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On Saturday January 11, 2010, Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held its annual strategic assessment discussion panel about the Palestinian issue, entitled this year, “The Palestinian Issue in 2010”. The panel was held with the participation of a select of academics and intellectuals who are involved with the Palestinian issue, including Ahmad Khalifeh, Usamah Hamdan, Bilal Al-Hassan, Dr. Hassan Abu-Taleb, Dr. Hussein Abu-nnaml, Hilmi Moussa, Dr. Samir Al-Taqi, Dr. Talal Atrissi, Prof. Majdi Hammad, and Mounir Shafiq, and Fat-hi Abu Al-Ardat who presented a paper by Major General Jibril Al-Rajjoub.

The importance of the discussion panel is embodied in its goal of assessing the developments in the various aspects of the Palestinian issue in 2009, and attempting at a strategic forecast of the year 2010 developments. This panel has become an established annual event of the Centre, in line with the latter’s continuous efforts in the field of Palestinian Studies and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. “It also comes amidst the Centre’s occupation with preparing its annual Palestinian Strategic Report,” according to the Centre’s General Manager, Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh. 

In his opening speech, Saleh welcomed the participants and briefed the most significant developments that took place in the year 2009, frequently asking open questions, to be discussed, about the possible developments in 2010. Saleh also mentioned the grave loss within the Palestinian intellectual arena in 2009, “with the passing away of three intellectual musketeers”, in reference to Anis Al-Sayegh (Prof., member of the Centre’s board of consultants), Shafiq Al-Hout (former member of the PLO executive committee, and former representative of the PLO in Lebanon for 15 years), and Kamal Nagy (Dr., International Law expert, and Major General, prominent figure in Fateh in Lebanon), all three who were frequent participants in the Centre’s activities and conferences.

First Session

The first session focused on the internal Palestinian scene, and was moderated by Dr. Hussein Abu-nnaml. The key speakers of this session were Bilal Al-Hassan, Fat-hi Abu Al-Ardat on behalf of Jibril Al-Rajjoub, and Usama Hamdan.

In the first paper, Al-Hassan considered three main issues: peace negotiations, reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, and the measures and practices of Abbas in the West Bank. He noted that the major weakness in the negotiations currently is the absence of a legitimate reference, with the current reference being the individual negotiating parties, thus leaving it for the might to make the right. Al-Hassan described the negotiations on the Palestinian side as a fruitless process that only achieves the Israeli ends.

On the Egyptian reconciliation document, Al-Hassan noted its restriction to the administrative content and lack of any direct political content, stressing that reconciliation cannot occur unless the text is appropriately modified.

He then moved to warn the PLO’s Executive Committee against the consequences of establishing an immigration department, the most obvious of which is dividing the Palestinians outside Palestine into refugees and immigrants, thus labeling millions of Palestinians in the second, making their achievement of their Right of Return harder, and their permanent settlement outside Palestine easier.

The second speaker was Fat-hi Abu Al-Aradat, on behalf of Al-Rajjoub, who started by talking about the continued Palestinian schism and its consequences, including the political and geographic division on the official level, the deteriorating status of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the strictly imposed siege on Gaza Strip that causes increased suffering and prevents reconstruction. Abu Al-Aradat also noted the freeze in the settlement process, and the dead-end reached in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in light of the increased Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the construction of the Separation Wall, confiscation of the Jerusalemites’ houses, plans to demolish entire Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, and the isolation of Aghwar area as a prelude to later seizing it.

Unlike Al-Hassan, Al-Aradat saw that the only way out of the internal division and the deadlock in negotiations is for all the parties to sign on the Egyptian Document, commit to all of its terms, and establish a solid ground for national reconciliation that includes a clear agreement on the terms of a political solution, security, arms, militias, resistance, political coexistence, rule of law, human rights, democracy, intolerance, pluralism, and peaceful transfer of authority through electoral vote.

The last speaker in this session was Usama Hamdan, who considered in his paper that the major obstacle in reconciliation was the debate about the political program (resistance or settlement), but the situation exacerbated further because of the weak and divided Arab stance, in addition to the American and international interference that resonated among some Palestinian parties; but the division, according to Hamadan, has revealed two main predicaments within the internal Palestinian scene, the first is that the Palestinian political system was designed as to serve only one party that should rule in harmony with the will of political settlement, that lead to the withering of the Palestinian issue and rights. The second is that the whole notion of an independent Palestinian political will and on the ability of the Palestinians to build a united national political authority committed to national foundations is undetermined.

Hamdan called for performing a “necessarily-needed” review of the peace process and the status it reached today, especially as Obama’s helplessness has been evident. He warned against this misleading pursue, in case the peace process continued in 2010, because it will only result in increased Palestinian losses. Hamdan called for the embracement of “the Palestinians’ only choice of liberation and return, which was proved throughout years to be only achievable through resistance”; adding that the settlement years were the golden era of expanding settlements in the West Bank and Judaizing Jerusalem.

The year 2010 will corner the Palestinian Authority according to Hamdan, forcing it to take a decisive stance towards Jerusalem, and the reaction of the Palestinian people against the Judaization of the city. He asked: “Will it be similar to that towards Gaza?”.  Finally, Hamdan stressed on the importance of actively involving the Palestinian Diaspora, and on the resistance as a strategic option, adding that liberating Palestine is not a Palestinian project but a nation’s (he used the word Umma) project, although it should start with the Palestinians’ resistance (Jihad).

Second Session

The second session was moderated by Dr. Samir Al-Taqi. It included two papers, the first by Ahmad Khalifeh on the Israeli scene, and the second by Dr. Hassan Abu-Taleb on the Arab Scene.

Within the internal Israeli scene, Khalifeh focused on the aspects related to the Palestinians or to the political process and negotiations. He started by noting the shortage in Arab and Palestinian academia in the field of Israeli studies, although such studies are essentially needed in the conflict.

The Israeli society as a whole and the Israeli political structure has been continuously shifting towards the right in its stance towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to Khalifeh who added: “Today in Israel, there is no political party with moderate stance, or a party with which we can agree on some solution to the Palestinian issue; this is the illusion that we must overcome, especially with Netanyahu in power and the latter’s infamous history towards the Palestinians”.

But facing the critical Palestinian situation is a critical Israeli situation as well. Israel today is facing serious strategic challenges and dilemmas, obvious through the policies and statements of the Israeli politicians and strategists; the most-known being the “demographic threat” as put by the Israelis, and the Jewishness of the state especially with regards to the Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenships (Arabs of 1948) and the Religious Jews (Haridi). In addition, if the settlement process continues in stalemate, the Israeli “security concerns” towards the West Bank will intensify, especially as the disengagement plan failed in Gaza.

The second speaker in this session was Dr. Hassan Abu-Taleb on the Arab scene and the Palestinian issue. Abu-Taleb started his paper by briefing the Palestinian scene of 2009 in four major points: freeze in the political settlement track, increased polarization in the Arab World, the fading of the Palestinian issue, and a surprising political activity at the beginning of 2010. Forecasting the developments of 2010, Abu-Taleb anticipated a muddle in political roles and many indecisive partial penetrations, thus no full reconciliation will be achieved internally this year, but the Palestinian Authority, supported by some Arab regimes, will continue with negotiations and take on its behalf additional commitments that will raise dissent and critiques.

According to Abu-Taleb, no change will take place in the Egyptian-Syrian relations, Syria will not interfere largely in a Palestinian reconciliation, and the Arab summit will be held but will not patron the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations; noting the limited prospects of the Arab peace initiative, especially as he expects Israel to continue with settlement expansion. Abu-Taleb also expected the Turkish efforts to fail in restoring the Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

Third Session

The third and last session discussed the stance of the Islamic world and international parties towards the Palestinian issue. It was moderated by Mo’ein Manna’, and included three speakers: Dr. Talal Atrissi, Prof. Majdi Hammad, and Mounir Shafiq.

Dr. Atrissi first spoke on the Islamic world and the Palestinian issue, noting that with the current division between the Palestinians themselves on their strategic choice (resistance or peaceful settlement), it is impossible to expect any united stance from all the Islamic countries; thus, the positions and policies of the Islamic countries will remain most probably disaligned towards the Palestinian issue, and this reflects the disaligned and polarized condition within the Islamic world on one hand, and within the Arab and Palestinian scene on the other.

Regardless of the above, Atrissi concluded, there remain major issues that have the sympathy of all Muslims, such as Jerusalem, the Separation Wall, and the Settlements; and this sympathy should be better channeled in support of the Palestinian rights. 

The second speaker in this session was Dr. Hammad. His paper was entitled: “The Palestinian Issue and the International Scene: Ideas for Discussion”.

Hammad said that the most serious mistake in Oslo Accords was the Palestinian side’s renunciation of its right to resist on the international arena, although this right is stated in international law and texts. This has committed the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people, to terms that contradict with their rights and the more referential and legitimate international law and human rights texts. Hammad criticized Oslo not because it didn’t give the Palestinians their right, but because it took from them additional rights. He supported the call for the Palestinians to review what the peace process has led them to since its start. 

The last speaker was Mounir Shafiq, who said that currently, the international system and international balance of power is in a challenged state, but unfortunately the Palestinians are incapable of taking advantage of this state to achieve their rights because of their internal muddling. The regional balance of powers should not stay dependent on American policies, but major Arab countries should take the initiative especially as it saw the American’s performance in Iraq and the withering of the “peace process” along with increased Palestinian suffering. Shafiq concluded by calling Arab and Islamic regimes to take major regional roles, especially in the issue of Palestinian reconciliation, breaking the siege on Gaza Strip, and stopping the Judaization measurements in Jerusalem, and the Settlements and Wall construction in the West Bank.

The panel was concluded with a note by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, who thanked all the participants for the valuable discussion, hoping that this and similar seminars will support the Palestinian issue and all those working towards its just end.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 11/1/2010