Monday, November 29, 2004


Abu Mazen's generous offer

Danny Rubinstein has an analysis in today's Ha'aretz of Abu Mazen's stated position on what would constitute a two-state solution, namely creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with its capital in Jerusalem, and a just solution of the refugee problem, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. There has been much talk of Abu Mazen being more conciliatory than Arafat, somebody the Israelis and the US can work with, and on and on. There is obviously a good amount of hope that Abu Mazen will sell out the Palestinians in order to secure the involvement and support of the US and Israel (this is what is meant by "opportunity" these days from what I hear). For those willing to believe this, Abu Mazen's comments, especially those regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees, were said to be simply a ploy to shore up his domestic support in anticipation of upcoming Palestinian elections. To ensure stability in the occupied territories, it was reasoned, Abu Mazen was simply saying what he had to say. "Unforunately," as Rubinstein writes, this is not the case.
On the contrary: Even the assumption that the statements he is now making are meant for domestic consumption is erroneous. The call for a state within the `67 borders, the capital of which would be in Jerusalem, and a just solution to the refugee problem - were and remain the undeviating and official Palestinian positions since the advent of the diplomatic process. This was the belief of Yasser Arafat and without a doubt will be that of Abu Mazen, as well.

From the Palestinian point of view, these are not overly firm positions. On the contrary, they are the most moderate positions that they can present. It was the Arafat-led Fatah movement that spearheaded promotion of them among the Palestinians. Arafat devised the idea of a partition of the land into two states. He faced the strong opposition of the Islamic bloc and the leftist fronts, with the addition of a few groups from within Fatah (Farouk Kaddoumi and others). Before he was sentenced to five life sentences, and before being dubbed "engineer of the intifada," Marwan Barghouti used to proclaim: "We - the Fatah organization - we are the Palestinian Peace Now." This was his usual answer when asked why the Palestinians did not have such an organization.
I always find that those making the argument that "Arafat was offered many peace plans, rejected them all, and never made counterproposals" are seriously misunderstanding or willfully misinterpreting the situation. The counterproposal was a standing offer while Arafat was around. And it is what Abu Mazen is referring to now. The 1967 borders, Jerusalem as a shared capital (or East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine), and addressing the refugee problem. As Rubinstein argues, these are not guidelines that are not unassailable in Palestinian public opinion. But the Israelis are not likely to find too many alternative with which they will be satisfied.
Quite a few political activists believe that Arafat's death may also end the idea of a division of the land into two states: Israel and Palestine. That was the idea at the foundation of the Oslo accords, but the political circumstances of hostility, mistrust between the sides, expansion of the settlement blocs and illegal settlement outposts, greater Jewish entrenchment in East Jerusalem, and the inability to end the violence - have eliminated the opportunity for a settlement on the basis of Oslo. Many people in Israel now think that the Oslo agreements were a catastrophe, but among the Palestinians this is much more the case....

The Palestinian groups opposed to the principle of partitioning the land into two states gained much power during the intifada years. They now include not only Hamas, which has widespread support in Gaza, but also those groups within Fatah, such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which initiate a high percentage of terrorist attacks. In other words, Arafat's passing could also be the demise of the mutual recognition of the PLO and Israel, and the end of the idea of two states for two peoples.
If Israel refuses to commit seriously to the idea of a two-state solution, it may be Israel that rejected the "generous offer" that Arafat (and now Abu Mazen) were willing to put on the table. There is this perception that this offer will be on the table forever, but that may not be the case. And while Israel is strong enough militarily to enforce practically any decision it makes, I hope that there are enough Israelis that see that it is better served by making "concessions" on the West Bank and Gaza Strip before it is too late.

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