PLO pessimism

Under the circumstances, how can we not be pessimistic about the prospects for a negotiated peace any time soon?

Palestinians celebrate the release of prisoners in Gaza 311R (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Palestinians celebrate the release of prisoners in Gaza 311R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Willingness on the part of Hamas, and the even more radical Islamic Jihad, to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization – an organizational framework currently dominated by the “moderate” Fatah – has sparked heated debate.
Optimists argue the move will have a moderating effect on the terrorist organizations. Perhaps Hamas will not delete The Protocols of the Elders of Zion from its official charter; declare its readiness to give up suicide attacks, mortar fire and other murderous activities against Israeli civilians; and reconcile itself to Israel’s right to exist – even within the 1949 armistice lines. But we might see a tactical shift.
After all, Hamas has said in the past that it would temporarily accept a Jewish state within those borders as a stage toward destroying Israel.
In contrast, the pessimists argue that if allowed to join, Hamas will either take control of the PLO or force Fatah to accept its violent radicalism. Hamas will then work to reinstate the organization’s original goal as stated in its 1963 founding charter – five years before the West Bank and Gaza fell into Israeli hands after the 1967 Six Day War – which is “the liberation of their [the Palestinians’] homeland in accordance with their abilities and efficiencies.”
Hamas, say the pessimists, sees the PLO under Fatah as having deviated from its mission at least since Yasser Arafat ostensibly renounced terrorism in December 1988 and agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Unfortunately, there is ample evidence to support the pessimistic view.
Less than 48 hours after Hamas and the Islamic Jihad agreed to join the PLO, Mohammed Shtayyeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee and one of the Palestinian Authority negotiators with Israel, was quoted in the London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper as saying that the Palestinians may cancel agreements signed between the PLO and Israel – including recognition of Israel.
Meanwhile, Fatah officials told The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh they were concerned that incorporating Hamas in the PLO would pave the way for a takeover. Indeed, Hamas has been emboldened by the populist uprisings in the region known as the Arab Spring, which have already brought to power political parties in Egypt and Tunisia with Islamist agendas similar to Hamas’s.
Libya appears to be next in line. And Hamas already enjoys strong support from Turkey’s popular prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and North Sudan’s dictator, Omar Bashir. To a large extent it was the empowerment of Islamists in the wake of the Arab Spring that facilitated Hamas’s prime minister Ismail Haniyeh’s first tour around the region since 2007. Haniyeh and terrorist organizations are widely perceived in the Muslim world as the true defenders of Palestinian interests.
Pressure will build on Fatah to prove its loyalty to the Palestinian cause vis-à-vis Hamas by radicalizing its positions.
Threats made by Fatah’s Shtayyeh that the PLO might cancel agreements signed with Israel should be seen as part of a dynamic in which Fatah and Hamas compete to prove their radicalism.
Further hurting Fatah is the lack of tangible benefit from its much-publicized UN bid for statehood, while Hamas can tout the Schalit prisoner swap as a major success and proof that armed resistance is effective. In a recent speech in Gaza to mark the 24th anniversary of Hamas’s establishment, Haniyeh called the prisoner swap a “security, military and negotiations” victory over Israel.
In the same December 14 speech the Hamas head declared that his movement remained committed to armed struggle to liberate “all the occupied Palestinian territories,” making no distinctions between the West Bank and Tel Aviv.
It is abundantly clear that neither Hamas nor the even more radical Islamic Jihad will undergo a process of moderation as a result of being incorporated in the PLO. It is much more likely that the changes the PLO underwent to shed its terrorist organization status and garner international recognition will be rolled back by Hamas.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s support for bringing Hamas into the PLO raises serious questions about his intentions.
Under the circumstances, how can we not be pessimistic about the prospects for a negotiated peace any time soon?