Robert Fisk has penned a major story about billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, the wealthiest Palestinian perhaps in the Middle East, who played a key role in bringing together Hamas and Fatah for the unity deal which they signed last month in Egypt. What’s especially interesting about this is that al-Masri provides his gloss on the meaning of the agreement for Israeli-Palestinian relations, and he reveals just how many separate power centers, nations and political-intelligence operatives were consulted to make the deal happen.
When you finish reading this (most of you anyway) will want to tip your hat to a man who pulled off one of the greatest deals of the past decade, at least, in Palestinian politics. He did all this from a base he himself created called the Palestine Forum, a group of distinguished Palestinian independents interested in bridging the gaps between the two warring parties. The Forum worked intensively and diligently for four years to bring this about. Partially through its own creativity and perseverance, partially through the parties coming to realize that an agreement lay in their own interest, and perhaps most important of all due to the propitious events of the Arab Spring which worked in their favor–they created a Palestinian political miracle.
The following is part of the conversation with Khaled Meshal that preceded the final acceptance of the agreement:
We told him the government has to be of national unity — on the agreement that we would be able to carry out elections and lift the embargo on Gaza and reconstruct Gaza, that we have to abide by international law, by the UN Charter and UN resolutions…He agreed that resistance must only be ‘in the national interest of the country’ – it would have to be ‘aqlaqi’ – ethical. There would be no more rocket attacks on civilians. In other words, no more rocket attacks from Gaza.”…Hamas agreed on the 1967 border, effectively acknowledging Israel’s existence, and to the reference to the ‘resistance.’
Then al-Masri summarizes his own understanding of the agreement, and the reason why it finessed the question of Hamas participation in a government by appointing a transitional one that would not include Fatah or Hamas affiliated members:
If Hamas was in the government, it would have to recognise the State of Israel. But if they were not, they would not recognise anything. “It’s not fair to say ‘Hamas must do the following’, Masri says…”As long as they are not in the Palestinian government, Hamas are just a political party and can say anything they want. So America should be prepared to see Hamas agreeing on the formation of the government. That government will abide by UN resolutions – and international law. It’s got to be mutual. Both sides realised they might miss the boat of the Arab spring. It wasn’t me who did this – it was a compilation of many efforts. If it was not for Egypt and the willingness of the two Palestinian groups, this would not have happened.” In the aftermath of the agreement, Hamas and Abbas’ loyalists agreed to stop arresting members of each side.
…1967 borders means that Hamas is accepting Israel and the ‘resistance’ initiative means an end to Gaza rockets on Israel. International law and UN resolutions mean peace can be completed and a Palestinian state brought into being.
Ben Caspit has written his own Hebrew version of this article, which includes a searing interview with the Palestine businessman and supporter of the Palestinian national movement. I find this interesting, because Caspit is a generally a supporter of Israel’s far right. It’s hard for me to understand Caspit’s interest in profiling the Fatah-Hamas unity deal in a positive light given the Israeli government’s absolutely allergic reaction to it. But hey, perhaps Caspit’s changing his tune politically or his intelligence sources are finding more to like in the deal than we realize. Whatever the reason, it is a positive development that Caspit is conveying to his readers the thoughts of a major Palestinian figure who explains that Hamas, while not necessarily Israel’s friend, is not the demon it’s made out to be by Bibi & Co. This is an important message for Israelis to here.
But al-Masri was not kind or diplomatic in his words. When Caspi asked why Israelis should believe there can be peace with Palestinians when they had just entered into an agreement with a movement sworn to destroy Israel, al-Masri replied:
This is foolishness. You disappoint me every time anew. You’re simply unwilling to listen to the other side, only to yourselves. You go to Washington and persuade members of Congress, make a big show of it, instead of quieting down and listening. If you really listened to Khaled Meshal’s speech at the reconciliation ceremony in Egypt you would’ve heard three fundamental principles. These are the three principles which we worked on with Hamas and for which we achieved recognition.
Hamas agreed to the 67 lines as a basis for a settlement. It gave Abu Mazen the credit [if he succeeds] and opportunity to continue the peace process. And Hamas agreed that resistance could only happen in a national context [as part of a process worked out among the parties]. No longer would every armed group carry out its own military attacks.
These are three enormous achievements. Similarly, they agreed to stop rocket fire from Gaza. So tell me, what’s so bad about this for starters? Why do you have to respond in a panic as you have done?
Hasn’t the time come for you to understand what Palestinians want? They want something simple. The 22% of the territory of Palestine about which we’ve agreed to compromise [67 borders]. What was agreed in Oslo. Our share of Jerusalem [East Jerusalem]. The creation of two states in harmony and friendship. Palestinians want to end the Occupation. Believe me that I’m realistic and know what I’m talking about. This isn’t propaganda. These are facts.
You talk about peace. But you don’t really want peace. Look, almost every one of your senior intelligence officials when the leave their positions all of a sudden become men of peace. I ask myself: why doesn’t this happen when they’re still serving? And what happens to them when they come into government [that they oppose peace]?
Caspit continues with a bit of sophistry in questioning al-Masri, claiming that Israelis have learned to believe Arabs when they say the “unpleasant things” they do against Israel, and that these words are not a basis of negotiation but of continuing war. To which the Palestinian replies:
Not true. You see what’s convenient for you to see. You tell me what’s wrong with the Palestinian people uniting in one leadership? It’s good for us and good for you and good for the peace process. How can it be since the split between Hamas and Fatah, that you can claim it’s impossible to negotiate with Palestinians since you don’t know who you should be talking with, and suddenly when we do unite you say [to Fatah]: “It’s either them or us.”
You have a lot of nerve. We united in order to show that there was a real Palestinian partner, that there is a real chance for peace. And after we achieve such monumental things, you respond by disseminating such twisted facts.
…You simply cannot create a Palestinian state without such a unity deal. So we united. And what do you do? Shut the door instead of pouncing on the opportunity.
Among the other interesting things revealed in Caspit’s story is that al-Masri’s grandson, who was named after him, was severely wounded by an IDF bullet in the Nakba Day protests along the border with Southern Lebanon. He dropped everything and flew to Beirut to sit by his bedside. Though he’d lost many friends to the Intifada and other military operations, the injury to his grandson was especially hard because the latter represented to him the future. The boy had been 15-20 meters inside Lebanese territory when he took a sniper’s bullet in the back. He lost a kidney and his spleen, his spinal cord is severed. He lost a great deal of blood. He took a dum-dum bullet which caused grave damage.
Caspit is so tone-deaf that he asks al-Masri why a boy who has everything in life including great wealth would take part in an assault on the Israeli fence. To which the long-time supporter of the Palestinian national resistance replies:
Because he is a member of a generation which does not forget. Golda and Ben Gurion, your leaders, said that the old would die and the young forget and so the problem of the refugees would be solved. But the young haven’t forgotten. He’s already the third generation. And he still wants to return to his homeland. He still dreams about it. You don’t understand this. You think that if you refuse to acknowledge it, it will go away. But it won’t. It’s a problem that must be solved.
Caspit asks, again cluelessly, whether the boy regrets what he did. To which the grandfather says:
No, he plans to return along with his friends. They will not give up.
…You cannot force people to give up their aspirations to return to their homes. It’s a natural wish. You also cannot dodge the moral and human problem resulting from the creation of the State of Israel and its decision to come [to this region]. The only way to solve this is the sit down and talk. The 2002 Arab peace initiative is a good basis to start. But to my sadness, you Israelis are boors. You don’t want to hear about such things. You only want to think your distorted thoughts which aren’t based on real recognition of us, but rather on narrow-mindedness, boorishness and prejudice.
What are you afraid of? The Arab Initiative says the refugee problem has to be resolved in a way that is just and mutually agreed. That means that you will have to agree to the solution as well [or it won’t work]. But Bibi first must recognize that there is a problem. And he must say to himself: it was caused because of our actions. And we have a moral and national obligation [to solve it]. First admit that you have a problem, and then we can talk about solving it with the help of all the nations, even the Arab world, all of us together…
I am sure that we can come up with a solution acceptable to the refugess and to you. But it’s necessary to be creative and flexible. It is possible. Why not try?
Caspit, again naïvely, asks why then the Palestinians won’t return to the negotiating table when Bibi has called upon them to do so many times. Al-Masri responds:
Bibi first tells us “No.” Count the number of rejections in his Washington speech: No to 67 borders, no to Jerusalem, no to refugees. No, no, no. You want to talk and in the meantime you continue to build. Since Rabin’s murder do you know how many houses you built in the Territories and in Jerusalem? And you want us to sit back and clap our hands? It’s not fair. You are pigs. You want to swallow everything, eat the entire cake, and then you want peace as well. You have quite a healthy appetite. You on the one hand want peace and on the other want to continue what you’ve been doing.
…If you don’t stop, you’ll turn into South Africa. It will go in the direction of a single state. You’ll regret you didn’t accept Nelson Mandela. You’ll long for a two state solution. Why don’t you see this?
When the Maariv reporter asks whether al-Masri doesn’t think Israel has a right to fear the consequences of paying the price for peace given its history, the Palestinian says:
No, you have a Shoah mentality. Leave the ghetto. God Almighty, enough already. You talk about the price of peace? What about us? We’ve lost the right to 78% of our lands. Most of our people live as refugees in other lands. And you want to talk about the price YOU pay?
The entire interview is worth reading. I’ve translated most of it, but the man is so smart, so sensible and Caspit is so damn, well you heard the man, boorish. It’s a perfect exemplar of the mess we face. But at least you’ll read the ideas of a Palestinian who see clearly and is far-sighted. Would that there was an Israeli leader who saw as clearly.
Caspit also notes that al-Masri may be a candidate for a major position in the transitional government since he is not affiliated with either side directly and so would be eligible for participation. At the age of 75, he may be willing to answer the call of his people to broker and ensure the success of this unity deal.