As Hamas continues its search for international legitimacy, and Abbas attempts to promote himself as an acceptable partner for negotiations with Israel, I note two things that are troubling.
One is the Hamas relationship with Russia. Hamas strongman Khalid Mashaal was in Russia this week, and was received all too graciously. In fact, Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister, announced that he would appeal to the international community to make the Middle East peace process "irreversible" and to "end the blockade." I know, the US has not caved, nor has the EU. Not yet, at any rate. But cracks in the wall erected around Hamas can widen and the Russian position is lamentable.
More troubling is a bit of very fancy footwork that Abbas is doing in order to gain that sought-after legitimacy as negotiator. For once he is widely accepted as being in the position to do negotiations, international pressure on Israel will increase.
There is, first, his attempt to say that the unity government may be able to recognize Israel even if Hamas doesn’t. In a press conference held in Cairo, he said, "The groups or organizations that are sharing in the Palestinian government don’t have to abide by the government’s stance. The government is a coalition of several different groups, therefore, the ministers participating in the government must abide by its stance but the parties they belong to do not."
This strikes me as unmitigated nonsense. Abbas may now be talking about "power sharing," but Hamas is the strongest element in the coalition. And Hamas leaders have rushed to remind everyone they don’t and will not recognize Israel. (I’ve read that there have been appeals to Hamas people to keep their position to themselves, so as to not jeopardize the promotion of this illusion.)
The more serious element of what Abbas is trying to sell is this: There is a claim now being made that Abbas is empowered to negotiate with Israel as the head of the PLO — the proper agency for doing the negotiations, and thus the position of Hamas within the unity government is irrelevant.
The problem is that he has a point of sorts. Bear with me, please, as I negotiate this maze:
The Palestinian Liberation Organization is self-defined and widely recognized internationally as the organization representing the Palestinian people. It was the PLO that negotiated the Oslo Accords with Israel. And it was the Oslo Accords that put into place a transitional quasi-governmental administrative entity known as the Palestinian Authority. (Since "final status" for the interim PA was supposed to be achieved — via negotiations — by 1999 and this has not happened, it’s a bit unclear as to what legal nether-netherland it occupies now.) At any rate, the focus shifted, so that for years, Israel’s interaction and negotiations, such as they’ve been, have been done with the PA rather than the PLO. Of course in a way this has been slightly unclear, because the same people held positions in the PA and the PLO — first Arafat headed both, and now Abbas does.
Now Abbas says that we can all just disregard the PA unity gov’t, which might not recognize Israel or agree to abide by past agreements. He says the agreement in Mecca gives him the right to negotiate via the PLO, leaving Hamas out of it.
Does this make sense? Not necessarily. For then we have to ask what he will negotiate in terms of a state and who will have power in that state. Would Hamas be required to relinquish power if what had been an administrative entity becomes a state? Not likely that Hamas would sit still for this. But Hamas would not abide by what Abbas agreed to as head of PLO in terms of such matters as recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
It’s all a breathtaking bit of game-playing. It boils down to Hamas saying to Abbas, look if you can finagle a way to negotiate a state without our having to sign on to conditions, go ahead and do it — we will continue to make our position clear but will not object to what you do. A ridiculously schizoid situation involving enormous amounts of make-believe.
As I see it, the only thing that matters is the willingness of the international community to play the game. If they are looking for a way to legitimize Abbas and promote negotiations, they might agree to this hook. It might provide a way out.
The truth? The entire Oslo exercise, with its formation of the PA, has been a farce to which the international community acquiesced. For the Declaration of Principles (the first stage of Oslo) may have been signed (actually by Abbas, as Arafat’s deputy) to much hoopla on the White House lawn. But Arafat never secured the proper ratification within the PLO — not in full session of the National Council nor in executive committee; in fact, neither did Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO, provide official approval. Yet the world moved blithely on as if he had.
I am assuming at this point that Hamas, as long as it is not required to sign on to conditions, would be quite content to see Abbas negotiate a state in Judea-Samaria and Gaza, for this would weaken Israel and make it easier for Hamas to then attack again in its own good time.
Just yesterday Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab waxed eloquent in The Jerusalem Post about the fact that Islamic leaders have agreed to a long-term hudna if a Palestinian state is established. But in mentioning this Kuttab tips their hand. A hudna is neither a cease-fire nor an agreement to cessation of hostilities. It is a temporary quiet that provides an opportunity for strengthening in order to hit the enemy again.
And that, my friends, is what this is all about.
This posting can be found at: https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/2/26/posted-february-26-2007.html