di Alessandro Accorsi,
Professor George Giacaman, Director of the Muwatin Research Center in Ramallah and Professor of Political Science at Birzeit University, was interviewed on December 2010 and rightly predicted some of the current Palestinian developments.
The PA might take some steps to revive the road toward a «two-state solution», but to what degree the split between Fatah and Hamas weakens their position?
I read often in newspapers that the split between Gaza and the West Bank weakens the Palestinian position. But, in my opinion, it is not true. What weakens the Palestinian position, and especially that of the Palestinian Authority, is the lack of progress toward a «two state» solution. This is what weakens Mahmoud Abbas and, also, politically strengthens Hamas – I am talking about the internal political side – because one failure on one side is to some degree a gain on the other side.
So, what is the problem on the Palestinian side? Abbas seems eager to compromise…
Mahmoud Abbas was critical of the militarization of the intifada even before he was elected President of the Palestinian Authority. He was actually quite courageous because this was not popular in 2002-2003. And then in 2005 he ran for the office of the President raising the flag of negotiations. For a whole year, between January 2005 and January 2006 when the PLC elections were held, the Israelis completely neglected him. This has marked the beginning of the process of weakening Abbas, claiming that there is not any negotiated process leading anywhere. Since January 2006 a different kind of process began, which was the boycott – first political, then economical – of the first cabinet formed after the elections (by Hamas). Israel placed conditions that convinced the USA to adopt and impose them to the Quartet. They came to be known as the Conditions of the Quartet, but they are the Israeli conditions. Since then, there has been political stalemate until mid-June 2007 with the split between West Bank and Gaza that lasts until nowadays. But this does not weaken the Palestinian position or the PA. What weakens the PA is the stalemate in progress toward the two-state solution. You have to keep in mind that the main problem is that since 1991 with the Madrid Conference and after 19 years of negotiations the PA does not have another 19 years of negotiations. They have reached the end of the line. The main issue has to do with the legitimacy of the continued existence of the PA. Because Palestinians have not envisioned that the PA should function permanently as a large municipality to manage the daily affairs of the Palestinians. This has not what the Palestinians have understood by the Oslo process. The question of the continuous existence of the PA has now been debated publicly and Abbas suggested in a way that dissolving the PA might be the final step that they will take. I do not support the view that the split weakens the PA. On the contrary what would strengthen the PA is concrete progress toward the two state solution. And it also will strengthen the PA vis-à-vis Hamas as well.
Which are the steps the PA should take as it regards negotiations?
Abbas announced six or seven steps, including going to the UN Security Council and then going to the General Assembly. But they keep changing, as now they are saying that they might go to the US and ask for recognition of the 1967 borders or of a Palestinian State. My impression is that they are not sure about the steps and which are their options either. It is not only a question of which order. This shows a lack of order and a lack of seriousness in my opinion. They are not serious, so far, for two reasons. The first is that some of these steps, if taken, will put them in conflict with the US policy. And so far, they have not decided to take actions of confrontation with the US. The second aspect is that there are too many interests tied to the continuous existence of the PA as it is. And in any possible confrontation with the United States or Israel some stand to lose. At some point if the friction continues Israel might release some corruption files. I am almost sure that Israel has corruption files on all PA officials, which are or were corrupted in the past. They might take other steps, but this is a serious threat. There are personal things at stake in addition to a situation where, for some, being in a position of political authority is a mean to reach economic gains. That is by definition corruption. Now, their problem is that they cannot simply continue businesses as usual, with no credible political process. They are desperate, as the continuous existence of the PA needs a political process, needs credibility.
There has been shuttle diplomacy, direct and indirect talks, and proximity talks. Now there is a new feature, which they call parallel talks. What it means is not clear. At least they could come up with a phrase to suggest there is some alternative. I think what the Americans are trying to do now, is to fill the political gap. If the political vacuum remains unfilled, it will be filled eventually by conflict on the ground. And that is what everybody fears and does not want. The problem is how long can they fill the political vacuum by Mitchell going back and forth. They have already lost much of their credibility and he was on the verge of resigning. [He was later dismissed].
What can the PA do?
What can the PA do? There is a unique situation. The PA has been lacking initiative since Abbas was elected. He simply said that he was for negotiations toward a two-state solution, but he did not have means to do it and did not take any initiative. What we have now, on the contrary, is an opportunity. Neither the US nor Israel have any idea about what to do. There is room for action because there is a lost of initiative on part of the Obama administration and on part of the Nethanyahu cabinet – apart from building settlements. It is an important juncture. Can the Palestinians enter and fill the gap? The problem is the only initiative they have is based on the only point of strength they have. That is, that everyone wants the PA to continue to exist. Israel does not want to administer the affairs of the Palestinians, they do not want the financial burdens. The US, the EU, the Arab World have invested too much for seeing the PA die. The problem is that Israel does not want to pay the political price of the transformation of the PA into a state. Therefore, what the PA can do is to take initiative in what can be called «diplomatic resistance». The idea here would be to reshuffle the cards on the table, to change the agenda. Maybe some of Abbas ideas could work, like going to the General Assembly, not to the Security Council. Maybe they can even look for a veto that will embarrass the American administration. If they are sure of having a majority in the General Assembly, and they should go only if they are sure about it, this will lead to political isolation for Israel and nothing much. Maybe to a state, but still under occupation. They need to generate more crises and put a new agenda on the table. They need to put pressure on the Israeli government and force them to respond. For example by stopping to transfer tax revenues, preventing PA officials to travel abroad. And the Palestinians should respond again, for example by reviving the Goldstone Report, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall. Have they done anything with that? If the process continues of provocations and responses, Israel will dissolve the PA. In the sense that it will make it ineffectual. At some point someone will intervene, because the US and Israel do not have interest in the PA dissolving and the Palestinians cannot be blamed. But it is some sort of a «chicken game». Everyone is on the edge of the precipice and does not have to show its fears. The Palestinians have nothing to lose and they should remember it. However, the PA has to decide before taking the first step that if necessary, they will go up to the last. If they are not willing to do it, they will lose credibility. And this is a decision they have not taken, yet. They can buy six more months of time. But they cannot buy five more years.