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Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held a one-day seminar on Wednesday 6/2/2013 entitled “The Palestinian Issue: Strategic Evaluation 2012–Strategic Assessment 2013.” The seminar was held at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beirut and it entailed an assessment of the developments related to the Palestinian cause on different levels, in addition to the attempt at mapping the possible trends that are likely to shape the Palestinian scene in 2013.

The seminar comprised three sessions where experts in the Palestinian issue discussed topics related to the Palestinian-Israeli scene, the external role and its impact on the Palestinian issue, in addition to the role of the Palestinians in the Diaspora and the potential of regaining their initiative.

Worth of mention is that the seminar is the sixth amongst an annual series held by al-Zaytouna since 2008 to discuss the developments of the Palestinian arena and the possible future trends.

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The Opening and First Session

The opening statement was delivered by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the general-manager of al-Zaytouna Centre, who presented the main points to be discussed in the three sessions. 

The first session, which was moderated by Dr. Anwar Abu Taha, the member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) political bureau, tackled the Palestinian-Israeli scene.

The participants to this session included Fathi Abu al-‘Ardat, Fatah Secretary General in Lebanon; Usama Hamdan, the head of the Hamas International Relations Department; and Mahmud Soueid, director of the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, author and researcher. The other participants were Brig. Gen. Dr. Amin Hoteit, specialist in the military affairs and university lecturer; and Suhail al-Natour, member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

In his paper, Abu al-‘Ardat asserted that 2012 could be considered an exceptional year for the Palestinian national struggle as it witnessed major transformations and developments. He added that Palestine’s battle in the UN to win a seat as “a fully sovereign Palestinian state” could be considered the opening battle last year.

He added that 2012 witnessed two strategic achievements, Namely the Palestinian steadfastness in the Gaza Strip (GS) during the last assault (Nov,2012), and upgrading Palestine’s status in the UN to a non-member observer state, which was a realistic alternative to the Palestinian leadership’s pursuit of full membership.

As for the reconciliation, Abu al-‘Ardat stressed the need that all Palestinian factions shoulder their responsibility concerning the file, confirming the positive atmosphere sensed in this respect.

He also pointed out that throughout 2012, there were continued attempts to drag the Palestinians into internal conflicts in Lebanon and Syria.

Accordingly, he stressed the importance of a comprehensive national Palestinian framework that would select the leadership of the Palestinian factions in Lebanon. This would be particularly vital since the united national and Islamic Palestinian stance has helped the Palestinians avoid internal conflicts or sectarian alignments. Abu al-‘Ardat asserted that another equally important issue in 2012 was the Palestinians’ displacement from Syria to Lebanon, which is a crisis for the national and Islamic Palestinian leaderships in Lebanon.

For his part, Usama Hamdan talked about the 2012 Palestinian situation noting that the Palestinian reconciliation was the most important development.

He said that it was faced with such challenges as the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel in the West Bank (WB) and the reconstruction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Hamdan warned against the dangers of failing to achieve the reconciliation in light of Israeli intransigence and the continued GS blockade. Yet, he said that 2013 might be the reconciliation year, and there were positive signs in this sense.

Hamdan then addressed the Israeli offensive on GS in November 2012 and said that the most important outcomes of this operation were proving the resistance’s ability to retaliate and reach Tel Aviv and occupied Jerusalem. In addition, the operation showed that any claims about the end of the resistance or its deterioration as a result of the turmoil in Syria were groundless. It also helped, according to Hamdan, to form an Arab safety network that would support the resistance against the Israeli aggression and occupation. Hamdan added that embracing comprehensive resistance is the right option at the current stage, where armed and popular resistance would be intertwined to restore the rights of the Palestinian people. 

As for the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, Hamdan said that their number duplicated in 2012 as compared to 2011. Then, he stressed the need to re-activate the role of the Palestinian refugees, hence integrating external and internal dimensions. The issue of refugees is strongly affected by the regional developments and complications, especially in Syria and the bombardment of the Palestinian refugee camps there.

Hamdan added that the confederation with Jordan would not serve national interest at the current stage, and he hoped that raising such an issue was a mere slip rather than a political stance. Hamdan said that upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN needs critical reading to assess its repercussions on the Palestinian issue. He pointed out to the increased Judaization process, house demolitions, and seizure of Palestinian property in the WB and Jerusalem, warning against the spread of factors heralding a social and economic crisis that might finally result in the explosion of the conditions there.

Hamdan stressed that restoring the genuine national project, which is the liberation of Palestine and the return to the Palestinian territories, should be pursued by all Palestinian forces while maintaining the Palestinian constants. Affirming that negotiations with Israel have proven futile, Hamdan concluded his presentation saying that the American stance concerning the Palestinian issue is still biased to Israel.

Mahmud Soueid tackled the Israeli situation and its possible trends saying that Netanyahu has been trying to convince the world that Israel, which represented the frontline for defending Western civilization, was facing “existential threat.” He asserted that Netanyahu’s government has categorized the dangers facing Israel according to their priority as follows: the Iranian nuclear threat, the missiles from Hezbullah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, in addition to the Syrian chemical weapons and the possibility of transferring them to Hezbullah.

Soueid said that the Israeli government has indeed set some measures to counter these dangers. Talking about the 19th Knesset elections, Soueid said that the main concern about these elections was the absence of any mention of the peace settlement with the Palestinians during the elections campaign. As for the probable trends, Soueid said that waiting the transformations in Israel, the promising Arab signs, the new Obama administration, or the possible European pressure, would not be of any interest for the Palestinians if they themselves did not embrace their national cause as their priority. Ultimately, they need to mobilize the energies of the Palestinian people at home and in Diaspora to serve a national liberation project that would open the door for different facets of struggle without exception, according to the stages and the needs of the conflict.

Hoteit’s presentation addressed the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza in November 2012 and its repercussions. He said that the assault aimed at the liquidation of the Palestinian leaders, the destruction of the missiles arsenal, the destruction of the Sinai tunnels, taming the resistance, restoration of the Israeli military esteem, testing the effectiveness and immunity of the internal military front, and influencing the Israeli public opinion ahead of the elections.

In addition, Israel, and the Western countries, wanted to understand the nature of the new regimes established after the “Arab Spring,” and their orientations and stances on Israel and the Western projects.

Hoteit asserted that Israel was militarily defeated for many reasons. First, Israel was not able to dictate its conditions on the resistance. Second, according to Hoteit, it could not achieve its goals in the field and had rather to comply with the two conditions set by the resistance regarding the security of the Palestinian leaders and lifting the blockade. Hoteit added that the resistance’s commitment to refrain from launching missiles was not a loss in itself. This is so because the truce understanding did not address the resistance or the resistance movement’s relation with some countries or organizations, nor did it touch on its position in the resistance axis.

Al-Natour’s presentation focused on the Palestinian situation in 2012 and its possible prospects. He said that the ongoing developments in the Arab countries that witnessed the uprisings made it necessary to track the new regimes’ stances on the Arab issues, especially the Palestinian issue and the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He reiterated that the continued state of division would only dissipate efforts, waste the capabilities, and involve the Palestinians in internal conflicts.

Al-Natour concluded pointing out to the continued state of tension in the Palestinian street that has been exacerbated by the socio-economic conditions.

Second Session

The second session addressing the external role and its impact on the Palestinian issue was moderated by Dr. Salahuddine Dabbagh, the member of the Palestinian National Council and former member of the PLO Executive Committee.

Papers in this session were simultaneously presented by Mr. Muhammad Jum‘a, the expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict; Dr. Muhammad Noureddine, the Lebanese academician and expert on the Arab-Turkish relations; Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, the expert in Muslim world issues; and Mr. Wael Sa‘ad, the researcher at al-Zaytouna Centre and a specialist in Palestinian studies.

Jum‘a said that the region has witnessed growing instability in Arab Spring countries. The changes in Arab-Palestinian relations and the widening relations of Hamas with the Arab and regional states, will not exempt the Movement from pressures demanding a clear stance on the two-state solution and the recognition of Israel.

In Egypt, Jum‘a said, there is a consensus that the peace treaty with Israel should be maintained. The political scene has been mainly busy with internal concerns at the expense of security and foreign policy. Sharp polarization and political strife might lead some sides to abuse the Palestinian card in order to undermine their political opponents; tarnishing the image of Hamas and the Palestinians in general, has become a tool for many Muslim Brotherhood opponents to undermine the group.

Jordan, as per Jum‘a, could still hold on to peace settlement as a strategic option, while Qatar is getting more involved in the Palestinian issue in light of the diminished Syrian role.

Dr. Noureddine discussed the Turkish stance on the most important developments of the Palestinian issue and the transformations that belied the Turkish status as a regional power resulting from the change of Turkish-Israeli relations.

He asserted that although the Israeli assault on Freedom Flotilla has led to a boycott between Turkey and Israel, the continued economic, commercial, and military relations between the two countries made the resumption of diplomatic relations barely important. However, the drop in diplomatic relations has led to a limited and ineffective Turkish role during the last offensive on GS, thus leading to prevalence of the Egyptian role.

Regarding the PLO-Turkish relations, Noureddine pointed out to Ankara’s support for upgrading Palestine’s status in the UN. Rapprochement prevails between Turkey and Hamas, compared to the cold relation with President Abbas.

For his part, Dr. ‘Atrissi presented a paper on the relation between Iran and the Palestinian issue. He said that 2012 has witnessed three main developments that vary in their strategic importance and implications; holding the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, the Israeli offensive on GS in November and upgrading Palestine’s status in the UN in December. ‘Atrissi noted that Iran has been supportive of the Palestinian side in all these developments.

‘Atrissi added that the war on GS uncovered the “secrets and suspicions” concerning Iran’s support and arms supply to the resistance in GS, especially when the latter had launched Fajr-5 missiles. He also mentioned that Iran and Hamas have stressed their keenness on the continued strategic relations between the two sides, and that there are attempts to drive a wedge between Iran and resistance movements in Palestine, especially Hamas, all of which should be faced and thwarted.    

Wael Sa‘ad talked about the Palestinian issue and the international scene saying that during 2012 the US administration was absent from the peace process arena, and no change occurred regarding its support for Israel. Further, the US considered upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN as an “unfortunate and counterproductive” resolution. As for the latest Israeli assault on GS, Sa‘ad asserted that the US administration has blatantly supported it considering it a form of self-defense.

Talking about the European Union (EU), Sa‘ad said that never during the decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict have we seen any differences between the EU countries regarding Israel’s right to exist peacefully. In other words, there has always been a consensus on Israel’s military superiority, and such policies proceeded throughout 2012. Moreover, he pointed out that the EU supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, thus most EU countries voted in favor of upgrading its status in the UN. 

As for the Russian stance, Sa‘ad said that Russia proceeded throughout 2012 with its policy of establishing balanced relations with all Palestinian factions where it supported the decision to upgrade Palestine’s status in the UN. At the same time, it was keen on maintaining relations with Hamas and trying to bring it closer to the peace process. At the Israeli end of the spectrum, the relations continued within the normal limits in terms of the Russian support for Israel’s security and its reiteration on the need to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Sa‘ad presented three future scenarios; the first of which would entail the resolution of the conflict and achieving peaceful settlement, the second, which Sa‘ad found highly likely, would be limited to conflict management rather than its resolution, and the third scenario would be losing international control over the developments in the region, and achieving success on the level of the burgeoning experience of the Islamic movements; an advantage for the Palestinian resistance movements.

Third Session

The third and last session of the seminar was moderated by Dr. Nahla al-Shahhal, the Lebanese researcher and author, and it addressed the Palestinians in Diaspora, and the potential of regaining their initiative.

Participants in this session included Dr. Hussein Abu al-Naml, the researcher in economic, social and political issues; and Dr. Mahmud Hanafi, the Palestinian human rights activist and the head of the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness). Papers were also presented by Saqr Abu Fakhr, the researcher and editor at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, and was the editing secretary of Assafir newspaper supplement Falastin; Jabir Suleiman, the researcher in refugees’ studies; and Walid Muhammad ‘Ali, the Palestinian author, researcher and general manager of Baheth Center for Strategic and Palestinian Studies.

Abu al-Naml said that the role of the Palestinians in Diaspora is being marginalized as compared to that of the Palestinians at home. To him, this marginalization was a result of root transformations that excluded them from the Palestinian political equation.

He emphasized that every side might claim representing the Palestinian people and its interests. Yet, no one would claim representing the Palestinian issue after consensus on redefining it.

Abu al-Naml added that going back to the PLO formula, after restoring its historic charter, would accommodate the Palestinians at large and satisfy the aspirations of those in Diaspora. He asked, would it be possible to restore the unity of the Palestinian political systems and issue, and establish a Palestinian political regime aside from a Palestinian national charter reflecting the Palestinian public conscious?

For his part, Dr. Hanafi talked about the forms of the Palestinian revolution, where he expected the usual popular demonstrations at the border lines with the occupied Palestine, in addition to military operations carried out by Palestinian groups not affiliated with any Palestinian faction.

He also expected the Palestinian factions to be engaged in armed military action, and a probable popular revolution against the PLO leadership to urge it to activate its role, besides some pressure on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). According to Hanafi, the countries hosting refugees might witness camps explosion at any time due to the grim situation they are living. As for the Palestinians in other countries, especially in Europe, these would assume, according to Hanafi, a huge media and popular role to expose the Palestinians’ situation while exerting pressure on the respective governments to change their stances toward Israel.

Saqr Abu Fakhr said that the Palestinian awareness has been nourished on stories of disasters; starting from al-Nakbah, to massacres, exclusion, dispossession, and displacement. Thus, it enhanced the Palestinian will to resist oppression and led to a shift in the awareness of national identity, and popular organizations and syndicate unions were established.

Abu Fakhr said that youth unions and organizations were generally of political nature. Consequently, the Diaspora did not witness a Palestinian working class in the socio-historical meaning of the term. 

As for the Palestinian experience in Lebanon, Abu Fakhr said that there was barely any Palestinian influence in Lebanon especially that the Studies and Planning Centre has perished, and the Institute for Palestine Studies was ageing while al-Zaytouna Centre is still nascent, and struggling to compete with other Arab studies centers.

Abu Fakhr concluded that the PLO is no more the Palestinian umbrella or the symbolic home of the Palestinians in their Diaspora. In addition, the syndicate unions and popular organizations are divided, ineffective, and not representative of all sectors while being affiliated with the factions that have aged long ago. Thus, it would not be feasible, as per Abu Fakhr, to put any effort towards the reactivation of the Palestinian syndicates and popular organizations in the absence of the PLO as a national comprehensive frame of reference.

Jabir Suleiman said that the central status of the refugees issue in the ideological and political discourse of the PLO has been shaken, especially since the Oslo Accords and until accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state in the UN.

He noted that replacing the PLO’s observer status in the UN with Palestine’s observer status might have negative implications onthe popular representation of the Palestinians in Diaspora and their role in the Palestinian national struggle.

Suleiman stressed the need to enhance the position of the Palestinians in Diaspora and their role in the reconstruction of the PLO and maintaining their rights. This could not be achieved without reconstructing and reforming the Organization and quitting the traditional political approach that deals with the refugees as passive recipients of humanitarian aid. He also reaffirmed the need for any Palestinian initiative to maintain the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, particularly the right of return, and to uphold the representative status of the PLO, which should be kept at the top of the Palestinian political pyramid, while maintaining the state and the Palestinian Authority (PA) at the base of this pyramid.

The last paper was presented by Walid Muhammad ‘Ali who stressed that nobody could neglect the important and decisive role of those uprooted from their land in the rebuilding of the Palestinian liberation project, and ending the crisis of their representative organizations. He noted that the facts have proven that the PA has been an obstacle, rather than a step, towards restoring the minimum Palestinian rights. To him, the time was ripe to think seriously about rebuilding the Palestinian liberation project. 

Muhammad ‘Ali stressed that the conflict with the Zionist project, the international and regional transformations, in addition to the information-telecommunication revolution, make popular bodies an inseparable part of the renewed Palestinian liberation project.

He emphasized that the required project must benefit from the experience of the people and their victorious struggle, especially in the countries that faced racist, colonial ruling patterns. He said that all active Palestinian forces would have to integrate with different Arab, Islamic, and international sides, to provide Palestinian refugees with social and economic relief and help them restore their right to return to the towns and villages from which they were uprooted and displaced.


At the end of the seminar, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh thanked the participants and audience, hoping the papers presented and the discussion raised would serve the Palestinian issue and all parties working for it.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 18/2/2013