Palestine Monitor, 29 January 2011
Last Sunday, Al-Jazeera, pairing up with The Guardian, created a buzz by releasing purportedly confidential documents unveiling years of secret negotiations between the Israeli government, the PLO negotiators and the PA. The documents are a huge blow to the already considerably weakened Palestinian leadership, whose credibility – as well as, some argue, legitimacy – lie in shambles. In such circumstances, how can it recover? Should it even? No, Palestinian-American political analyst Mohammad Oweis told the Palestine Monitor, it is time for a long overdue change. Cecile Gault reports.
The ‘Palestine Papers’, as they have been called, reveal unprecedented and extensive concessions on the Palestinian side, under the cold and unyielding eye of the Israelis, backed by the U.S. and European governments. Acceptance of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, use of the refugee issue as a ‟bargaining chip”, compromise on the status of the Haram As-Sharif, collaboration with Israel in political assassinations a few examples of the damning ‘Papers.’
Palestinian/Arab reactions to the ‘leak’ have been fierce, both in condemnation and in defense of the PLO and the PA. Fatah supporters claim foul play and forgery while other member of the Palestinian society denounce the treachery and illegitimacy of Palestinian leaders, demanding for them to step down. PLO Saeb Ereka and PA representatives have multiplied declarations rejecting the documents as falsifications, before revising their statements to suggest that the press extrapolated on elements taken out of context and stressing that negotiations are neither final nor binding. Allegations that the ‘Papers’ are a ploy by the Qatari government – who funds Al Jazeera – to destabilize and ultimately destroy Mahmoud Abbas and his partisans have also been generated by varying defenders of Fatah and the PA.
Upon closer look though, are the Al Jazeera ‘revelations’ such a bombshell? Apart from the fact that—should the documents prove to be genuine—long contended suspicions now affirmed in writing, surprise among disenchanted Palestinians is lacking.
For example, one of the latest revelations to make headlines deals with the widely decried PA move to postpone the UNCHR vote on the Goldstone report, in the fall of 2009. According to the ‘Papers,’ the reason behind the PA’s request was not, as officially explained by Abu Mazen, to have more time to gather international support, but rather to placate the US and get back to the negotiating table with Israel faster. For many this is not new, but merely confirms what many had been saying all along.
Indeed, to analyst Mohammad Oweis, longtime friend of the late Yasser Arafat, the Al Jazeera leaks are ‟a non-fact and any claim by Abbas and the people around him that this is an attempt to bring him down is non-sense. They are becoming very nervous because they have no foot to stand on.”
“In fact, the very legitimacy of Abbas as PLO chairman is in question”, Mr. Oweis further adds, ‟as the people who voted for the [PLO] Executive Committee that in turn elected him had themselves been appointed by Arafat and members of the Fatah group. The whole system is illegitimate. Moreover, negotiating away fundamental rights of Palestinians is a violation of the Palestinian National Charter”.
Mr. Oweis stresses the importance of distinguishing between the PLO and the PA: ‟The Palestinian Authority was established as an authority under occupation following the Oslo Accords. It is not representative of the whole Palestinian people and should therefore not be negotiating on behalf of all Palestinians. Only the PLO is qualified to do so. However, in spite of there being over a dozen sitting members on the Executive Committee, the only ones we see and hear are Erekat, Abbas, and maybe Nabil Shaath. Where is the rest of the Committee? Mr. Abbas is practicing dictatorship before he even gets a Palestinian State”.
What then, should happen now? If the present leaders are illegitimate and violating the Palestinian National Charter (or Covenant), what is the next step? To Mohammad Oweis, the answer is very straightforward: ‟It is time for the Palestinian people – inside Palestine as well as the Diaspora – to elect a new Palestinian National Council which will elect a new Central Committee of the PLO. That Central Committee would in turn elect the Executive Committee that would designate a new PLO chairman.”
Of course, as obvious and appealing as the idea might be, implementing it would mean overcoming a number of difficulties. The election would have to take place in a neutral place, out of reach from Israeli military and police interference. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad would need to be included in the process, and agree to be included in the higher interest of Palestinians as a united people. ‟We have been able to do it before,” Mr. Oweis argues, ‟we have been able to vote under the most difficult circumstances in the past, so why shouldn’t we be now?”
When asked about how Israel and the United States would react to such a move and how it could affect the result, Mr. Oweis is adamant. ‟Israel and the US have not delivered on the international rule of law, on the Oslo Agreements or on the Fourth Geneva Convention. They should stay out of Palestinian business. Oslo was signed on 13 September 2003 and since then, nothing has been implemented or done to improve the lives of Palestinians. On the contrary, the number of settlements in the West Bank has doubled, while the number of settlers has quadrupled. What the Palestinian people needs is the demise of a corrupt authority and the establishment of an honest democracy.”
In other words, it is time for Palestinians to stop looking at the US who has proven to be nothing close to an honest broker in the negotiations, even before the ‘Palestine Papers’ were revealed, and certainly to stop waiting on the Israelis to realize how a fair and honest peace agreement would be in their own interest. Consequently, according to Mr. Oweis, the new and legitimately elected PLO bodies should first establish what Palestinians want from the Middle East process as well as from the International Community. With that knowledge they can draft a set of demands and deliver them to the UN Security Council and ‟let it deal with it.”
“Negotiations don’t work with Israel. It is time now to go to the Security Council who has a responsibility under the UN Charter and its own Resolutions 181 [partition] and 194 [refugees rights] to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people.”
It seems like Mr. Oweis is not the only one to be calling for new elections. Just this past Thursday for instance the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) organized a sit-in in the PLO’s London embassy as part as their Campaign for direct elections to Palestine National Council. A group has been created on Facebook and supporters can follow the GUPS’ action on Twitter.
Time will tell whether the initiative shall fail or succeed. After all, the ‘Jasmin Revolution’ in Tunisia seems to have sparked a renewed hope that everything is possible all across the Arab world and we are now at a crossroads. There is no telling the geopolitical repercussions should these demonstrations for change gain momentum. True, the obstacles remain many to the election itself, but also – and maybe even more so – to Security Council action in favor of Palestine, especially as long as the US will remain Israel’s closest ally. However, when confronted on the difficulty of the task in light of realpolitik, Mr. Oweis asked: ‟What’s the other option?”
To read more analysis on the Palestine Papers, visit: http://english.aljazeera.net/palestinepapers/