Editors Notes: Abbas's new-old adviser

The unity gov't talks are a waste of time, says Nabil Amr with typical briskness. Hamas will never accept the Quartet's conditions. 'If it does, it's not Hamas.'

September 28, 2006 23:11
4 minute read.
Editors Notes: Abbas's new-old adviser

david horovitz 224.88. (photo credit: )


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Two years after the failure of the President Clinton-hosted Camp David talks on a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Nabil Amr, Yasser Arafat's former minister for parliamentary affairs, published a damning critique of the chairman in the PLO's own newspaper. Amr's "open letter" to Arafat lamented the missed opportunity at Camp David, and lambasted the Palestinian leader for proudly resisting concessions when the consequence was more suffering and the continued frustration of his people's hopes for independence. Amr was branded a traitor and his home was fired on, reportedly by members of the Arafat-loyalist Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Two years later, in a television interview, Amr criticized Arafat again, for failing to root out corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Soon after he returned home, gunmen fired on him through the window of his home, hitting him twice in the right leg, which he had to have partly amputated. Those responsible have never been apprehended. "Please be careful in writing up what I say to you," Amr asked me on Wednesday, at the end of an interview in his Ramallah office. A public advocate of a two-state solution, Amr has also been a consistent critic of Israeli policies - of the "occupation," of Jewish settlement, of the "Apartheid Wall," and of the Sharon government of 2003. That coalition "killed" the PA government in which Abbas was prime minister and he was minister of information, Amr has said, by failing to observe "the cease-fire with the resistance groups" and by refusing to release Palestinian prisoners. A former member of the Palestine Legislative Council, Amr narrowly failed to win election in the PLC vote at the start of this year because, he says, of the "chaos" in Fatah. But as of the last few days, the veteran politician and journalist is back at the heart of official Palestinian politics as a senior adviser to his "partner" Mahmoud Abbas. Maintaining his personal history of saying out loud what others might barely allow themselves to privately acknowledge, Amr states flatly that Abbas is "wasting time" trying to establish a unity government with Hamas. "I was completely against it from the beginning," he says. "There is no way to find a compromise with Hamas on the Quartet conditions" - the requirements that the Hamas-run PA government recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and agree to respect previous PA agreements with Israel. "It's impossible," he says with the simplicity that manages to elude so many other key players and observers. "Hamas will never accept those conditions. If it does, it's not Hamas." He expects Abbas to go through with the current round of contacts with the local Hamas leadership on the unity quest, for those talks to fail, and then, he says, Abbas "must make a decision. He can't talk forever." What kind of decision? Stressing that this is merely his "personal position," Amr says that Abbas "has to call new elections." Will Hamas, the big victors in January's vote, consent to any such thing? Probably not, he acknowledges, noting that the current PA cabinet's Hamas Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Zahar, remarked the other day that this was the best government the Palestinians had ever had. So how would this be practicable? Either by agreement with Hamas "or by another way," he says. And incidentally, he also wants to change the electoral system, moving over to pure proportional representation. In a resulting vote, there'd be a "better balance" in the PLC, he predicts - meaning fewer Hamas members. As a minority in a subsequent cabinet, Hamas could cling to its rejection of the Quartet conditions, but a majority in the government would approve them, and the path to international political and financial rehabilitation for the PA, and to substantive dialogue with Israel, would be reopened. Is there a legal basis for the PA president to dissolve the PLC? Others might disagree, but Amr asserts that since Abbas is the head of the PLO, and since the PA is a branch of the PLO, "if he wants to find the legal justification, he can." Amr stresses again that this is how he would move forward, not necessarily what Abbas will choose to do. But Abbas knows your positions, and he's just made you his adviser, I say. That presumably means something. Amr nods. Such an election process, leading to renewed negotiation, he asserts, would also be good for Israel. After all, the unilateral approach, in Gaza and in Lebanon, he says, has only boosted the extremists. But why believe that another attempt at negotiation would flourish where Camp David failed? What solution, for a start, does he envisage to that absolute non-starter for Israel, the Palestinian demand for a refugees' "right of return"? The Arab proposal of 2002 "speaks of an agreed solution" to the refugee issue, Amr says - referring to the Saudi-backed initiative that seems to be making something of a diplomatic comeback, especially amid talk of Israeli prime ministerial contacts with Saudi officials. That "agreed solution" formula, says Amr, is the route to follow. "Are you waiting to hear from the Palestinians that they will forget the refugee issue?" he challenges, straight-talking again. "Impossible. Nobody will ever say that."

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