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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Were there ever any 'Palestinian moderates'?

Writing in Foreign Policy. the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's David Schenker asks where all the 'Palestinian moderates' have gone.
What seems clear to me now, as Fatah gathers in Bethlehem this week for its first general assembly in more than a decade, is that the recent statements of Natsheh and his fellow "moderates" signal a broader sea change in Palestinian politics that has occurred over the past decade. Democratic politics are indeed taking shape among Palestinians, but they're mirroring the increasingly extreme views of the population at large. In short, the desire for popular support has not moderated Hamas, but has radicalized Fatah.

No doubt, years of stagnation in the negotiations -- attributable at least in part to Fatah-orchestrated violence -- have proved frustrating and radicalizing for many Palestinians. Yet the recent statements from senior Fatah leaders also smack of political expedience. Fatah, it seems, is looking to shore up its political base, and that base has become more radical in the past several years. Recent surveys suggest that 52 percent of Palestinians support armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel. So Fatah, which in recent years has lost ground to the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas, could be trying to better position itself by competing for militant votes.

Regardless of why Fatah is openly tacking to the right now, the statements have profound implications for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. The leading faction of the PLO that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel -- in which both sides agreed to "recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights ... and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process" -- now says it never consented to the terms of the deal. Fatah's formal rejection of the Oslo terms of reference essentially constitutes the PLO's renunciation of the entire agreement.


[W]hen people like Rafik Natsheh start denying Israel's right to exist, it's a sign that the Palestinian political center has shifted. Moderates still exist and the PA continues to take some positive steps -- such as removing militant preachers from West Bank mosques and cooperating with Israel on security matters -- but its actions seem more focused on preventing Hamas inroads than promoting peace with Israel. Indeed, recent reports indicate that the PA is currently naming streets in the West Bank after terrorists.
But it's not Fatah that's changed. It's people like Schenker, who genuinely believed that Fatah and its leadership wanted peace, who are now taking a more critical look at Fatah in light of all that has happened beginning with the Camp David summit nine years ago this month. And turning a critical eye to the events of 1993-2000, it is clear now (as it was then to those of us who were frustrated skeptics) that real peace that included recognized both sides' interests was never on Fatah's agenda.

It would take days and require hundreds of links to recount all of the things said and done by Fatah and its leadership that showed that it was not seeking peace. But let's start with one of the more prominent and best-known instances. Let's start with Yasser Arafat's speech in a Johannesburg mosque in May 1994:
On 10 May 1994, Yasir Arafat gave what he thought was an off-the-record talk at a mosque while visiting Johannesburg, South Africa. But a South African journalist, Bruce Whitfield of 702 Talk Radio, found a way secretly to record his (English-language) remarks. The moment was an optimistic one for the Arab-Israeli peace process, Arafat having just six days earlier returned triumphantly to Gaza; it was widely thought that the conflict was winding down. In this context, Arafat's bellicose talk in Johannesburg about a "jihad to liberate Jerusalem," had a major impact on Israelis, beginning a process of disillusionment ....

No less damaging than his comments about Jerusalem was Arafat's cryptic allusion about his agreement with Israel. Criticized by Arabs and Muslims for having made concessions to Israel, he defended his actions by comparing them to those of the Prophet Muhammad in a similar circumstance:
I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.
Arafat further drew out the comparison, noting that although Muhammad had been criticized for this diplomacy by one of his leading companions (and a future caliph), `Umar ibn al-Khattab, the prophet had been right to insist on the agreement, for it helped him defeat the Quraysh and take over their city of Mecca. In a similar spirit,
we now accept the peace agreement, but [only in order] to continue on the road to Jerusalem.
Arafat, of course, was regarded by most of the world at that time as a 'moderate' who wanted peace with Israel. What that May 1994 speech proved is that he was far from being one.

One of the commitments that the PLO undertook as part of the Oslo Accords was to amend its covenant to repeal sections that called for Israel's destruction. In April 1996, then-President Bill Clinton arrived in Israel for a very public meeting of the Palestinian National Council at which the covenant was supposedly amended. At the time, many in the pro-Israel community argued that the 'amendments' to the covenant were invalid. But it took nearly two years (and the replacement of Shimon Peres with Binyamin Netanyahu) for even the Israeli government to acknowledge that the covenant had not been amended.
Communicated by the Israel Government Press Office, January 29, 1998

Following is a clarification of 4 myths concerning the PLO Covenant:

1) Myth: The PLO fulfilled its obligation to amend the Covenant when the Palestinian National Council (PNC) voted in April 1996 to alter the document.

Fact: On September 9, 1993, in his exchange of letters with the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat committed himself to amending the articles in the PLO Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist or run counter to the PLO's other commitments, such as the renunciation of violence and terror.

On April 24, 1996, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) convened in Gaza and adopted a resolution concerning the Covenant by a vote of 504 to 54 with 14 abstentions. Translated from the Arabic, the text of the resolution read as follows:

"It has been decided upon:

1. Amending the National Charter by cancelling the articles that are contrary to the letters exchanged between the PLO and the Government of Israel, on September 9 and 10, 1993.

2. The empowerment of a legal committee with the task of redrafting the National Charter. The Charter will be presented to the first meeting of the Central Council."


2) Myth: Chairman Arafat's recent letters to President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair set the record straight regarding which articles in the Covenant were changed.

Fact: There are three problems with Chairman Arafat's recent letters concerning the PNC's April 1996 decision. First, the PNC resolution made no mention of specific articles which were being changed in the Covenant. Now, some 21 months after the PNC vote, Arafat is attempting to retroactively define the articles which the PNC members had in mind when they cast their votes.

Second, Chairman Arafat's letters to President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair contradict each other. In his letter to President Clinton, Arafat listed 12 articles which had been entirely nullified (Articles 6 to 10, 15, 19 to 23, and 30) and 16 others partially nullified (Articles 1 to 5, 11 to 14, 16 to 18, 25 to 27, and 29). In his letter to Blair, Arafat listed 9 articles which had been entirely nullified (Articles 6, 10, 15, 19 to 23 and 30) and 14 others which were partially nullified (Articles 1 to 5, 13, 14, 16 to 18, 25 to 27 and 29).

Thus, Arafat asserted in his letter to Clinton that 28 articles in the Covenant had been altered, whereas in his letter to Blair he said that 23 had been changed.

Third, Arafat's letters contradict statements made shortly after the PNC vote and repeated recently by a wide variety of senior Palestinian officials. Less than a month after the PNC vote, PNC Chairman Selim Zaanoun asserted that the Covenant had been amended but said that "no specific articles" were cancelled. (An-Nahar, May 16, 1996) In an interview on January 22, 1998, Faisal Hamdi Husseini, head of the PNC's legal committee, said "The change has not yet been carried out".


3) Myth: Chairman Arafat's letters effectively complete the process of revising the Covenant.

Fact: Article 33 of the Covenant states that the only body empowered to change the document is the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and that such changes must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the PNC in a special session. Thus, Chairman Arafat's letters are insufficient. Under the procedure outlined by the Covenant itself, Arafat's letters have no legal bearing on the text of the document. The PLO's obligation to convene the PNC in order to amend the Covenant remains unfulfilled.

4) Myth: The PLO Covenant is an outdated document of no significance.

Fact: The Palestinian National Covenant is the founding charter of the PLO, delineating the organization's stated aims and goals. Its tenets are echoed daily in the rhetoric of Palestinian leaders and media. Almost all of the articles in the Covenant explicitly or implicitly deny Israel's right to exist and reject any peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, Article 19 states, "the establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void, whatever time has elapsed " Article 22 asserts that, "the liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace in the Middle East ."

The Covenant also denies the existence of the Jewish people as a nation and any ties that it might have to the Land of Israel (Article 20). It declares that "armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine and is therefore a strategy and not tactics" (Article 9).

A document Israel submitted to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in mid-January 1998 details the necessary steps to amend the Covenant:

Stage One

a. issuance of a statement by the legal committee specifying the articles of the Covenant which were amended or annulled in accordance with the April 1996 Palestinian National Council (PNC) decision (i.e. the articles in the Covenant which are inconsistent with the Palestinian obligations in the framework of the peace process).

Stage Two

b. reconvening of the PNC to pass a new resolution which affirms the statement issued by the legal committee concerning which specific articles in the Covenant were amended or annulled.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must refrain from replacing the articles with other articles which contradict the agreements and/or the peace process, for such a step would be considered a failure to fulfill their obligation to amend the requisite articles in the Covenant."

To comply with their obligation, the Palestinians must amend 26 of the 33 articles in the Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist or advocate violence and terror. The articles which must be changed are: 1-15, 18-23, 25-27 29 and 30.
In 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998, the 'Palestinians' who held positions of power in the PLO, Fatah and the 'Palestinian Authority' were anything but moderates. From 2000 onwards, it was very clear that Yasser Arafat was financing terror and that the 'Palestinian Authority' was carrying out his orders - evidence of that was found when Arafat's Mukhata was raided by the IDF in 2002. Was 1999 different? No.

There were never any true 'moderates' in positions of power in Fatah and Fatah as an organization has never wanted peace with Israel. They differ from Hamas only on the tactics for destroying Israel and on whether 'Palestine' should be an Islamic caliphate. That was true for all of the last sixteen years. Nothing has changed and nothing is likely to change in your lifetimes or mine.

What has changed is that the minds and eyes of many in Israel and abroad who dreamed of peace from 1993 to 2000 have now finally been opened to the truth.


At 7:35 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Steven Plaut pointed out over the years Oslo was a case of Israeli wishful thinking. Israelis on the Left saw the Palestinians as they wanted to see them not as who the Palestinians actually are. Only one side was committed to peace. The other side was - and remains committed to Israel's demise. That's been a constant truth for the past 16 years. And that's why the peace process is now dead.


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