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The panel, entitled “The Palestinian Internal Situation… The Reconciliation, State Declaration and Prisoner Liberation,” addressed the files which have garnered much attention during the recent months, namely: the Palestinian national conciliation, the Palestinian bid for statehood and the prisoner swap deal dubbed “Faithfulness of Freemen Deal.”

The participants, including different researchers and specialists in the Palestinian issue, stressed that the basic solution to the current Palestinian crisis, mainly represented in the failure of negotiations and the inactivity of the resistance, is the agreement on common ground and common national platform which redefines the Palestinian national project and sets its objectives and mechanisms of implementation.

First session

Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the General Manager of Al-Zaytouna Centre, opened the first session where he welcomed the participants and said that the files covered in the panel discussion influence the whole Palestinian scene. Dr. Saleh attested that a strategic assessment pertaining to the raised topics would be prepared based on the course of the debate.

Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel, the Palestinian researcher and writer, then talked about the conciliation file where he stressed that the current situation is one of deception rather than reconciliation. He asserted the need to agree on the important concepts and define our vision for the Palestinian issue before talking about any conciliation since the problem stems from the disagreement over the main issues rather than the details. Dr. Abu al-Namel said that there is confusion regarding the Palestinian national project and whether it is one of liberation or seeking authority. He wondered whether we are talking about reconciliation which takes us back to what Hamas calls the pre-military resolution or the pre-coup, as Fatah calls it, or to the pre-Oslo Accord stage, or to the phase before 1974 or to 1965.

Suhail al-Natour, the head of the Human Development Center, talked about the Palestinian bid for statehood asserting that this move is a part of Fatah’s political performance through which it tried to find an alternative to the failing negotiations, yet far from armed struggle. He warned that such a step would be fruitless and ineffective should it not be encompassed within a clear Palestinian strategy.

Osama Hamdan, the head of the Hamas international relations department, talked about the prisoner swap deal, the abduction operation and some of its circumstances. He commented on the stages of the negotiations starting with the Egyptian mediator, then the French and German mediators in addition to the Qatari and Turkish roles in the negotiations and finally the return to the Egyptian mediation following the success of the January 25 uprising. Hamdan talked about the other factors which contributed to the success of the deal; primarily the changes in the region which, in his opinion, have urged Israel to pursue a step towards appeasement. He also mentioned Netanyahu’s political status and his need for a positive achievement in light of the confrontation with the US administration and the economic situation in Israel. Hamdan stressed that the success of the swap deal proved that there is no achievement without resistance.

For his part, Saqr Abu Fakhr, the researcher at the Institute of Palestine Studies, commented on the reconciliation issue stating that it was achieved at the level of direct meetings but nothing was achieved on the ground. However, he expressed his reservation regarding calling the reconciliation “deception.” As for the statehood bid, Abu Fakhr opined that going to the UN is quite important in the sense that it proved that the Palestinian negotiator can reject external pressure and dictations. As for the prisoner swap deal, Abu Fakhr reiterated that the deal was unique and great by all standards yet it was not unprecedented as there have been other deals which defied many Israeli red lines.

Salah Salah, the member of the Palestinian National Council, expressed his belief that the conciliation would not be achieved on the basis of resolving a dispute between two factions. A genuine conciliation would be achieved through a comprehensive dialogue concerning the Palestinian strategy which should be adopted to confront the enemy and liberate the land, while pursuing any other way would be mere self-deception. Salah described the issue of statehood as “one of the deceptions the Palestinian national movement has faced” and he wondered about the feasibility of taking a step which, as everybody knows, is doomed to failure.

Dr. Nahla al-Shahal, the deputy director and senior research fellow at the Arab Reform Initiative Studies Center, said that the big question which needs to be answered is defining the “Palestinian national issue.” She further pointed out that the bet which started in 1974 regarding the possibility of reaching a political solution for the Palestinian issue has failed only to mark the beginning of a new historical stage. Al-Shahal stressed the need to discuss the possible ways to overcome the stalemate on the Palestinian arena without excluding Hamas in light of the question “What does liberation mean today?”

For his part, Hilmi Musa, the journalist and expert in the Israeli affairs, said that achieving the conciliation is possible; nonetheless, the concerned parties lack the wisdom needed for achieving it. He noted that going to the UN is in essence an acknowledgement of the failure of political settlement, while it is an expression of standing against the American pressure. Musa added that despite its many drawbacks, the bid was a step towards intra-Palestinian rapprochement which was also enhanced by the prisoner swap deal. This deal has reflected the concern of the Palestinian people about the prisoners.

Jabir Suleiman, the Palestinian researcher, agreed that going to the UN was a demonstration of the failure of the peace settlement and an attempt to escape forward. He added that what gave this step momentum in the Palestinian street was the American and Israeli opposition to it. Suleiman noted that the step was important and positive in the sense of putting the Palestinian issue back on the UN table. However, he posed many questions which the step might trigger including the Palestinian representation and how the right of return might be influenced.

‘Ali Barakah, Hamas representative in Lebanon, said that the approach to the recent conciliation turned it into political truce which both Hamas and Fatah needed. Regarding the statehood issue, Barakah noted that there is a difference between the Palestinian right to statehood and the price they are demanded to pay to get it. He pointed out that the price President ‘Abbas has presented raises questions regarding the right of the coming generations to their land and the repercussions of accepting the ‘67 lines as final borders.

In his turn, Abu ‘Imad al-Refai, the representative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, attested that there is no atmosphere for genuine conciliation and no serious will for achieving it. As for statehood, al-Refai said that President ‘Abbas delivered an eloquent speech which depicted the Palestinian suffering; however, there is concern about the fate of the refugees in case of recognizing the Palestinian State and the impact of such recognition on the PLO representation.

Dr. Mohamad Noureddine, the expert in Turkish Politics and Diplomacy, focused in his presentation on certain climate in Turkey which should be taken into account in this stage. He added that the Turkish concern about the Palestinian issue has been affected by other regional issues, such as the Syrian file. Dr. Noureddine noted that Turkey perceives the prisoner swap deal as one which might contribute to restricting Hamas and make it accept a political settlement. It also promotes the Egyptian role and marginalizes the roles played by Iran and Syria. As for the conciliation file, Dr. Noureddine said there were confirmations that Turkey has demanded Hamas to accept Salam Fayyad as prime minister. He concluded that should this be true, then Turkey is apparently inclined to support the other side rather than Hamas.

For his part, Tayseer al-Khatib, the director of Isra’ Studies Center, lauded the prisoner swap deal asserting that the most important point about the deal is its contribution to the unification of the Palestinians as it included the Jerusalemite prisoners and the 1948 prisoners. Regarding the overall Palestinian internal situation, al-Khatib said that the present moment is very suitable for the reconsideration of the Oslo Accord and the peace process. He said that there is a need for a new Palestinian national plan which should not be put forward except after examining the apt time and the Palestinian capacities needed.

At the end of the first session, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh presented a set of problems which will always be present even after achieving the conciliation and forming the government. The most notable ones are the mechanism for implementing the government platform or any reform program and the management of the national project under the occupation.

The Second Session

Moueen Manna’, the researcher in Al-Zaytouna Centre, opened the second session and asked the participants to focus on the possible scenarios for the Palestinian internal situation in light of what has been presented in the first session.

The first intervener was Saqr Abu Fakhr who wondered about the nature and core of the Palestinian national project today and the possibility of renewing the peace settlement and resistance options. He noted that both tracks are undergoing a crisis while the clash between the two projects and promoting one at the expense of the other make it impossible to reap any gains from either project. Thus, he stressed, it is important to integrate both projects within one national project. Abu Fakhr warned against the absence of the Palestinian issue from the Arab uprisings and their slogans which have shown little, if any, concern in this respect.

However, Salah Salah expressed a different view in this respect where he said that the Palestinian issue was not completely absent but it is at the core of these uprisings. Salah called on Al-Zaytouna Centre to launch a serious dialogue which tackles the mechanisms which would lead to a unified national project and a unified strategy that would overcome the current situation.

Haitham Abu el-Ghizlan, the Palestinian researcher, said that the recent conciliation agreement signed in Cairo was a mere agreement on details. He stressed the need to identify national priorities in the current stage and the agreement on a unified program, yet he said that he was not optimistic about achieving any real conciliation in the foreseeable future.

Rana Sa’adah, the researcher in Al-Zaytouna Centre, drew attention to an important point regarding the Israeli stance on the Palestinian bid for statehood. Sa’adah pointed out to a study which was published in 2005 by the Re’ut Institute proposing switching the Palestinian interlocutor from the PLO to another side which represents the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, i.e., the PA. This, according to the study, would enhance the prospects of establishing a Palestinian state with provisional borders and at the same time will marginalize the issue of refugees and the right of return. Sa’adah added that the Re’ut Institute has raised the same issue prior to the Palestinian move and considered the declaration of a Palestinian state an unparalleled political opportunity.

Osama Hamdan talked about the lack of trust among the different Palestinian parties and the implications of the security arrangements with Israel in the internal Palestinian arena. He also pointed out to the crisis in the Palestinian scene which is represented in the failure of the peace settlement, the inactivity of the resistance and the weak initiative on the Palestinian side. On another level, Hamdan stressed that the mobility in the Arab region and the consequent changes cannot be guaranteed regarding their outcome. Accordingly, all parties should be alert in this respect.

In the same context, Abu ‘Imad al-Refai stressed the need for anticipation and caution regarding the outcome of the transformations in the region. He also expressed his belief that resolving the Palestinian crisis starts from the reconstruction of the PLO.

Dr. Nahla al-Shahal said that Palestine is self-evident in the Arab uprisings and is thus implicitly present. Concerning the Palestinian national project, al-Shahal said that this project could be defined as the liberation of entire Palestine where she noted that there are reasons to adopt this option. She concluded stressing that the resistance and negotiation tracks are integral, rather than contradictory, options.

Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel talked about the crisis of the resistance and the “bargaining” options and he called for careful consideration of the present situation before trying to figure out what will happen next. He also emphasized the need to discuss the mechanisms and tools necessary to confront Israel rather than discussing the objectives. He pointed to the defect in the Palestinian political thought that separates between the objectives and the tools. Regarding the Arab uprisings, Abu al-Namel said that the absence of the Palestinian issue does not signal a lack of popular concern, but rather a concern about the conditions these countries are undergoing. He finally called for the separation between supporting the right of peoples to dignity and their stance towards the Palestinian issue.

Regarding the scenarios and solutions, Suhail al-Natour talked about diverse steps which might be pursued by Israel and the United States in response to the Palestinian quest to gain state recognition, the most important would be the recourse to financial pressure. Concerning the suggestions to resort to the Arab and Islamic countries to counter this step, al-Natour said that this solution triggers many problems, thus it is important to look for alternative solutions. As for the conciliation, al-Natour called for its gradual implementation starting with bringing together the families which have lost their children in fighting and reconciling them.

Jabir Suleiman reiterated that Palestine is part and parcel of the Arab uprisings which represent the pursuit of dignity and freedom. He stressed the need for the agreement on a new formula for the Palestinian national movement whether it was within the PLO or any other side.

Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh said that the recent dialogues and conciliations have been employed on a tactical level. He talked about the need for achieving five issues to resolve the current problems: studying the entire experience to learn the relevant lessons, forming a common Palestinian vision of the national project, the creation of a comprehensive institutional reference capable of decision-making, seriousness in decision-making and the presence of a true will to achieve commitments in addition to increasing mechanisms of popular control. He also stressed that the Palestinians need to adopt a culture of accepting the other and the rotation of power.

Lastly, Dr. Saleh reiterated that Palestine is at the heart of the Arab uprisings, yet its absence is only caused by the peoples’ focus on the internal issues. He stressed that the development and progress, and even the regional Arab projects, intersect with the Palestinian issue as a matter of fact and they all have to confront the Israeli and American plans in the region as they constitute a major obstacle in this sense.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut 14/11/2011