Preparing for a Mideast Summit/ Palestinian Internal Struggles

Aug 29, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

August 29, 2007
Number 08/07 #09

This Update leads off with Kenneth Stein, distinguished American academic historian of American Middle East policy, looking at the history of past Middle East summits over 70 years to draw conclusions for the summit planned for November. His most important lessons are that successful conferences are not an end in themselves – they should initiate a longer-term process, while pre-conference preparatory negotiations are crucial to any success. Of course, he has much more advice, as well as many illustrative historical examples, and to read it all, CLICK HERE. Additional, differing views on the prospects of this conference come from an editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz, which sees a real opportunity for peace at the summit, and former Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, who advises abandoning false assumptions about the Middle East, and lowering the world’s sights to concentrate on building Palestinian institutions and civil society for the time being.

Next up is an important description of the struggles likely to take place within Fatah over the “right of return” if there are serious efforts, as Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has proposed, to negotiate “the principles” of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before the November summit. It comes from Moshe Elad, a former senior IDF officer in the Palestinian territories who is now an academic, and deals particularly with the divisions in Palestinian society, especially, but not solely, between those from within the West Bank and those descended from refugees from the 1948 war. For Elad’s insights into the realities behind the illusion of Palestinian unity, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, more Palestinians prefer PA President Abbas and his PM Salam Fayyad over Hamas, according to the latest poll.

Finally, Danny Rubenstein, Palestinian affairs reporter for Haaretz, offers a good general overview of the current state of the Fatah-Hamas conflict, in a briefing paper he did for the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).  He outlines the verbal and ideological warfare which is now dominant over armed violence, the strategies the sides are pursuing in their contest, and the prospects for a major change in the situation in the near future. For this fine backgrounder on where matters stand between Fatah and Hamas today, CLICK HERE. Rubenstein had another good piece on the Hamas-Fatah struggles in Haaretz last week, plus another good BICOM backgrounder on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the dilemmas of supplying humanitarian aid without empowering Hamas, is here.

A road map for diplomacy



Over the last 70 years, more than half a dozen Middle East peace conferences have been planned or convened. Each brought together Arabs, Zionist/Israelis and a mediator. Sometimes the mediator shuttled between the parties; other times the conference was held before the public, other times in secluded settings..

Outcomes of each past conference have included one or more of the following: consensus to focus on a political horizon, narrowing of differences, public posturing, actual agreement signing, externally imposed issuance of a policy, total failure and a frequent desire by one side or another to curry favor with the great powers who convened the conference.

Habitually, conferences have not changed years of mutual skepticism and mistrust. However, by signing a document using verbal ambiguity, sides were able to agree to disagree.

Arguments can be offered about why and why not an international Middle East peace conference will be held before the end of the year. Convocation of a conference today differs enormously from previous ones – the players, potential agenda, immediate objectives, regional environment and international setting are obviously not the same. Nonetheless, if a conference is held, valuable lessons may be gleaned from the planning, successes, mistakes and missteps surrounding previous Middle East conferences.

AT THE 1939 London Round Table conference, Britain imposed its policy of truncating the Jewish national home and protecting the Arab population, thereby staying in Palestine for another decade. In 1946-1947, Zionists shunned participation at a British-sponsored conference because the agenda focused on implementing either provincial autonomy or a unitary state, not the establishment of a Jewish state. At Lausanne in 1949, the Palestinian refugee issue, status of Jerusalem and prospects of an economic union dominated discussions, but no substantive conclusions were reached.

At Geneva in 1973, public posturing gave way to a prior Israeli-Egyptian-American understanding that a military disengagement agreement would be signed. At Camp David in 1978, agreements reached generally outlined future Egyptian-Israeli relations and possible implementation of Palestinian autonomy. Though negotiated in secret in 1987 between Jordan and Israel, a proposed international conference did not materialize.

At Madrid in 1991, bilateral and multilateral talks emerged, again after public posturing. Rather than reaching a specific agreement, Madrid realigned the political environment because newly participating Arab states were supportive rather than steadfast in opposition to any accommodation with Israel. At Camp David in 2000, discussion of final status issues took place, but no agreements were signed. On the contrary, in the months that followed, severe violence broke out, for the first time after an Arab-Israeli summit conference.

COMMON TO the three most successful conferences – Geneva in 1973, Camp David in 1978 and Madrid in 1991: They were not ends in and of themselves, but instead led to substantive agreements and additional discussions. Two conferences that ambitiously aimed at comprehensive solutions ended up in bilateral agreements.

In 1977, during the first nine months of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, detailed and unwanted US planning for a Middle East conference caused Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to skirt the US and talk directly to the Israelis. Whereas bilateral and multilateral talks emerged from the 1991 Madrid Conference, no one expected that Israel and the PLO would negotiate secretly and, within two years, officially recognize each other, signing an agreement about Palestinian self-rule.

THE FIRST and most important lesson is that a successful conference is a means to an end, not an end itself. A conference is an intermediate diplomatic point that leads to other future rounds of negotiations, be they through future summitry, bilateral and/or multilateral meetings or continued dialogue between the parties, preferably with a relentless mediator or a team headed by such a mediator.

Today, with three key political leaders (George W. Bush, Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert) either termed out or precariously holding on to office, a diplomatic lifeline to sustain the negotiations beyond the conference must be operationally constructed. This could be joined by the parties in advance of the conference and maintained by outside interests like the Quartet, the US and with essential Arab state support.

After the 1973 Geneva Conference and Camp David in 1978, American mediation assured diplomatic movement toward additional agreements. After the 1991 Madrid Conference, bilateral and multilateral talks assured continuity.

In two cases, political leaders simply disliked being at the meetings, but went in part to please an American president. In 1991, prime minister Yitzhak Shamir dreaded going to the conference; he merely wanted to “get the Madrid Conference over and done with.” And Yasser Arafat found nothing redemptive in participating in the Camp David 2000 conference with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak.

SECOND, detailed pre-negotiations are critical. Going into the December 1973 Geneva Conference, US secretary of state Henry Kissinger knew that he would have a military disengagement agreement coming out of the conference; it became a conduit to additional disengagement agreements signed between Israel and Syria in May 1974 and Egypt and Israel again in September 1975.

Prior to convening the 1973 conference, Kissinger knew that its intention was not to engage in any substantive negotiations, but rather to provide international cover for Sadat as he prepared to sign a separate agreement with Israel, and to bring the USSR in without giving it a substantive mediation role.

Details of the January 1974 disengagement agreement and its the maps “appeared” in the briefcase of the State Department officials as they negotiated the detail of the agreement. This first Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement itself was basically pre-negotiated during the previous two months between Egyptian Gen. Muhammad Gamasy and Israeli General Aharon Yariv at the post-1973 war “Kilometer 101” talks.

IF THE 1978 and 2000 Arab-Israeli Camp David summits are considered conferences, the success of the former was due to detailed and prolonged pre-negotiations, American diplomatic shuttle missions and a foreign ministers’ summit meeting in Leeds Castle, London, seven weeks before Carter, Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin met. According to Hal Saunders, the American assistant secretary of state at the time, “the first draft of the Camp David Accords was written at the London Churchill Hotel the night the American delegates returned from Leeds” and presented to Carter weeks in advance of Camp David 1978.

In addition to pre-negotiations, which might take the form of an agreement on a declaration of principles, pre-conference activity this time should include reduction of public incitement, confidence building measures and tension reducing initiatives.

The third lesson is an obvious corollary of the second: Do not go to a conference without proper preparation. On the other side of reality, when Arafat, Barak and Clinton met at Camp David in July 2000, there were virtually no pre-negotiations where either substantive issues were discussed or the agenda narrowed to cover negotiable items.

After years of knowing about the difficult issues, the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships did not discuss options for sharing Jerusalem, or the matter of Palestinian refugees. The Camp David 2000 summit failed for a variety of reasons, including a failure to engage in substantive and realistic pre-negotiations.

AND FOURTH, keep your eye on the prize. In preparation for each conference, stumbling blocks have reappeared. The question of who represents the Palestinians or whether they should attend has bedeviled most conferences. While focusing on Palestinian-Israeli issues in pre-conference days, Israelis and Syrians throw furtive glances at one another, like one-time suitors who keep postponing a climax. Each fancies diplomatic foreplay.

The Syrians do it often to assert their nation’s centrality or to delay a conference’s unfolding; the Israelis do it because they are strategically entranced by Damascus and its neighborhood influence. One may expect that before this conference unfolds, noises about “doing” Syria first will inevitably arise.

Before invitations to attend are issued, each side will want certain guarantees or understandings from whomever convenes the conference. How the conference is structured – public presentations, multilateral talks, bilateral talks, convened under certain UN Resolutions – and even the shape of the table all matters. These procedures often drown out the substance, but only temporarily. Politicians, editorial writers and analysts will do their best to tell you why a conference has no worth, why it will be a bust, and that it is only being held to save, prolong or enhance a political career.

Finally, we have learned recently that elections and constitutions do not make democracy. Likewise, peace conferences do not make peace. Only leaders with vision, political will and the courage to compromise can do both.

The writer is the director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University in Atlanta and teaches Middle Eastern history and political science.


The next Palestinian crisis

Right of return constitutes one of the biggest disputes within Palestinian society

Moshe Elad

Ynet.com, 08.21.07, 00:25

I recall one image in particular from the period of the PLO’s arrival in the West Bank in the winter of 1995. Amid the feeling of national euphoria and sense of “the armed struggle’s victory” and “liberation” of the West Bank by the Palestinian army, one could see a small number of slogans that were quickly drawn up by masked men on walls in Jenin, Tulkarem, and Bethlehem.

The slogans read: “Sumud” (steadfastness,) which until that time had meant objection to the Israeli occupation. Yet this time the slogans were interpreted as a firm stand by residents of the territories vis-à-vis the “PLO outsiders.”
The anonymous writers, who dared challenged Chairman Arafat and the people who returned from exile with him in Tunisia, in fact demanded not to forget that the main struggle by residents of the territories is against the occupation, settlements, and for the sake of “regaining the stolen land.”

Indeed, the struggle between the “PLO outsiders,” who since the organization’s establishment more than 40 years ago espoused the right of return as a top priority, and the “domestic PLO,” which viewed the essence of the struggle as a battle against the occupation in the territories and an ongoing confrontation over land ownership in the West Bank, already entered an advanced stage back then.
It is not hard to contend with the claim that Palestinian society is one solid entity. The Palestinians include residents who hail from the coastal plain as well as villagers from the mountain region, and the Arabs themselves admit that nothing connects those two groups. On the one hand we see permanent residents, and on the other hand we see nomads who have no tribal or clan connection.
This society includes Palestinians who reside in luxury homes in Ramallah and Hebron, while on the other hand we see hundreds of thousands of refugees who live in miserable refugee camps and enjoys one of the lowest standards of living in the world, with one group shying away from the other. If we refer to this society as “a solid entity,” then the common thread connecting it is its weakness.
Arafat’s dream to create a reality where the West Bank and Gaza Strip will become “one geographical unit,” as written in the Palestinian convention, has shattered thunderously in recent months. In its first serious national test, two parts comprising Palestinian society distanced from each other to the point that it’s doubtful whether they can be brought back together.

Palestinian society has undergone its first split, a little too early and against a rather surprising backdrop – the separation of religion from state. The result: The Gaza Strip decided to adopt a radical religious regime headed by Hamas, while the West Bank seemingly continues to back Mahmoud Abbas, the pragmatic Fatah man, in the hopes of establishing an independent and secular Palestinian state in the area between Jenin and Hebron.

2 different leaderships

The renewal of international debate on the issues of refugees and their right to return to the region will no doubt create the next big crisis, with the previous crisis paling in comparison to it.

In the West Bank, unlike Gaza, there are two Palestinians societies rather than one, and similarly there are two leaderships rather than one. Marwan Barghouti who was born and raised in Ramallah, Jibril Rajoub who was born in the Hebron region, Saeb Erekat who was born in Jericho, and Abu Alaa who was born in Abu Dis never placed the “right of return” at the top of their agenda.
The local leadership in the territories, better known as the “domestic PLO,” always attempted to methodically advance the question of ending the occupation, eliminating the settlements, and regaining the land of Arab villages. This struggle was headlined by one word – Sumud. On the other hand, senior “PLO outsiders,” who are refugees and the sons of refugees from the Land of Israel’s coastal plain, were very dominant over the years in their demand to return the refugees to “the homes they were expelled from,” as they argued.

Yassar Arafat was not born in the coastal plain, yet his close aides Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad – a Ramle native,) Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad – a Jaffa native) and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen – a Safed native) were the ones who carried the refugee badge on their backs over the years. They were the ones who pressed Arafat to position the “return question” as a clear and incisive issue that would not be subjected to any kind of “plea bargain” with Israel, and they were the ones who sacrificed the quality of life of refugee camp residents for the sake of the noble goal – the return.
The apparent “moderation” being conveyed from sources around Mahmoud Abbas regarding the right of return, just like tendentious leaks aimed at pointing to “Palestinian flexibility” after long years of traditional toughness come from the direction of the “domestic PLO-Fatah,” from residents of the mountain area, and from those who never espoused the right of return.

This leadership, which views the right of return as no more than a slogan, will lead a tendency of “moderation” over the refugee matter in exchange for great Israeli concessions when it comes to land: The wide-scale evacuation of settlements and minimization of Israeli control in the West Bank to a necessary minimum.

I once asked a senior refugee in Jenin, “Why don’t you get out of this hole, improve your quality of life, and live just like any other person in the world?” He replied: “If you ask the residents, they would tell you that they’re willing to be evacuated right now. Yet the PLO wishes to perpetuate this camp as a living monument…it forbids the removal of even one stone from here, as the moment there is no longer a camp, there would no longer be a Palestinian problem…it cares less about the victims.”
How will the third generation of Palestinian refugees, “the victims,” respond to such development? Certainly not by merely writing slogans on walls.


Hamas, Fatah and the current Palestinian political situation

By Danny Rubinstein, Arab and Palestinian Affairs Correspondent for Haaretz

Bicom Notes, 21 August 2007

A few days ago, I took part in a meeting in Ramallah of several Israeli journalists with the Palestinian Minister of Information, Dr. Riad al-Malki who also acts as the spokesperson for the government headed by Salam Fayyad. Minister al-Malki seemed confident when he declared: “Hamas rule in Gaza will end soon, far sooner than you think.” A similar declaration was heard recently from Nabil Amr, the PA’s most senior advisor in Ramallah. Is Hamas rule in Gaza really disintegrating, and how will it collapse? Isn’t this just wishful thinking?

The struggle between the Palestinian Authority, under the chairmanship of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), which rules in the West Bank, and the Hamas government which controls Gaza is now at its height. It is not a military conflict, and there are hardly any exchanges of fire, neither in Gaza nor in the West Bank, between the groups. But it is also clear that this is a profoundly violent struggle. Spokespeople for the PA and for Hamas accuse their enemies every day of arrests, clashes, and even murder. Many of these reports emanate from the Fatah spokespeople in the West Bank, who accuse Hamas forces in Gaza of atrocities against Fatah activists in Gaza. If we take the reports from mid-August, we find that the Hamas government’s operational units (referred to in the West bank as ‘militias’ to stress that there is no legal basis to their operations) did the following: shooting and killing Fatah activists in Khan Yunis and Rafiah, killing three Islamic Jihad activists and two youths in the Jabalya camp north of Gaza, shooting and attacking wedding guests of a pro-Fatah family in Beit Hanoun, kidnapping a senior manager at the central hospital in Gaza and firing a Qassam missile, aimed at Israel, which killed two babies in northern Gaza. The spokespeople in the West Bank accuse Hamas activists in Gaza of continued destruction and looting. They demand money with menaces from rich families in Gaza, and take protection money claiming that these are taxes that the wealthy have avoided paying. They also sack people associated with Fatah from jobs in government ministries.

Anyone who has been following Palestinian reports over the years can testify that the style adopted by senior Fatah and PA figures in Ramallah against their rivals in Gaza is harsher than that ever used against the Israeli occupier. They are called criminals, murderers and traitors who have harmed the Palestinian people more than any external enemy. “Hamas spreads lies and poisoned words”, said Minister al-Malki to the meeting in Ramallah. He announced that his government had asked the Egyptians to prevent Hamas from using satellite broadcasts (given by Cairo for television in Gaza) so that they could not continue to disseminate lies and venom.

What is interesting in all of this is that the Hamas spokespeople say little in response to these accusations. They admit from time to time that the operational units of the Hamas government are involved in exchanges of fire in Gaza, but always explain it as an attempt to enforce law and order. A few days ago, for example, on August 14th, Hamas policemen fought the well-known gang of the Dagmoush clan in the Sabra district of Gaza. This is the gang that seized the British journalist Alan Johnston. Two Hamas men were killed in the fighting.

The Hamas spokesmen accuse the West Bank security forces of pursuing and arresting their people all over the West Bank. But their accusations are in a language which is moderate in comparison to that used in the past by Hamas spokespeople to excoriate the Fatah leadership.

The struggle between the two sides is now primarily a media-political one. They both know that they have no other option. Abu Mazen and his people understand well that they cannot mount a counter-coup in Gaza. They have nothing in Gaza – no people, no weapons and no public support. The Hamas leadership knows that they cannot seize power in the West Bank by force, as they did in Gaza.

Against this background, Abu Mazen’s strategy, and that of Salam Fayyad’s government is clear: they are making every effort to show that life in the West Bank is improving. There is money; salaries are being paid; public services are working properly; the political process is beginning to show progress, and with it easing of policy by Israel; roadblocks are being lifted, prisoners released. And in comparison, life in Gaza under Hamas is deteriorating daily, the economy and services are crumbling. There is no money, and Hamas rule is enforced with repression, violence and cruelty.

Abu Mazen and his people explain that their strategy is to bring about a situation where the people in Gaza have had enough of the Hamas. “The aim is to detach the masses in Gaza from the Hamas government”, according to a headline in the Palestinian newspapers. In other words, life for the population in Gaza will become unbearable, with no money and no services, on the verge of starvation, and this population will revolt and place pressure on the Hamas leaders to surrender and agree to Abu Mazen’s terms. The well known conditions set by Abu Mazen to Hamas are firstly to return the situation in Gaza to the status quo ante. That means to before the ‘bloody coup’ and the violent seizure of power by Hamas. Secondly, Hamas leaders would be expected to apologise to the Palestinian people for what they have done. After this, it would be possible to go to democratic elections for the Palestinian Authority.

And here we get to the most interesting question: Does this plan have any chance? Will Hamas end up in such difficulties that will spark internal rivalries and disagreements that will force it to bend?

At present, there are no signs of this. What we see in the meanwhile is an entirely unanimous position by Hamas leaders, both those on the outside under the leadership of Khaled Meshaal and those in Gaza under Ismail Haniyeh. They almost all adopt a calm and moderate tone. Khaled Meshaal admitted a few weeks ago to ‘some mistakes’, as he described them, of Hamas in Gaza when they took power. He even apologised for the mistakes, but not to anyone in person, ‘but only to G-d’. After the apology in late July, Meshaal called on the Palestinian people to unite under the leadership of the chairman, Abu Mazen. Nearly all the Hamas leaders repeat the position, in different tones, that they accept the legitimacy of the PA and of its President, Mahmoud Abbas. They call again and again for dialogue with the PA and Fatah, and for compromise and mutual concessions in order to come to agreement and national unity. Since its inception Hamas has never struck such a conciliatory and moderate tone as that voiced by its current leadership.

Why are they doing this? After their success in Gaza, Hamas’s policy of self-preservation is clear. They want to keep their gains. As far as they are concerned, each day that passes with them in control in Gaza is an achievement that is being watched by the world. It appears that they have succeeded on the issue of personal safety in Gaza. The Hamas operational units control the streets. The anarchy of gang warfare in Gaza has disappeared. Ismail Haniyeh’s government invited foreign journalists to tour Gaza, and they were impressed by the quiet and the order they saw.

There are exceptions, here and there. One of them is Ahmed al-Masri, commander of the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He appears to have power and influence, certainly in the military field. It seems quite possible that al-Masri is unwilling to take orders from anyone. His people are holding the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and it is he that aims his mortar and rocket fire from time to time towards Israeli targets.

In the past, we were told that the Hamas leadership has two streams – the moderate stream with people like Ismail Haniyeh and most of the members of his government, and the extremists under the leadership of Khaled Meshaal and his trusty in Gaza, Dr. Mohammed al-Zahhar. Palestinian gossip says that Ahmed al-Masri won’t listen to a word Haniyeh says, but is ready to listen to Meshaal who uses him to weaken Haniyeh and his supporters.

These rumours have no substantiation. What is beyond question is that at this point there is total unity across the Hamas leadership, at least on the surface. This unity is a clear result of the success of the seizure of Gaza and of the need to defend themselves against the attacks and pressures that come from all sides. Hamas in Gaza is fighting almost everyone: Israel, the US and the Europeans; the Arab regimes; and Abu Mazen. When the whole world is against Hamas, then the leadership of the movement in Gaza and abroad closes ranks, defends itself, tries for conciliation, demonstrates calmness and moderation – and more than anything shows itself to be unified in its battle for survival. No-one knows how long this will last. Weeks? Maybe months, and maybe a year and more? It may be that Minister of Information Riad al-Malki was right when he said that the Hamas government in Gaza will fall much sooner than we think.



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