Conversation peace

star-blowing-abbasWho’s that we are NOT talking to?

Two events happened this week that may or may not be very significant. Mahmoud (Abbas) threatened to leave the dollhouse, take his toys and go home and then decided that he and Ismail (Haniyah) are best friends, after all. Memories!

Closing shop?

As many commentators I ridiculed the announcement that if Israel didn’t fulfil three new(ish) conditions the Palestinian Authority would be dissolved. The conditions are that Israel releases the prisoners, agrees to spend the next three months focusing on drawing the new boundaries between Israel and the future Palestinian state, and freezes all settlement construction outside its 1967 boundaries in the meantime. In return Abbas will continue talking to the Americans for another three months.

Like Bayit Yehudi leader and Economics Minister, Naphtali Bennett my response was to say if you want to go, then go. I think I would have phrased it differently though. Perhaps something on the lines of, Don’t let the door hit you on the bum when you leave. Bennett’s, If you’re going to shoot, then shoot, don’t talk was a wonderful film reference but I don’t think Abbas watches too many spaghetti Westerns. Given the P.A’s support of and cheerleading for terrorists we should be careful what we wish for.

By Bennett’s count the Palestinian ‘leader’ has recycled the dissolution threat seven times. In addition by some accounts, he has threatened to resign at least 15 times since 2003. Maybe more, the count was made in September 2012. It should be a moot point given that he is five years past technical end of his four-year term of office.

State of Palestine logoThen it was pointed out that the Palestine Authority already no longer exists. Abbas is threatening to do what he has already done.

In January 2013 Mahmoud Abbas, acting in his capacities as President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed “Decree No. 1 for the year 2013. Using the United Nations General Assembly recognition of Palestine as an observer state as justification the Palestine Authority, already renamed Palestine National Authority became the State of Palestine on all documents and in all situations.

David Singer asked, Did none of the thousands of US State Department and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs minions read Whitbeck’s article and realise its significance?

This had precious little impact on the ground, although what it had was negative consequences for the people. Apparently Israel is refusing to deliver tax revenues, although America still transferred $500 million to the ghost organisation. Gazans with travel permission are routinely turned back if their documents are on State of Palestine stationery only to be permitted when they resubmit on P.A. paper.

So who is Israel pretending to negotiate with?

Hey, This is the Middle East

Why did you stab me?
What did you expect? This is the Middle East!

I asked that question of Palestinian attorney Hiba Husseini . Apparently the answer is the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This becomes important when discussing Mahmoud’s new/old friend Hamas.

A well-known example of Palestinian exceptionalism, is the claim that over 100 nations (including Israel and the US) have recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of which Abbas is Chairman  since 11 November 2004, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Apart from the blatantly totalitarian and undemocratic nature of the concept there are several problems. One is that except for certain consular functions and the necessary fiction that it and not the PA/(State of) Palestine is represented in some international bodies the PLO does not in any real sense exist, any more. Abbas does not consult with the other parties. Some like Syria’s As-Sa’iqa or the Iraqi Ba’ath Party Arab Liberation Front (ALF) may not still exist, either. Nor does he take his orders from the Palestinian National Council that he chairs. Many would describe the current PLO as a rubber stamp that issues passports.

An even larger problem is that Hamas, which arguably, since the one and only Palestinian election, is the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority has never been a member, either. So when Abbas talks about a joint government with Hamas does he intend to allow it membership in the PLO? This gives it legitimacy and most importantly permanence in Palestinian decision-making. In other words, it could take over and effectively shut the nationalists out.

The promise of joint government is then essentially ambiguous, As we have seen governments can be sacked.

For some reason the analysts seem to be concentrating on Hamas’s continuing warfare with the Jewish State and not its unconditional opposition to any agreement that would allow Israel to exist, in any form. Not just as a state alongside Palestine but even as a democratic secular one-state solution.

Even less are they discussing the abyss between the Islamists (mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad) and the nationalists (the PLO). In 2007 the two sides went to war in Gaza which Hamas brutally and efficiently won. Abbas can’t even visit the strip where he claims to preside. That of course may change with the agreement.

Maan News quotes Hamas claim that Palestinian Authority security forces arrested 357 members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian political parties across the West Bank in the first quarter of 2014. I don’t know how many are still behind bars but when Abbas calls to release the prisoners is this code for Palestinian prisoners held by both sides?

This is not to be confused as equivalent to the Democrat/Republican rivalry in the US, or any similar Western liberal democratic example. While many of the US parties’ supporters may despise their opponents, they work with them when necessary and the losing side in an election transfers power to the winners. Not so Hamas-PLO. Neither has a place for the other in their world view.

Ironic isn’t it? Abbas can’t make peace with Israel (not that he wants to) without Hamas for legitimacy and can’t make peace with Israel with Hamas as partner. Perhaps more honest would be to say reconciliation has nothing to do with peace but everything to do with the counter offensive to secure admission to international bodies. Without Hamas controlled Gaza his claim to be a state including both parts is that much weaker. He would take a risk for that with the upside that he was sure Israel would suspend the circus. WIM-WIN.

A red-nose on Abu Mazen

red nose Abbas

Couldn’t help myself!

Loyal Five Minutes for Israel readers may have noticed that the ‘coveted’ red clown nose is missing from the Abbas five-in-a-star. This is because, when you try to analyse Palestinian actions from a neutral perspective (not easy, I must admit) they don’t seem so stupid.

Abbas is a man on a tightrope. Like a circus performer his act is difficult and dangerous but he performs it every night. The children clap and the jaded among us yawn. The problem with a patented flip-flop is that eventually it loses all elements of surprise.

In the Israel/Palestine sense that means he has to be obstinate and militant enough so that his new/old frenemies in Hamas and in Fatah don’t go looking for a new clown but give the impression of being flexible enough that the paying customers America and Europe keep paying. Even more crucial ensure that his people are on a constant war footing with Israel but never actually provoke a war. In part he does this by continually adding preconditions before he will talk.

His latest trick, is declare the PA will be shut down and Israel would have to pick up the pieces. This is the diplomacy equivalent of putting his head in a lion’s mouth.

Expect to see a spectacular back-flip if Israel has the chutzpah to accept the challenge and announce a willingness to annex.

Hamas and Fatah emblems

Click for higher res.

Extra credit

† John Whitbeck – international lawyer who served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian team negotiating with Israel.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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