Analysis: Strategically crafted ambiguity

The PA unity gov't is designed to appease not only Hamas and Fatah, but also the Americans and Europeans.

March 16, 2007 01:24
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The political program of the new Palestinian Authority unity government, which constitutes a compromise between the relatively pragmatist policies of Fatah and the radical ideology of Hamas, contains many contradictions and ambiguities. The wording of the program has been drafted in such a way so as to allow both Hamas and Fatah to argue that neither party had totally abandoned its traditional position. The equivocal tone is designed to appease not only Hamas and Fatah, but also the Americans and Europeans. After all, the main goal behind the formation of the new coalition is to get the international community to resume desperately needed financial aid to the Palestinians. With regard to the three demands of the Quartet - renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and abiding by previous agreements with Israel - the program leaves the door wide open for different interpretations. On the issue of terrorism, the program states, on the one hand, that the new government "stresses that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people... and our people have the right to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression." On the other hand, the program says that the new government will "work toward consolidating the tahdiya [period of calm] and extending it [to the West Bank] so that it becomes a comprehensive and mutual truce." The program sets a number of conditions for halting the "resistance," ending the "occupation" and achieving independence and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israeli security measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the construction of the security fence. In other words, Fatah and Hamas are saying that the violence will continue as long as Israel does not meet these demands. Regarding recognition of Israel's right to exist, the program does not mention the name Israel. Instead, it refers to Israel as "The Occupation." It also makes no mention of the two-state solution. Rather, it reiterates the Palestinians' opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Although the document declares that the "key to peace and stability is contingent on ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and recognizing the Palestinian people's right to self-determination," it does not specify which "lands" - those captured by Israel in 1967 or 1948. Fatah representatives, of course, argue that the program refers only to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Hamas, on the other hand, will be able to argue that the phrase "Palestinian lands" applies also to all of Mandatory Palestine. Referring to the third demand of the Quartet - abiding by agreements between the PLO and Israel - the political program states that the new government will only "respect" agreements signed by the PLO. Hamas leaders have already explained that there is a huge difference between "respecting" an agreement and making a pledge to fulfill it. In other words, Hamas is saying that while it accepts the agreements with Israel as an established fact, it will not carry them out. Elsewhere in the program, the new government says that it will abide by unspecified United Nations and Arab summit resolutions, leaving the door open for Fatah to claim that this is tantamount to recognizing the two-state solution and all the agreements with Israel. Fatah will cite the 2002 Arab peace plan that implicitly recognizes Israel. Hamas, on the other hand, can always claim that among the Arab summit resolutions that it intends to abide by is the one taken in Khartoum, Sudan, in September 1967. The resolution contains what became known as "the three nos" of Arab-Israel relations at that time: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel. Although the program makes it clear that the PLO, and not the new Hamas-led coalition, will be responsible for conducting negotiations with Israel, it also seeks to tie the hands of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas by stating that any "fateful" agreement must be approved by the Palestinians in the PA-controlled areas and abroad through a referendum. The program, moreover, closes the door to any potential concessions on the problem of the refugees by emphasizing their "right of return to their lands and property inside Israel." As far as Israel is concerned, perhaps the immediate ray of hope lies in a promise by the unity government to "encourage" and "back" efforts to release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been in the Gaza Strip since last June.

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