, but Hamas held firm and the wording was watered down.The watered down wording gave weight to the reactions from the U.S and Israel, and the European Union said it would study the new administration “in a positive but cautious manner.” The Quartet, (the EU, Russia and the UN) has been pressuring the U.S for an end to the PA blockade for months. The U.S and Israel have been as stubborn as Hamas.A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Feb. 9 welcomed the new deal between rival Palestinian factions and made a fresh appeal for the lifting of a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian government. It remains to be seen whether the slight concession from Hamas, the first from them since they took power will allow the other Quartet members to sufficiently tighten the thumbscrews on the U.S. to end the blockade.

It is almost certain the Arab states friendly to the Palestinians will make the most of a momentous achievement by the PA and use their leverage as a much needed Middle East ally for the U.S in stabilizing Iraq and ratcheting up the pressure on Iran’s nuclear regime, to secure they can get some badly needed aid back into to PA. However, while an injection of aid from friendly Arab states will alleviate the Palestinian’s plight, not least in allowing them to pay their employees a full salary for the first time since Hamas were elected. This will make things exponentially better for the workforce and the third of Palestinian families they take home the bacon to.

The normalization of relations with Israel and the U.S. is what’s really needed to bring PA life back to the Palestinian reality before Hamas were elected, which still isn’t western life but it is a good jumping off point for a new push for peace from both sides. This would include unfreezing bank’s and accounts and releasing the $800 million dollars of withheld Palestinian tax revenues and an end to the measure. The new unity in the PA gives its parties the chance to attempt normalizing their relationships with each other and the international community. They badly need the international community on their side, or at least not against them if they expect Israel to come to the table with a serious offer for peace.

What is also needed is the serious change in Hamas rhetoric towards Israel I mentioned, preferably in them accepting the three demands of the quartet. I suspect that their “respecting” past agreements will be enough to satisfy the Quartet on that demand, at least until the negotiation stage. The other demands are the hardest for Hamas to accept, and in fact, what the U.S. fails to realize, or, like Israel, doesn’t care about is that Hamas accepting the most crucial demand –Israel’s right to exist– will take away the unity governments credibility in the eyes of its members, and the population at large. Such an acceptance, to Palestinians would mean accepting that Israel had the right to expel Arabs in the 1948 war. Any negotiations would then risk being interrupted or at worst derailed by gunmen and/or armed wing members attacking each other or Israel.

I have a solution. The new unity government accepts the demands and maintains credibility by watering down the wording and expanding on the stipulation. For instance:

We, the PA unity government unconditionally recognize Israel’s existence within the 67 borders, as stipulated by UN Security Council Resolution 242.

The same can be done with the renounce violence demand:

We the PA unity government make a declaration to completely renounce all forms of violence for a period of 6 months to allow preparations to be made for the full reinstatement of aid, unfreezing of accounts and return of withheld revenues in Israel and elsewhere it applies, and fresh negotiations with the starting point that adherence to Security Council Resolution 242 and the formation of a completely independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem according to the borders before the 1967 war, are a guarantee, regardless of the talks outcome.

The ball is then well and truly shifted into Israel and the U.S’ courts. UNSC Resolution 242 calls for the return of the above stated land, which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. There are arguments that Resolution 242 could be backed up with force as it is legally binding under article 25 of the UN charter on the grounds of its incorporation in UN Resolution 338, presented to the UNSC by the U.S and Russia to end the Yom Kippur war. Resolution 338 may well have been backed up with force. The PA government could approach the UN about a reaffirmation of the resolutions demands for the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

There has never been a better time for Palestinians to maintain a peace, because the U.S needs friends like it never did before. The friendly Arab states, the EU, Russia, and the UN Security Council are all necessary allies for cranking up diplomatic pressure on Iran, The U.S also needs its Arab allies in stabilizing Iraq and possibly for airspace and bases in the event of war with Iran. Israel has always said that its main objective is peace and it is willing to give land to achieve it, whereas the Arabs objective is land, Israel expects them to give peace to achieve it. With the Palestinians doing everything that was expected of them, the U.S and Israel’s rhetoric and incessant peace overtures would back-fire on them. There would be no excuses left.

The Palestinians would need to ensure that they resist the Israeli tactics that would undoubtedly ensue, like the West Bank arrest Raids and new settlement in the recent ceasefire. And the most recent “renovations” at Al Aqsa mosque, which led to violence after the unity government deal was reached. The clashes add further difficulty for a new government that will undoubtedly struggle to regain control after the fierce factional fighting of the last few months. These tactics are aimed at drawing the Palestinians into actions that would end Israel’s uncomfortable predicament.

If the PA could keep to its side of the bargain any reluctance by Israel, which there would undoubtedly be, would be overruled by Iran’s nuclear program being firmly number one on the U.S’ agenda. Iran being such a U.S. priority is almost as much Israel’s fault as anyone else’s, vis-a-vis the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s influence in the current U.S administration. This would make it a double backfire when the U.S. applied pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians the talks they and the world community –badly needed allies– would be shouting for.

When talks commence the ball comes back into the Palestinians court on the basis of needing to compromise on other final status issues, such as the right of return. The Palestinians want refugees to return to the very land they were expelled from, after nearly 60 years this is impractical if not impossible for Israel to grant. I read about one Palestinian refugee who, if granted the right of return, would be building his house in the grounds of Jerusalem airport. Not to mention it would risk Israel becoming predominantly Arab, which would in turn further reduce the number of Jews immigrating to Israel under their Law of Return. Two things Israel will never risk.

A suitable compromise may be accepting a limited right of return, whereby refugees could only return on the grounds that they take up land in the now formally and completely independent Palestinian state. Three generations after the Naqba many of the people expelled in the 1948 war of [Israeli] independence are no longer refugees. They or their descendants have made lives for themselves and their families elsewhere in the world and wouldn’t want to return. The Palestinians clinging uncompromisingly to achieving this right in full is an unnecessary obstacle to peace.

The other thing that would undoubtedly be a new sticking point in any such negotiations would be the separation wall Israel has almost completed. When complete it originally would have enclosed the West Bank, Palestinians complained because it is built inside the land that should become the independent Palestinian state. Since it started there have been extensions to the planned route taking even more land the Palestinians feel is rightly theirs. The wall has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. The new pressure on Israel should also be taken advantage of by the Palestinians to achieve the tearing down of the wall, again, simply by maintaining the peace from their side. If they did this, despite Israel’s delaying and provocative tactics, Israel would eventually have to face the inevitable:

No security wall is needed with the PA adhering to its commitments and peacefully waiting for Israel to meet theirs. However reluctantly the U.S supported the PA, with theirs and the rest of the international community’s support for the new, moderate and peaceful unity government, Israel would be left with nowhere to go.

This might prove difficult, the longer Israel delayed meeting its commitments, and, based on previous initiatives that could be years of provocative actions, the more time the Palestinians would have, for one person or small group to revert to the habits of a lifetime. I’d like to hope the Palestinians would give the new unity government the respect they expect from the international community and that it would well and truly deserve for having the courage to compromise for a brighter Palestinian future.

This article has also been published on War Pages on Blogspot


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