[News] Dangerous dirty tricks in Palestine

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 6 08:55:11 EDT 2006

Dangerous dirty tricks in Palestine
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 6 June 2006

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas at a news conference in 
the Occupied West Bank town of Ramallah June 5, 2006 (MaanImages/Fadi Arouri)

Palestinian Authority chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is 
pushing the internal Palestinian situation towards a dangerous and 
unnecessary crisis. He has called a referendum supposedly to gain 
public endorsement for a document written by Hamas and Fatah members 
held in Israeli jails which calls for the creation of a Palestinian 
state alongside Israel in all the territories occupied in 1967. But 
Abbas' ploy has nothing to do with hastening the creation of such a 
state, and everything to do with Fatah's inability to come to terms 
with its defeat in last January's legislative elections.

Without consulting PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, 
Abbas announced that Hamas would have ten days to accept the 
prisoners' document without any changes or he would call a 
referendum. Hamas made clear that it views the referendum as illegal. 
Palestinian law makes no provision for referendums, and only the 
legislative council, in which Hamas has a huge majority, can amend 
the law. No matter; Abbas, like President Bush, can seem to find 
powers to do anything he wants as the need arises. Following the 
collapse of talks between Hamas and Fatah on June 5, Abbas announced 
that he would go ahead with the referendum by "presidential decree." 
The next morning he announced a three-day extension of his deadline 
to allow for "dialogue," but made clear that Hamas had to take or 
leave the document as is.

Bypassing the Hamas-led authority, Abbas called together the PLO 
executive committee, unelected and unaccountable except to itself, 
but dominated by his allies, to authorize the referendum. This is in 
line with Abbas' recent claims that it is the PLO, and not the PA, 
that is the true representative of Palestinians. This could be 
convincing except for the fact that since signing the 1993 Oslo 
Accord, Fatah leaders have dismantled the PLO as a truly 
representative body and invested all their efforts into building up 
the PA as their powerbase. Once they lost their grip on the PA, they 
suddenly rediscovered the PLO. But the lack of sincerity can be 
measured by the fact that Abbas has made no mention whatsoever of 
including all Palestinians -- the majority of whom live in forced 
exile and diaspora -- in the referendum. No referendum carried out 
only in the occupied territories can represent the will of 
Palestinians as a whole.

Indeed, there is no reason at all to hold such a referendum even if 
the goal is to advance the peace process. One would think that from 
the hurry Abbas is in, Israel is desperately offering the 
Palestinians a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip 
and only Hamas stubborness stands in the way. The exact opposite is 
the case. It has long been clear that a majority of Palestinians 
living in the occupied territories accept the two-state solution and 
supported the Oslo Accords hoping they would lead to that outcome. 
Hamas leaders have signalled their own willingness to recognize 
Israel and accept a state, but only on the basis of equality and 
reciprocity. What Hamas leaders argue is that unconditional 
Palestinian concessions in the past have only led to more Israeli 
demands. Yet despite Israel's continued assassination campaign, Hamas 
has held to a unilateral truce for more than one year. It is Israel 
that has resolutely rejected the two-state solution in practice. It 
continues to build new settlements across the West Bank, and its 
prime minister Ehud Olmert just returned from Washington where he 
sought and gained US endorsement for his plan to unilaterally annex 
much of the West Bank making the state Palestinians want an 
impossibility. Abbas, meanwhile, in order to prove his usefulness, if 
not to his own people, then at least to Israel and the US, continues 
to offer concessions in exchange for nothing.

The reality behind the referendum threat is that Abbas and his allies 
inside and outside the country are looking for a way to undermine 
Hamas' legitimacy which was won fair and square at the ballot box. It 
would appear that the plan is to call a referendum on an 
uncontroversial issue -- given the broad Palestinian consensus in 
favor of the two-state solution -- and then if it passes by the 
expected large majority, claim that this is specifically an 
endorsment of Abbas and his discredited faction, and a rejection of 
Hamas. If the Hamas-led authority tries to prevent the referendum, 
Abbas may use this as a pretext to dissolve the legislative council 
and declare an "emergency" or call new elections which Fatah would 
make sure to win.

There is a background to all this: Just after the January election, 
the New York Times reported on February 14, US and Israeli officials 
met at the "highest level" at the State Department to plot the 
downfall of Hamas by "starving" the Palestinian Authority. "Fatah now 
is obsessed with undoing this election as soon as possible," Khalil 
Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster close to Fatah was quoted saying, 
"Israel and Washington want to do it over too." Since Hamas won 
office, some Fatah leaders have done all they can to obstruct Hamas, 
publicly blaming its leaders for the US-EU-Israeli siege and refusing 
to submit security forces to the authority of the Hamas-led interior 
ministry. Ha'aretz reported on May 28 that Abbas requested permission 
from Israel to increase his "presidential guard" from 2,000 to 10,000 
men, creating a personal militia directly under his control, to add 
to the other PA security forces under Fatah leadership. With the 
cooperation of the Israeli government, the Abbas militia will be 
armed by a third country (Ha'aretz, May 29). Israel's goal in 
transfering the weapons, a senior defense official told Ha'aretz, is 
"to enable Abu Mazen (Abbas' nickname) to deal with" Hamas and other 
Islamic groups (May 26). "Time is running out for Hamas," a Fatah 
security official told the Sunday Times of London (May 28). Accusing 
Hamas of plotting to assassinate Abbas, the official declared, "We'll 
choose the right time and place for the military showdown. But after 
that there will be no more of Hamas's militias."

This is extremely dangerous and reckless talk. Hamas leaders have 
wisely stated their determination not to be pulled into civil war, 
but worryingly, clashes between Fatah militias and Hamas members have 
led to mounting casualties.

Against this context, Abbas' referendum needs to be seen for what it 
is -- another sordid attempt in the Bush administration style to use 
"democracy" not to reveal the will of the people, but to frustrate 
it. Palestinians should be aware of the danger, but should not be 
distracted; they should remain fully focussed on opposing the 
apartheid state that Israel, with western connivance, is building in 
their country.

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

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