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Al-Zaytouna Centre to Hold its Annual Conference on the Strategic Developments of the Palestinian Issue in 2010 and Expected Scenarios of 2011

On Thursday 13/1/ 2011, Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held a conference, entitled “The Palestinian Issue: Strategic Evaluation 2010 – Strategic Assessment 2011”. The conference, held at the Crowne Plaza in Beirut, evaluated the developments in the Palestinian issue at its different levels during 2010, in addition to attempts at foreseeing possible tracks in 2011.

The conference was divided into three sessions, with the participation of a select of specialists and parties concerned with the Palestinian issue. They discussed the Palestinian internal situation, the Israeli scene, the Palestinian- Israeli peace process, as well as Arab, Islamic, and International stances towards the Palestinian issue.

The conference came as part of a series of seminars for the strategic assessment and evaluation of the developments related to the Palestinian issue. This yearly event is the fourth in a row, as the Al-Zaytouna centre prepares for its annual Palestinian strategic report.

Opening Speech and First Session:

At the beginning, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, general director of the Al-Zaytouna Centre, gave the opening speech in which he welcomed the attendees and went through the major points to be tackled in the panel conference program.

The first session, moderated by Muhammad Suwaid, discussed the Palestinian internal situation and the panelists were Saqr Abu-Fakhr, Majid Abu-Diak, and Suhail Al-Natoor.

Abu-Fakhr started the session noting that the Palestinian issue hasn’t moved a single step forward during last year. During 2010, he argued, ideas of military struggle as a form of resistance and national liberation receded more among the political elite, with discourse turning toward civil resistance and boycott as forms of resistance. He added that the situation in Palestine now, specifically in Gaza Strip(GS), became more like Southern Lebanon where there is a state of no war, no peace and no resistance. The resistance forces have turned into defense forces in case of any aggression, which means that the Palestinian front has become like the Lebanese and the Syrian front: i.e., important positions for deterring and resistance, but no longer positions for active and effective resistance that worked in the context of a plan.

Abu-Diak pointed out in his paper that 2010 passed without any change in the structure of the Palestinian internal situation. It continued to function according to two differing political views, each controlling a specific geographic area. At the same time, Palestinian suffering intensified as a result of the division between GS and the West Bank (WB). Fatah faced the precursors of a new internal crisis that dissipated the success achieved in 2009 by Mahmud ‘Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), in amassing internal support on his side concerning the centrality of the movement. Abu-Diak didn’t see much hope in 2011 for ending the state of political division, or driving closer the stances of two opposing streams on the scene, especially as the PA declared its adherence to the peace settlement choice and many alternatives within this frame, but not outside of it.

Concerning the Palestinian internal situation, Al-Natoor mentioned in his paper that, in 2010, the same topics of conflict and dilemmas continued to cumulate from past years, amid attempts to get over the division of the Palestinian scene, and rounds of political conflict between the factions of the Palestinian national movement on the issues of: negotiations, building state institutions, lifting the siege on GS and its reconstruction, and the unknown future of the refugees issue. The Palestinian internal situation interacted with these factors either with passive stagnancy and a true suspension of the Palestinian political life or with feeble attempts to reformulate the structure and role of the most prominent Palestinian faction. He clarified that the remaining basic point of disagreement and the obstacle to reconciliation is the security apparatus file, a topic that perfectly crystallizes the conflict over authority between the two sides (Fatah and Hamas).

Second Session

The second session, moderated by Prof. Dr. Majdy Hammad, tackled both the Israeli scene and the Arab stance. The speakers were ‘Abdul-Hameed al-Kayyali, Hani al-Masri and Mohamed Jum‘a.

At the outset of the session, al-Kayyali presented an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian scene in 2010, pointing out the shifting of the Israeli political scene during 2010 toward the racist, extreme right has continued and the resulting racist laws targeted the 1948 Palestinians. He also made an observation about the good economic conditions in Israel during 2010, since there is unity around the government and its political tendencies on the one hand, and stability in the internal front on the other.

As for the Israeli strategy in dealing with the Palestinian internal situation, Al-Kayyali saw that Israel followed the same strategy in 2010 as in previous years amidst the continued Palestinian political and geographical division. He explained that this strategy works within a number of parameters, the key ones are: First: preserving the occupation through building settlements and confiscating land, as in the case of the WB, or through controlling the land, sea and air ports as in the case of GS. Second: reshaping the Palestinian society under occupation in a way that would serve the continuation of the occupation. Third: hindering economic development in the WB and GS.

In his paper on the prospects of negotiations and peace settlement in 2011, al-Masri saw that the major characteristic of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations—more than any other—is that it was doomed to failure. It was being held under a situation of flagrant imbalance of power, the occupation was unwilling to make a peace settlement, the international will to drive it to success was absent, the Arabs refrained from using pressure cards to impose it, and which the Palestinians suffered from a destructive schism.

He expected that the Israeli will impose one of several Israeli choices and alternatives on the Palestinians. They are: First: keeping the status quo for the longest period possible until Israel completes implementing its racist expansion and settlement building plans. Second: going back to the choice of Israeli unilateral moves, imposing on the ground a state of “remains” on the Palestinians. Third: reviving the regional solution with the help of Jordan and Egypt. Fourth: the choice of a state with temporary borders within a Palestinian-Israeli agreement and American and International auspices. The last choice, he argued, seems the most preferable to Israel, as it makes the Palestinians responsible for settling their issue themselves, but it is unlikely, especially if it is not covered by an umbrella agreement that tackles core issues.

Concerning the Arab stance, Jum‘a referred in his paper to the continuous Arab paralysis regarding the Palestinian conditions in 2010, and the renewed failure of Arab parties in pressuring the US to improve the conditions of the Palestinian Israeli negotiations. He believed that the history of Arab response, during the past ten years, will not change during 2011, whether positively or negatively.

Jum‘a spoke of an Egyptian monopoly regarding the Palestinian reconciliation issue in 2010, delegated by Saudi Arabia at one level or the other as in 2009. He also reviewed the Jordanian stance towards the Palestinian issue, Jordan being a more concerned party about the failure to establish a Palestinian state with Al-Quds as its capital and about the return of the refugees. This issue for the Jordanian side, Jum‘a explained, surpasses the geographic and demographic concerns to security concerns, although these don’t have a serious impact. He further commented that the conditions may oblige Jordan to lead a more balanced foreign policy, more open towards Hamas and less congruent with the American strategy.

Third Session

The third and last session, moderated by Dr. Salahuddin al-Dabbagh, discussed the stance of the Muslim world and the international stances towards the Palestinian issue. The speakers were Prof. Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, Dr. Mohamed Noureddine, and Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.

In his paper, Dr. ‘Atrissi pointed out that the over involvement of Muslim countries in their internal issues and burdens has negatively affected their concern for the Palestinian issue. He stressed that there have become many priorities in the Muslim world  that Palestine is practically no longer the central cause. The maximum official Muslim aspirations concerning the Palestinian issue has remained the peace settlement and negotiations in 2010. Muslim country leaders did not refer to any other possibility like resistance or boycott. Meanwhile, Iran was still going it alone with stances more harmonious with the resistance than with those of these countries; stances which ‘Atrissi sees as likely to continue.

On another level, Dr. Noureddine mentioned that 2010 bore witness to an unprecedented peak of tension in Turkish-Israeli relations. The Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla, became a major mark in the tension between Ankara and Tel Aviv that started at the onset of the same year. He pointed out that despite the high-tone Turkish discourse and some procedures that Turkey has taken regarding Israel, the Turkish reaction to the assault on the Freedom Flotilla didn’t mount to the size of the assault. Notably, economic ties between the two countries witnessed more than 40% increase during 2010 in comparison to 2009.

Dr. Noureddine expected that Turkish Israeli relations will not make a speedy progress due to the deep wounds. He saw that Ankara’s desire to preserve the achievements of its foreign policy and its growing role will prevent it from escalating the tensions with Israel. On the contrary, Ankara will work on containing these tensions, especially after realizing that its stance towards Israel affects its relations with the West and the European Union.

Concerning the Palestinian issue, Dr. Noureddine said that the Turkish discourse remained aligned with the Palestinian issue, with a heightened emotional tone. However, there was a regression in the official Turkish initiatives towards the Palestinians in GS and WB, due to the Israeli obstruction of Turkish aid to the WB and the siege on GS. Turkish efforts to heal the Palestinian division were almost non-existent, being limited to calls to reunite the family together without any serious initiative. Noureddine views that there is an increasing Palestinian division and Arab polarization, as well as continuos Turkish efforts to loosen the tension between itself and Israel. Hence, there will be no change in Turkey’s approach to the Palestinian internal scene, unless some progress is made the Turkish Israeli relations.

On the international scene, Prof. Dr. ‘Abd al-Hay saw that 2011, due to current parameters, is likely to witness international diplomatic efforts that support Salam Fayyad’s “de facto state.” This solution will translate international efforts into action, without colliding with the Israeli stubbornness, whether on the issue of settlement building or other topics. Such a solution would also give the impression that international efforts towards a Palestinian state haven’t ceased.

At the same time, Prof. Dr. ‘Abd al-Hay noted that the European dialogue—as well as the Russian, Chinese, even the Japanese or may be the talks of American figures—with Hamas may increase in proportion with efforts toward the “de facto state.” The strategic goal of these talks will be to cajole Hamas into the circle of peace settlement solution through phased projects. This was the same thing that happened to the Palestine Liberation Organization during the eighties of the previous century.

Concluding Statement

At the end of the conference, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh thanked the participants, summing up the evaluations and assessments discussed. He expressed his hopes that these discussions will contribute to serving the cause and the parties working for it. Dr. Saleh  pointed out that these discussions will form a supporting material for the annual The Palestinian Strategic Report prepared by the Centre, which is expected to be released at the end of April 2011.


Al-Zaytounce Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut 22/1/2011