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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Have the Palestinians Abandoned a Negotiated Settlement?

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians, U.S. Policy
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 1, No. 2      September 6, 2001

Tremendous intellectual energies have recently been expended in trying to ascertain why PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat refused President Clinton’s proposals for Israeli concessions at Camp David and in subsequent negotiations. Some have concluded that the main problems were tactical, and could be overcome in a renewed diplomatic effort. However, it is now increasingly apparent that the real problem of bridging the gap between Israel and the PLO results from a far more fundamental question of the PLO’s approach to peace.

According to Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Yasser Abd Rabbo, “there is a consensus among Palestinians that the direct goal is to reach the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967, borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, [but] regarding to the future after that, it is best to leave the issue aside and not to discuss it” (Al-Jazeera television [Qatar], Nov. 17, 2000).

Nonetheless, significant Palestinian figures have been discussing the very future that Abd Rabbo prefers presently not to disclose. Since the outbreak of the current intifada, more and more Palestinian spokesmen have revealed that they ultimately have no intention of ever reaching a permanent peace with Israel. Speaking in Ramallah, one of the main ideologues of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization, Sakher Habash, declared:

[A]t this stage it is imperative that we realize our temporary political goal continued in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem within the 4 June borders, and this will lead to a democratic solution of building democratic Palestine on all the national land [emphasis added]. I believe that the time is not appropriate to speak about the revolution to liberate all of the land….The Palestinian state whatever it will be will constitute of beginning of the dismantling of the Zionist enterprise” (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Nov. 17, 2000).

Two months later, speaking in the name of Yasser Arafat, Habash declared:

Experience proves that without the establishment of the democratic state on all the land peace will not be realized. We are going through transitional stages through which we can push the Zionist society to give up on Zionism for there cannot be co-existence between Zionism and the Palestinian National Movement. The Jews must get rid of Zionism….They must be citizens in the state of the future, the State of Democratic Palestine” (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Jan. 1, 2001).

Thus, Arafat very carefully let his views be voiced by Sakher Habash rather than be recorded as saying these words himself.

Such attitudes are widespread among the Palestinian leadership and, in fact, deeply rooted. Ziad al-Rajub, a member of Fatah’s Higher Committee in the West Bank, has tied Palestinian political positions that foresee the eventual elimination of Israel to the PLO’s original 1974 Stages Plan, adopted right after the 1973 Yom Kippur War:

The political platform of Fatah, today, is the Stages Plan, that was forced on the PLO leadership after the defeats that the Arabs suffered, one after the other….The sons of Palestine, and Fatah among them, are not permitted to accept Israel as a permanent state on the soil of Palestine.” (Akhbar al-Halil, 24.1.01)

The Chairman of the Policy Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ziad Abu Amar, similarly emphasized that “the Zionist enterprise is doomed to fail and will terminate in the future, for sure (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Feb. 26, 2001). Furthermore, Salim Za’anum, the Chairman of the Palestinian National Council, announced that the PLO Covenant, calling for Israel’s destruction, remained in force and was never changed (al-Hayat al-Jadida, Feb. 3, 2001 [MEMRI])

The 1974 Stages Plan of the PLO stated that “once it is established, the Palestinian National Authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian Territory.” More recently, the Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem, the late Faisal al-Husseini, reiterated support for “the strategic goal, namely to Palestine from the river to the sea.” (Al-Safir, Mar. 21, 2001 and Al-Arabi, May 24, 2001). Similarly, West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti told the New Yorker that even if Israel withdraws from 100% of the territories, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not end; what was needed was “one state for all the peoples” (July 9, 2001).

Previously, top Palestinian spokesmen did not always make such high-profile statements regarding their ultimate political program, though such perspectives had been voiced by some of Arafat’s key political lieutenants. Still, these messages were provided to Palestinian security forces as part of their political indoctrination. Thus, Othman Abu Gharbia, head of the Political Guidance Apparatus of the Palestinian Authority directly under Yasser Arafat, spoke before Palestinian Military Intelligence officers in Dir al-Balah refugee camp in mid-2000 stating:

We remain tied to our overall goal at the present stage of an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem and the right of return. This goal is not the end of the march from the viewpoint of the Palestinian people, the dream of our nation will not stop. This goal is only one stage, the second stage is the establishment of a democratic state on all parts of Palestine (al-Ra´i, May-June 2000).

When the Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993, it was assumed that the PLO had jettisoned its 1974 Stages Strategy, renounced violence, and recognized Israel’s right to exist. Of course, there were indications that Yasser Arafat only viewed Oslo as a temporary truce, given his past explicit analogies to the Hudaybiyyah Treaty that Muhammad had signed and then abandoned. For most of the 1990s, U.S. and Israeli policy-makers ignored these hard-line declarations and assumed that Arafat had adopted a two-state solution as his strategic goal. The repeated references in recent months by PLO leaders to the Stages Strategy indicates that the PLO’s long-term goal of eliminating Israel remains unchanged, raising serious doubts about whether an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation could succeed at the present time, even when the current wave of violence comes to an end.