U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the Middle East in an effort to promote a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and, as a first step, to press the two parties to sign a framework agreement by April, which will be the basis for another year of negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty. The framework agreement is supposed to deal with all core issues including security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem, and refugees.1
American policy regarding the peace process is based on the premise that it is possible to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians represented by the PLO-Palestinian Authority (PA) under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). However, the PA does not represent all of the components of the Palestinian people, nor does it have a mandate to make decisions on the core political issues in the name of the Palestinian people.
While the PA under Abbas’ leadership controls the West Bank, the densely populated Gaza Strip is ruled by its bitter enemy, Hamas, which does not recognize Abbas as a legitimate president (Abbas is not even allowed to visit Gaza). The Hamas movement, which in the last elections (2006) won an overwhelming majority in the Palestinian Parliament, uncompromisingly opposes any negotiations with Israel, does not accept the PA as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and has reiterated its firm stance that any agreement reached with Israel will be worthless and will not represent the position of the Palestinian people.
According to an official Hamas statement published on December 29, 2013,2 the “Hamas movement emphasizes on the anniversary of the al-Furqan War [Operation Cast Lead, 2008-09] that it adheres to the path of struggle regardless of the resulting victims; follows the path of the martyrs until the fulfillment of our national goals and the liberation of Palestinian land; will not give up or recognize this brutal enemy; and that the struggle, God-willing, is in its highest-ever state of readiness.”
The statement also noted that the “Hamas movement stresses its opposition to the path of negotiations; our people has not authorized anyone to negotiate with the occupation; the possible outcome of these negotiations will not represent our people and only speaks for those who will sign on them, in light of the national consensus by all the Palestinian organizations regarding opposition to negotiations; and that any Arab backing authorizing the President of the PA to pursue the negotiations and to relinquish any part of Palestinian land cannot have any legitimacy whatsoever.”
The official spokesperson of Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, expressed the same messages in an interview with the Felesteen daily on December 29, 2013:3
All factions and components of the [Palestinian] people oppose the negotiations between the PA and the occupation and all say this clearly….Who is holding the negotiations? President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the negotiating team who have stolen Palestinian decision-making and forced their rule on our people….The Palestinian people have been robbed of their decision-making.
There is no doubt that the continuation of negotiations between the PA and the occupation is devastating to national unity and reconciliation, since the acceptance of the principle of selling Palestine is a disaster and it is impossible that anyone will agree to this….The continuation of the negotiations and the abduction of Palestinian decision-making are destroying the unity, the struggle, and the protection of the basic principles and rights of the Palestinian people.
The American initiative ignores the fundamental situation in the Palestinian arena, and the basic fact that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah headed by Mahmoud Abbas does not enjoy the status that would allow it to make historic decisions in the name of the Palestinian people, and certainly not decisions that are not in line with the Palestinian consensus, which supports “the return of Jerusalem to Arab and Islamic rule” and the “right of return.”
In fact, the camp headed by Mahmoud Abbas represents a minority in the PLO (and even within the Fatah movement), in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), and in the Palestinian diaspora. The PA is not capable of making historic decisions based on concessions regarding basic Palestinian positions.
Even if an agreement is forced upon it by the American government, the veto power of Hamas and other organizations may hamper the implementation of any such agreement and empty it of any content, and its fate will resemble the series of failed reconciliation agreements signed by Mahmoud Abbas with the Hamas leadership that were never implemented (or the agreements signed by Yasser Arafat with King Hussein in 1969-1970 prior to Black September in 1970 when Hussein expelled the PLO from Jordan).
* * *