By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The initiative proposed by the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), detailed by Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan ‘Abdullah Shallah on 21/10/2016, attempted to advance the current discussions in the Palestinian arena regarding intra-Palestinian reconciliation and its mechanisms, towards conducting a revision of the national project and reorienting it in the direction of serving the supreme interests of the Palestinian people, and securing sound foundations for the renewal of the national liberation project.
Almost two months later, it has yet to receive the discussion and dialogue it deserves. Despite its attempts to mend the Palestinian situation, it faces an equal measure of disinterest and lack of attention, risking turning into yet another document to be shelved next to previous initiatives.
The initiative, which consists of ten points, calls for abolishing the Oslo Accords, withdrawing recognition of Israel, this recognition, as it mentioned being the “biggest sin and the root of all current Palestinian evils,” and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to become an all-inclusive framework for Palestinian factions and individuals.
The initiative stresses that the current phase in the life of the Palestinian people remains one of national liberation, and therefore, the priority remains resistance against occupation until it is removed.
The initiative calls for ending the division and restoring national unity, and merging the separate polities in Ramallah and Gaza. It also reaffirms the need to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people on their land, and the unity of the Palestinian people in the interior and in the Diaspora.
The initiative calls upon Arab and Islamic parties to shoulder their historic responsibilities vis-à-vis Palestine and its cause, including by withdrawing the Arab Peace Initiative, halting normalization of ties with Israel, and for Egypt to end its role in the blockade of Gaza Strip (GS) and help in its reconstruction instead. The initiative calls upon the leadership of the PLO to prosecute Israel and its leaders before the International Criminal Court (ICC), calls for the activation of the international boycott of Israel, and calls in its tenth and last point for launching a comprehensive national dialogue between the representatives of the Palestinian people to discuss steps and mechanisms to effect a shift towards this new path.
Clearly, the PIJ sought to present its initiative in a national framework, and in line with its convictions, while also searching for common ground with other Palestinian forces and steering clear of ideological Islamist formulations that reflect its own platform, since its name is enough to express its nature and program. And yet, the main target audience of this initiative and its urgings is the Fatah movement. For its part, Hamas agreed to the initiative, as did most other Palestinian factions including members of the PLO, namely, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
The thrust of the initiative is the annulment of the peace process, coupled with a return to armed resistance under a specific national program with Arab and Islamic support. But what is new about this?! Indeed, from the first moment Fatah, the PLO, and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) entered “the tunnel” of the Oslo Accords and the peace process… there was broad-based Palestinian rejection. An alliance of ten factions rejecting the Accords was formed, including PIJ, calling for the same ideas contained in the new initiative 23 years ago.
Yet there has been no interest in these ideas in the past ten years among the leaders of Fatah who are also leaders of the PA and the PLO… Rather, they persisted down the path of the peace process and their crackdown on resistance forces, while failing to achieve the dream of Palestinian statehood, end the settlements, stop the “Judaization” program, and halt the engineered alteration of occupied Palestine’s features, identity, and demographics.
However, the initiative’s importance comes from the fact that it is attempting to correct the course of the Palestinian issue, and refocus Palestinian internal dialogue to the central issue, namely, resistance and liberation. In the past years, the Palestinian forces preoccupied themselves with following up the reconciliation and implementation mechanisms. They tackled into details issues like the formation of the government in the West Bank (WB) and GS, elections, reformation of PA agencies, and payment of civil servants’ salaries, while the fundamental problem remains the very foundations and structure of the PA and its national platform, rather than the mechanisms of its work.
Observers understand that three of the five points of the reconciliation agreements can be disrupted by the Israelis without difficulty: the government’s discharge of its duties; legislative elections; and the reformation of security agencies in WB. Consequently, Israel became the “implicit determinant,” necessitating a way to help the Palestinians overcome the inability to implement the reconciliation program. Hence, the basis proposed for this was the rebuilding of the PLO according to a new national program and consensus.
On the other hand, observers realize that the impasse in the peace process has become intractable, causing a state of total frustration with it, as Israel has effectively eliminated the two-state solution, while the Palestinians are increasingly rallying behind the resistance program. Thus, the initiative was proposed as a way out of the current predicament.
Despite the unequivocal language towards the Oslo Accords and recognition of Israel, and the need to rebuild the PLO…, the initiative used “ambiguous” language regarding the future of the PA, the land to be liberated, and the issue of Arab and Islamic support for Palestine. It also used diplomatic language with “Brother President Abu Mazin [Mahmud ‘Abbas]” and “sisterly country Egypt” and its regime…; perhaps in a bid to present the initiative as a realistic demarche with the parties it addresses.
The ambiguous language spoke about “strengthening and developing the Jerusalem Intifadah [uprising] to become a fully blown uprising able to defeat and repel the occupation from our lands without conditions.” The uprising to defeat the occupation in this context… should be understood in the current political discourse as something that primarily would unfold in WB…; a goal that could therefore be a place of convergence with Fatah. However, the Intifadah would not be effective nor sufficient to repel the occupation from “our land” occupied in 1948, which is the strategic goal of groups like Hamas, PIJ, and others.
The fifth point of the initiative tackled the issue of ending the division, and preparing a comprehensive strategy to withdraw from the Oslo Accords and end the presence of two separate authorities in Gaza and Ramallah. However, the initiative did not indicate whether ending the presence of two authorities would restore a unified PA…, or dismantle it altogether, or redefine it as a resistance-led authority. Perhaps the PIJ wanted some kind of “constructive ambiguity,” but its condition for withdrawing from the Oslo Accords and building a national resistance strategy, can only mean ultimately dismantling the PA in its current form; if not at the hand of Palestinians, then at the hands of Israel, which will not allow the establishment of a resistance authority under its occupation.
What should be noticed is that “Oslo” is not just an accord, but rather an entire “system.” If we want to withdraw from “Oslo,” a new “system” must replace the old one. Many Palestinians are convinced that the Oslo Accords and their implications dramatically scaled down the aspirations of the Palestinian people, marginalized the role of the Palestinians in Diaspora, downgraded the PLO into a sub-department of the PA, and inflated the Palestinian self-rule authority.
Furthermore, the conditions of Oslo, the Israeli conduct vis-à-vis the PA, and the dismal performance of the PA and PLO leaderships turned the body of this authority into a weak corruption-ridden structure relying in 80% of its revenues on foreign aid and taxes collected by the Israelis.
The “revolutionaries of yesterday” now linked themselves to a new life support system and network of special interests whose survival is contingent upon that of the PA, and with it the livelihoods of nearly 175 thousand civil servants supporting more than one million Palestinians, absorbing Fatah’s cadres and affiliates.
The question that follows concerns the “realism” of the initiative for Fatah. On the one hand, Fatah’s “pragmatism” will prevent it from abandoning the peace process, unless it finds better “realistic” options that would offset the potential collapse of the PA and eliminate a source of income for tens of thousands of its cadres in parallel with the withdrawal of international recognition of the PLO which might once again be designated as “terrorist” by Western powers. The move would also antagonize the “moderate” Arab regimes that support the peace process led by Egypt; all amid a lack of clear prospects for the resistance project in a hostile or at best indifferent Arab and international climate. Subsequently, Fatah is likely to deal with the initiative as an “adventure” with unknown consequences.
Secondly, Fatah itself is suffering from organizational and leadership weakness, and a conflict of interest with the PA and its structures. This makes a decision by Fatah towards adopting armed resistance as a strategy unlikely under the current leadership, even if cadres and bases of Fatah support this bid.
Thirdly, the general conduct of the PA, PLO, and Fatah leaderships after ten years of Palestinian division, could not even accommodate the implications of Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections. They did not use the keys to the reconciliation in their possession (the leadership of the PLO, PA, and the convention of the Provisional Leadership Framework) to activate the reconciliation program. They even disrupted local elections, and more than anything, they are managing rather than implementing the reconciliation.
Consequently, if the reconciliation has not been implemented more than five years after it was agreed, when its requirements are much smaller than those of the PIJ initiative; it is logical to assume the latter will face even more obstacles.
With regard to the Fatah voices that have been positive about the initiative, they do not reflect the reality of the Fatah decision-making. Their role is just to express individual opinions or absorb some pressure and questions raised by the initiative. Moreover, Mahmud ‘Abbas did not even bother to comment on the initiative till writing this article. Therefore, the statement of the Secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council Amin Maqboul, that the initiative is “hyperbolic and unrealistic,” remains the best expression of Fatah’s practical position.
On the other hand, the initiative’s eighth point called for engaging all Arab and Muslim stakeholders to urge them to shoulder their historic responsibilities, focusing on Egypt’s role in ending the GS siege. While this is indeed imperative, the reality does not suggest Arab and Muslim stakeholders would comply in the desired manner. The Egyptian regime fully understands that GS poses no threat to its security. Yet Egypt continues the siege on GS for reasons related to the stability of the regime, whether because of its hostility to “Political Islam” movements, or its need for US, Western, and Israeli support to guarantee its internal stability.
Many observers may have hoped for the initiative to instead focus on a bigger role for Arab and Muslim peoples as a fundamental support base for the resistance project and for efforts against normalization…, rather than the corrupt Arab and Muslim regimes that one can no longer pin any hopes on.
Finally, the PIJ initiative deserves due discussion and constructive interaction. It deserves to spur a search for real steps, measures, and mechanisms to implement it on the ground.