Some major developments on the Palestinian side of the Mideast conflict. Mahmoud Abbas, in a move that has managed to shock both Hamas, Israel and the U.S., called on Hamas to accept the Hadarim peace proposal formulated largely by Marwan Barghouti and his fellow prisoners in Israeli jails (including many Hamas prisoners). The Hadarim proposal in turn is closely modeled on the 2002 Saudi/Arab League peace initiative which Israel never seriously entertained at the time. It calls for Israel to return to 1967 borders in return for full recognition of it by all Arab states. It also calls for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.”
Palestinians have just begun ten days of national dialogue about their strategy to achieve their national aspirations. In one fell swoop, Abbas has turned the tables on Hamas in this dialogue. Now, instead of being co-equals in the process, Abbas has essentially taken the initiative, determined the agenda, and almost guaranteed the political outcome. I’ve got to say–I never thought he had it in him. But now I say–more power to him.
If, after the ten days of discussion end Hamas is not prepared to endorse Hadarim, the Abbas will put the referendum before the people. All Palestinian public opinion polls show overwhelming support for Hadarim’s main principles. In addition, Palestinian prisoners are held in especially high esteem within Palestinian society. In fact, they’re virtually the only constituency within that society which is admired and respected by all. For Hamas to consider campaigning against their proposal in a referendum would be both a lost cause and foolhardy politically.
That doesn’t mean that Hamas won’t rant and rave about it as PA prime minister minister Haniyeh did:
We will not make political concessions,” Haniyeh told worshipers at a Gaza mosque in response to Abbas’s surprise ultimatum for the militant group to back the proposal for Palestinian statehood or face a referendum on the issue.
“Even if they besiege us from all directions, they should not dream that we will make any political concessions,” added Haniyeh.
What is brilliant in Abbas’ move is that it forces Hamas to do precisely what Haniyeh says the group will never do. It is simply unfeasible for it to stop this process. If they refuse to agree to Hadarim than Abbas will stage the referendum and he will win. Then Hamas will have no choice to acquiesce in what the Palestinian people have decided for them.
Just as important as outfoxing Hamas, the referendum puts Israel on the defensive. Olmert has banked on Hamas’ continued intransigence to allow him to tell the world that he has no partner willing to accept Israel’s existence and renounce terror. In one stroke, a yes vote by Palestinians will remove all this political detritus from the path. In effect, Abbas will be presenting a Palestinian society which HAS accepted precisely those conditions which Olmert has laid down in return for peace negotiations. Then, of course, it will be on Israel to come up with a new excuse why it simply cannot negotiate with such people. One can only guess what the new political charade/stratagem will involve.
The only problem for Israel will be that the entire international community (likely including the U.S.) will tell it that the jig is up and it’s time to get down to brass tacks and talk seriously about what peace will look like for both sides. By then, Olmert’s “wiggle room” will have been seriously reduced. He may be hardpressed to get out of Israel’s ultimate responsibility to help resolve a conflict which it helped start and perpetuate over many decades.
A Jerusalem Post interview with the Arab League’s Amr Moussa delineates Israel’s current objections to the 2002 proposal:
“We have two main problems with it,” a Foreign Ministry official said this week. “One, it contradicts the road map by predetermining that the borders between Israel and the Palestinians will be based on ’67. The road map says let’s sit together and agree together upon the borders.”
Isn’t it interesting how Israel trots out the Road Map when it’s convenient and otherwise tells its citizens and the rest of the world that the Road Map is “dead.” But further, there is nothing in the Road Map that prevents both parties agreeing on the ’67 borders; or on different borders entirely. The only thing that is necessary is mutual acceptance of whatever is proposed. The one thing not in the cards is unilateralism, which is precisely Olmert’s plan.
In his response, Moussa affirms the flexibility of the Arab League document in this reaction to the Foreign Ministry statement:
Not so, said Moussa. Everything, including the ’67 borders, he said, “is subject to the negotiations that will take place between the two parties.”
“What we are offering in the Arab initiative is two states,” Moussa said. “An Israeli state with the Jewish people living there and a Palestinian state, dividing the land of Palestine along the lines of 4 June 1967… If there are changes in the borders, or around the borders, they have to be astride the borders. You take this, I take that. Just to adjust.”
Everything must be negotiated, he said, “in order to reach a solution that if this piece of land is to be given to Israel… the Palestinians should be compensated with another piece of land.”
Israel also objects to the Right of Return called for in the Arab League/Hadarim proposal, fearing that it would flood the country with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians returning to reclaim their native homes. But Moussa retorts that this issue too is negotiable:
Moussa said that the issues of refugees was also subject to negotiations…
“How many will return, how many will return to the Palestinian state, how many will return to the Israeli state, how many will be compensated, how many are ready to return to either state or a third state… It can take its time,” he said. “They can agree on the time frame of such negotiations. But meanwhile, withdrawal can take place, a Jerusalem solution can be reached, certain security arrangements for a certain period of time can be agreed, then we move on.”
No doubt, Israel will also object to the Hadarim document because it does not fully renounce the use of force to fight the Occupation. Here’s how the NY Times characterizes this portion of it:
The Palestinian prisoners’ plan says that resistance to Israeli occupation, while “a Palestinian right,” should be “limited only to land occupied by Israel since 1967.” That effectively endorses attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, where Israeli soldiers and settlers are present, but not inside the borders Israel had before the 1967 war.
As Robert Rosenberg writes in Ariga.com, there is much that could go wrong with Abbas’ initiative: Israel could put the kibosh on it. The international community could continue its attempt to pummel Palestinians into submission through economic boycott and so undermine the peace effort. God knows, George Bush could bomb Iran or some other idiocy could occur–after all this is the Mideast. But the key point is that this could be a turning point that gets us closer to final status negotiations happening in months rather than years or even decades. But I certainly get ahead of myself in my optimism and should tie my tether much closer to the ground of political reality which is still fluid and terribly unstable.