When Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Authority in Ramallah, holds three-hour meetings in Jericho with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and when these meetings are restricted to the two men only for half the time, the agenda must include issues of a very grave nature that require prior agreement.
Though it is difficult to ascertain what these issues are, it is not beyond reason to make an intelligent guess with respect to some of them, especially if we take into consideration the Americans’ intensified moves in the area toward convening a peace conference this coming autumn and their endeavors to form an Arab-Israeli front against the “Iranian/Syrian axis of evil” and its extensions in Palestine (Hamas) and Lebanon (Hizbullah).
Many smoke screens are being set up and all sorts of misinformation is being dispensed in order to cram through the compromise settlement being feverishly promoted in anticipation of the end of the Bush presidency. A settlement would allow him to focus on the two more complicated issues, the Iraqi one with all its ancillary side issues and the Iranian nuclear problem with all the military, regional and strategic risks it entails.
Perhaps the most noticeable of these smoke screens is Abbas’ repeated assertion of his desire to achieve with Olmert a “framework agreement,” rather than a “declaration of principles,” prior to the conference. This is simply a play on words. Abbas, who was the promoter of the declaration of the Oslo principles, is aware of Palestinian revulsion to the term “declaration of principles.” It brings back painful, bitter memories about the gravest deception they have been subjected to in their recent history. Hence, he has decided to introduce a new concept in order to delude people into thinking that this new and different route will culminate in a deal better than the infamous Oslo one.
Unfortunately for Chairman Abbas, whose political record reveals an inclination toward dark rooms and secret negotiations, the Israelis are more forthright about their concept of a settlement with the Palestinians. They have begun to emphasize their determination to handle the Palestinian refugee problem early on, prior even to attending the peace conference. Indeed, they stipulate a prior agreement on this matter before making any other concessions with respect to withdrawals and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The Israeli solution for the refugee issue is known; its context requires no special genius to analyze it. In brief, it requires the relinquishment of the Right of Return as well as the designation of the promised state as the only and ultimate destination for any Palestinian refugee. Much as the state of Israel was the solution for the return of the Jews to the Promised Land, so will stand the Palestinian state as the solution for the return of the Palestinians to their homeland.
The elimination of the Right of Return will be included in the framework agreement by resort to creative solutions mentioned by Abbas in his statement to an Israeli newspaper. Thereafter, the negotiations will be restricted to the manner of the refugees’ return to Ramallah, whether in one huge wave or in comfortable installments in accordance with the Israeli view, and who will it be to return first, the refugees in Lebanon or those in Iraq or Syria? What period and what timetable are required for their return, where will they settle and how will the economic infrastructure required to support them be established?
Ehud Olmert has stipulated two conditions for the acceptance of the Arab peace initiative. The first is the elimination of the item concerning the refugees’ Right of Return, appended to the initiative by the Arab Summit of 2002 in Beirut. The second is the elimination of the item concerning the non-admission of the settlement of refugees in the countries hosting them at present. It appears indeed that there is some Arab flexibility in this respect for the process of normalization has accelerated since the visit last month of the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers to occupied Jerusalem on behalf of the Arab League. The visits were under the heading of activating the Arab peace initiative and the acceptance of some Arab states, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to participate in the peace conference. This means that its foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, will sit face to face with Tzipi Levni, Israel’s Foreign Minister, under the patronage of Condoleezza Rice.
Conditions are ripe for Chairman Abbas to abandon the Right of Return indirectly through creative solutions that are being drafted presently in secret negotiations in more than one European capital, under Euro-American sponsorship. Having gotten rid of the burden of Hamas and of the heavier burden of the reservoir of extremism called Gaza, Abbas has firmly shut all openings to Gaza and tightened the siege against Hamas within it. He now has a completely free hand and has dumped all his eggs in the American-Israeli basket without any heed whatsoever even to his closest Arab allies.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing of all that is presently taking place is the one pertaining to the exchange of land in case a settlement is reached. Among the creative solutions under close deliberation by the two parties is one which provides for the maintenance of the major (Israeli) settlement blocs in the West Bank while compensating the Palestinian state with some other tracts of land. The tracts under consideration comprise the locations of the densely Arab-inhabited areas within the Green Line and, in particular, the Triangle (around the Tulkarm area) which has a very high population density.
This will achieve the Israeli dream of getting rid of the Arabs within the Jewish state. Simultaneously, Israel would retain Jerusalem as its unified capital but with the Palestinian flag fluttering above the Aqsa Mosque as part of the deception to make people believe that it falls under Palestinian sovereignty over the holy sites.
Abbas had written off the legitimacy of the National Council when he substituted the Legislative Council for it. When Hamas and some honorable members of Fatah dominated the Legislative Council as a result of the latest elections, he froze it and circumvented its role as well.
Neither the Arab inhabitants of the Triangle nor the Arabs living in the areas occupied in 1948 elected Abbas as their president. Consequently, they have not delegated unto him the right to speak in their name or to resolve their fate. The same also applies to the Palestinians of the Diaspora in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and, generally, everywhere else. Therefore, intensified Palestinian action is required to demand transparency and to stamp a veto on any move that aims at settling their cause behind their backs.
Starving the Palestinians, besieging them, stopping their voices in the homeland and in the Diaspora should not bear fruit, as they would by the acceptance of quickly brewed solutions which fall short of achieving the minimum of their legitimate demands for the Right of Return and the establishment of the Palestinian state on genuine Palestinian land.
The Palestinian cause is not one of salaries or of foreign aid in exchange for surrendering the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Better than surrendering the totality of this cause is to revert to the ration card and to survive on the aid of UNRWA.
Reprinted from Al-Quds al-Arabi, August 11, 2007