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NeMon'ess's Journal: Straight Talk on Palestine's New Unity Government

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Wednesday night I went over to UC Berkeley to hear this guy speak for about forty-five minutes and thirty minutes of questions. He didn't have encouraging words though.

Currently the Palestinian government needs funding and aid from the US and European countries. These countries essentially give the money while saying "won't you please change some things to help your people and the peace process?" Then the Palestinians say they'll see what they can do. The money runs out, and the cycle repeats. The way Khaled Abu Toameh sees it, the Palestinian government won't change until the West firmly refuses more money until changes are made. For one, it needs to plainly acknowledge Israel's right to exist. Unfortunately, he sees no indications the Western countries are going to do that.

He also explained that that Fatah won the elections with promises of ending corruption and bringing change. Then they proceeded to abandon those campaign promises. Hamas won because their campaign was basically the same promises and voters figured they might as well see if anything would change this time, because Fatah sure didn't.

Just maybe the new Wasatia party will deliver on some of its promises.

Straight Talk on Palestine
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
March 20, 2007;
Wall Street Journal - Page A19

Even before the Palestinian "unity" government was sworn in Saturday at least five European countries announced that they would resume their business with the Hamas-led coalition.

The U.S. has endorsed Israel's position on the Palestinian government -- namely, that its political platform does not meet the conditions set by the so-called "Quartet" of the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia for ending the boycott. Washington is now under heavy pressure from its Arab allies in the Middle East to deal with it.

But the U.S. should stand firm. The Palestinian government is not committed to the Quartet's demands that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by agreements signed with Israel in the past. The speeches delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Hamas partner, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, at Saturday's parliamentary session show that the Palestinians are determined instead to continue their strategy of double-talk.

Neither the president nor the prime minister openly called for an end to terrorism or for recognizing Israel's right to exist. And to add to the confusion, the two men came up with a political program that contains many contradictions and ambiguities.

The wording of the program was drafted in such a way as to allow both Hamas and Fatah to argue that neither party had totally abandoned its traditional position. The equivocal tone is also designed to appease the Americans and Europeans. After all, the main goal of the new coalition is to get the international community to resume desperately needed financial aid.

With regard to the three main demands of the Quartet, the program leaves the door wide open for different interpretations.

On the issue of terrorism, the program states that the new government "stresses that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people . . . and our people have the right to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression." But the program also says that the new government will "work toward consolidating the tahdiya [period of calm] and extending it [to the West Bank] so that it becomes a comprehensive and mutual truce."

The program sets a number of conditions for halting the "resistance" -- ending the "occupation" and achieving independence and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israeli security measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including the construction of the security fence). In other words, Fatah and Hamas are saying that the violence will continue as long as Israel does not meet these demands.

Regarding Israel's right to exist, the program does not even mention the name Israel. Instead, it refers to Israel as "The Occupation." It also makes no mention of the two-state solution. Rather, it reiterates the Palestinians' opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Although the document declares that the "key to peace and stability is contingent on ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and recognizing the Palestinian people's right to self-determination," it does not specify which "lands" -- those captured by Israel in 1967 or 1948.

Fatah representatives, of course, argue that the program refers only to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Hamas, on the other hand, will be able to argue that the phrase "Palestinian lands" applies also to all of Mandatory Palestine.

Referring to the third demand of the Quartet -- abiding by agreements between the PLO and Israel -- the political program states that the new government will only "respect" agreements signed by the PLO.

Hamas leaders have already explained that there is a huge difference between "respecting" an agreement and making a pledge to fulfill it. In other words, Hamas is saying that while it accepts the agreements with Israel as an established fact, it will not carry them out.

Elsewhere in the program, the new government says that it will abide by unspecified U.N. and Arab summit resolutions, leaving the door open for Fatah to claim that this is tantamount to recognizing the two-state solution and all the agreements with Israel. Fatah will cite the 2002 Arab peace plan that implicitly recognizes Israel.

Hamas, on the other hand, can always claim that among the Arab summit resolutions that it intends to abide by is the one taken in Khartoum, Sudan, in September 1967. The resolution contains what became known as "the three no's" of Arab-Israel relations: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.

Although the program makes it clear that the PLO, and not the new Hamas-led coalition, will be responsible for conducting negotiations with Israel, it also seeks to tie the hands of President Abbas by stating that any "fateful" agreement must be approved by the Palestinians in the PA-controlled areas and abroad through a referendum.

The program, moreover, closes the door to any potential concessions on the problem of the refugees by emphasizing their "right of return to their lands and property [inside Israel]."

The international community must demand an end to the era of ambiguity and double-talk. If the new government is opposed to terror, there is no reason why it should not state this loudly and clearly.

If it recognizes Israel -- as some of its members claim -- then why not announce this in unequivocal language? The international community must insist that the messages coming out of the Palestinian leaders be the same in both English and Arabic.

There is no point in pouring millions of dollars on the "unity" government as long as it's not prepared to make a clear and firm commitment to halt terror and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Mr. Toameh is Palestinian affairs editor of the Jerusalem Post.

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Straight Talk on Palestine's New Unity Government

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