By Pinhas Inbari – www.worldjewishcongress.org
Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashal will meet at the end of this week, and, according to media reports, have already agreed to depose Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and nominate a new government that would prepare for elections, to be held in six months’ time. However, both leaders are unsure how to proceed. Both the PLO and Hamas are coming to the summit from a position of weakness.
The PLO is conflicted about its campaign at the United Nations, and Hamas is very worried about its future if it loses its safe haven in Damascus. The PLO, as a result of the likely rejection of its bid for statehood and full membership in the UN, must now choose between three options: first, it can still insist on full membership at the UN and persevere with its application to the UN Security Council.
Second, it can apply to the UN General Assembly for ‘permanent observer’ status, and finally the PLO could decide to return to the negotiating table, as advocated by the International Quartet.
It is highly likely that the Palestinians will not forgo their quest for full UN membership at the Security Council and hence will not apply at this stage to the General Assembly as the latter is not a popular notion on the Palestinian street, as evidenced by this interview with Fatah senior member Abbas Zaki. Furthermore, applying to the General Assembly would exacerbate internal tensions in the PLO regarding Palestinian statehood and the future of the PLO.
Moreover, Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly in September differed from the application letter the Palestinians delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on one key point. While the speech was based on UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was passed in the wake of the Six Day War and refers to 1967 lines, the letter to Ban Ki-Moon is based on Resolution 181 of the General Assembly, which refers to the 1947 UN partition plan. It would be difficult for European countries, even those like Spain that encouraged the PLO to pursue the UN bid for statehood based on Resolution 242 and the 1967 lines, to support the unilateral track based on Resolution 181 and the 1947 partition.
Despite the apparent advantages the General Assembly presents to the Palestinians, the PLO is unlikely to pursue this option. Applying to the General Assembly in line with Mahmoud Abbas’ speech would signify Palestinian satisfaction with 1967 lines, which do not address the issue of Palestinian refugees. What is more, once a Palestinian state replaces the PLO Delegation at the UN, there will be no representation for the refugees’ problem and the PLO will lose its legal status within the international body.
On the other hand, the Palestinians see a clear advantage in attaining “observer state” status at the UN, which would give them a legitimate platform to persecute Israel in international tribunals and encourage Israel’s economic and international isolation.
Mahmoud Abbas has expressed his support for the mediation efforts of the Quartet, which remains undeterred in its efforts to renew the peace process. However, he continues to insist on two preconditions prior to returning to the negotiating table: Israeli recognition of a future Palestinian state within 1967 lines and cessation of settlement construction. It is clear from the Palestinians dual messages to the United Nations that their strategy, after Israel recognizes the 1967 lines as the borders of the new Palestinian state, is to negotiate to confirm the 1947 borders and thus resolve the problem of Palestinian refugees.
Additionally, the Palestinians have added another pre-condition in the latest round of Quartet meetings. They demand that Israel release more Fatah prisoners than Hamas prisoners released in the Schalit deal, as promised by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Abbas. While Mahmoud Abbas ‘ PLO is conflicted about its future options, Hamas’ Khaled Mashal has yet to find a proper home following the removal of Damascus as Hamas host. Would reconciliation with Fatah put an end to his wanders?
For Abbas, reconciliation would serve as a facilitator to exit the Palestinian political stage and call a new election, or negotiate the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority with Hamas. Hamas, on the other hand, does not perceive elections to be a desirable result at present time, nor does it wish to see the Palestinian Authority dismantled as it serves as the organization’s main source of power and legitimacy, without which it would be considered a mere terrorist militia.
Hamas’ main objective is to dissolve Salam Fayyad’s government and US-trained Dayton forces. Accordingly, Hamas may hypothetically agree to hold an election, which may never materialize, and in return get rid of the much-hated Fayyad.