Amman Meetings Say Much About Current State of Palestinian Leadership

Article Summary
A delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently met with Israeli officials in Amman for a meeting called by the Middle East Quartet. The meeting was publicly opposed by a majority within the PLO as well as several leaders of Hamas, with which the PA is in the midst of a reconciliation process. In light of this widespread opposition to the Amman meeting, Hani al-Masri explores how and why Abbas was able to participate in the meeting, and what this says about the current Palestinian political scene.

Palestinian reactions to meetings [held between Israel and the Palestinian Authority] in Amman [on January 3] indicate that a political majority inside and outside the [Palestinian Liberation Organization’s] Executive Committee opposes these meetings. This begs the following question: Who is in charge of Palestinian decision-making, and how [are these decisions being made]?

Several [PLO] Executive Committee members have stated that the issue was not subject to debate before the decision was made, and that [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud Abbas] had [simply] informed the Executive Committee about what would happen [next]. [Abbas said that] an exploratory meeting would be held in compliance with the Jordanian initiative, with the aim of delivering the Palestinian document on security and its borders [to the Israeli government]. Israel had refused to receive [the document indirectly] via the [Middle East] Quartet, [a group of US, Russian, EU and UN officials charged with mediating a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians].

According to statements by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh - who represents the only party [Jordan] authorized [to speak] on behalf of the [Israeli and Palestinian] sides - the meeting addressed all final status issues. Judeh added that other meetings, both public and confidential, would be held in an attempt to reach an agreement by the end of this year [2012].

So that the burden of responsibility would not be placed solely on the President and the Fatah members of the [PLO] Executive Committee, it should be known that that “Abu-Mazen” [President Abbas] summed up his position at the end of the Committee’s meeting by asserting that he did not expect to hear of any opposition to the Amman meeting. [One exception to this] is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which opposed the meetings during the [Executive Committee] deliberations.

In other words, the statements uttered by most [Palestinian] factions inside and outside PLO - including those made by new members of the Executive Committee - were only intended for a domestic [Palestinian] audience. [These statements] do not represent opposition to the move [towards negotiations with Israel]. Had there been [genuine] opposition [to the Amman meetings], it would have been voiced during the Executive Committee meeting and not through the media. [Those who were opposed to the meetings] would have insisted on holding a vote - a rare occurrence. If issues of such importance are not brought to a vote by the Executive Committee, then when [would such a vote be held], and on what issues?

The official response - which left everyone unconvinced - was that the meetings are exploratory. This [excuse was given] despite the fact that [the meetings] are undoubtedly negotiations in the full sense of the term, and came in response to [calls from] Jordan, which we cannot disappoint. [The fact that these meetings are negotiations is especially clear], because Jordanian King [Abdallah II] is preparing to receive [Hamas Political Bureau Chief] Khaled Mesh’al in Amman in order to open a new chapter in Jordanian-Hamas relations. [The Jordanian King] is also preparing to visit the United States to meet with [US President Barack] Obama.

Moreover, [according to the official response], the [Amman] meetings were meant to show the world - for the thousandth time - the reality behind Israel’s desire to foil all efforts and initiatives aimed at achieving peace. [The meetings also seek to] highlight the responsibilities of the Quartet regarding Israel’s anticipated rejection [of Palestinian terms]. [Israel will reject] the document pertaining to borders and security. [This proposal] will be presented to the Netanyahu government before January 26, 2012 and will probably evoke a repetition of the Israeli position that was taken by Israeli [chief negotiator] Yitzhak Molko during the first meeting in Amman. [These positions] suggest that Israel is growing more intransigent, substantiating the notion that the path of negotiations is closed - at least for the time being.

By holding these meetings, the Palestinian leadership is trying to absolve itself of its responsibility for what may happen after the end of [January]. [Israel] has warned that, after this date, other alternatives will be considered.

What the Palestinian leadership has not said with enough honesty and clarity is [the following]: By agreeing to hold the Amman meetings, the leadership seeks to send another message that it has not, and will never, leave the path of negotiations, even though they have so far reached a dead end.

Nonetheless, it is counting on achieving something in the future. It wishes to assure the Quartet that the options it threatens to adopt will not marginalize it from the peace process or divert [its attention] from negotiations. [These options] will largely remain modest - excluding those of dissolving of the [Palestinian] Authority, [inciting] popular uprisings and armed resistance, and adopting the Quartet's terms. The [modest] options [left available to the Palestinians] are to once again bring up the issue of settlement activity, demand the implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the territories occupied in 1967, and follow up on the bid for Palestinian [statehood] at the UN Security Council.

Those who - between September 23, 2011 and January 3, 2012 - rejected the calls of the US administration and Quartet members to hold such a meeting in spite of US, Israeli and international pressure will be able to [ignore] the anger of Jordan. The issue [of Jordanian displeasure] is closely linked to these meetings, and more importantly to what will happen after January 26. Why?

The Palestinian leadership - which has gone to the United Nations, called for popular resistance and the boycott of settler goods, and initiated [inter-Palestinian] reconciliation - has announced through its president that [the Israeli-Palestinian talks] do not conflict with the peace process. [It has asserted] that it aims to revive the peace process and ensure its success.  [Its unanimous decision to adhere to the peace process is the reason why the leadership] insists that the consensus government - which may be formed next month - be the government of the president, and that its agenda be his agenda. Abbas recently announced that he adheres to the Quartet’s conditions more closely than does the Quartet itself.

[Abbas] has refused to take part in similar meetings in the past. [This time] when Abu-Mazen headed to the meetings in Amman, he counted on the moderation of Hamas - something  clearly expressed by Mesh’al.

So, will Abu-Mazen win the bet? According to an expression commonly used by the Palestinian leadership, Hamas will not stand in the way of the formation of a national consensus government that avoids the boycott and siege. In other words, Hamas accepts the Quartet's conditions, a [new attitude] in line with the recent [moderating] shift in its positions. [This shift] was reflected in [Hamas’ declaration] that it would adopt popular resistance [instead of armed struggle], its extension of the cease fire in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, its emphasis on the establishment of a Palestinian state, and its authorization of President Abbas [to lead] negotiations for a full year. [Hamas’ new position] was also reflected in a speech delivered by Mesh’al during the [inter-Palestinian] reconciliation ceremony [held in Cairo in November]. [In this speech Mesh’al] stressed that the failure of negotiations would not affect reconciliation. [His position] came in stark contrast to many statements made by [other] Hamas leaders - especially in the Gaza Strip. [These leaders] demanded a halt to the Amman meetings, warning of the dire consequences they would have for reconciliation.

It is likely that Abu-Mazen will win his bet. After his meeting with Mesh’al on November 24 2011, Abbas announced that the two leaders no longer disagreed on any subject. But [Abbas’ bet] is another possibility. [A different scenario would unfold] if it turns out that [Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu offers nothing in return [for these overtures]. [At the very least, the Palestinians hope that Netanyahu will] respond to [former US Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross’ advice to refrain from storming Area A territories [in the West Bank], and that he will implement confidence-building measures that aim to prevent the total collapse of the peace process and build a bridge between the current hopeless reality and a [peaceful] future. Abu-Mazen may find himself in a position where he would either be forced to modify his plans, or submit his resignation and build on [what he started] with his historic speech at the United Nations. [Abbas may resign] if he is subjected to domestic popular and political pressure demanding a change [in leadership and strategy].

I would like to very clearly say the following: The Amman meetings would have been impossible had it not been for the growing competition between Fatah and Hamas over the leadership of the Palestinian people, following the rise of political Islam [in the Middle East]. [They could not have taken place without] the progress made towards reconciliation between the [two factions] based on a political rapprochement between their programs. The essence [of this rapprochement] is the fact that Hamas has grown willing to accept the program of the PLO in the hopes of taking part in the [Palestinian] political process. [It has also made preparations for] the likely move of its headquarters from Damascus to Amman, Cairo, Doha or Tunis. Such a move will be as political as it is geographical. Hamas may justify this “remarkable moderation” through claims that it is merely tactical, and that it is awaiting the completion of the Arab Spring, which will bring political Islam to power in most Arab countries. [It may hope that the rise of political Islam] will later allow for the formation of an Islamic Jerusalem and Palestinian Army that will defeat Israel and liberate Palestine.

What is required is a new strategy capable of transcending the Oslo Accords’ unfair restrictions. It should be less extremist than Hamas’ former strategy, and firmer than that of the PLO’s. It should be a strategy that will alter the balance of power rather than improve the terms of negotiations. Only by changing the balance of power, [employing] every available card of Palestinian, Arab, and international pressure, and dealing with the Palestinian cause as one of Palestinian and Arab liberation, will it be possible to defeat the occupation and achieve freedom, [the right of] return, and independence.

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