Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 March 2005
Issue No. 735
Region
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The calm before the storm?

The Cairo Declaration was more a victory for Hamas than Abu Mazen, writes Graham Usher in Jerusalem

Click to view caption
A Palestinian woman is seen walking past a gap between two cement blocks which form part of the Apartheid wall built by Israel near the village of Al-Ram between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah

The third PLO


Two years after it began the Palestinian national dialogue produced "a fruitful national success", said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) on 17 March. He was speaking at the close of three days of discussions, hosted by Cairo, attended by 13 Palestinian factions as well as by deputy Syrian foreign minister, Walid Al-Moalem, whose government, he said, blessed all moves towards Palestinian unity.

The fruit was less than Abbas and Egypt had wanted, though probably the most they could get in the absence of genuine Israeli reciprocation and the strength of Hamas in the Palestinian national movement. Make no mistake: the unprecedented integration of Hamas into the Palestinian political system that the Cairo Declaration heralded marks not the movement's decline. It marks its ascent.

That new weight could be read in the declaration's second clause on the future of the Palestinian armed resistance. What Abbas and Egypt had sought was an open-ended ceasefire to "remove all excuses" preventing Israel's return to political negotiations based on the roadmap and the final status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders and water and other resources. What they got was a conditional and limited extension of the status quo:

"Those gathered agree to a programme for 2005 centred on a commitment to maintain the atmosphere of calm ( tahdiya ) in return for an Israeli commitment to stop all forms of aggression against our land and the Palestinian people, wherever they might be, and the release of all prisoners and detainees".

Similarly Abbas failed to get a cross- factional commitment that the strategic aim of the Palestinian struggle was the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital as well as a "just and agreed solution to the refugee problem on the bases of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and the Beirut Arab summit resolution". What he received was Clause One, a reaffirmation of Palestinian "constants" void of all ambiguity:

"Those gathered confirm their adherence to Palestinian principles, without any neglect, and the right of the Palestinian people to resistance in order to end the occupation, establish a Palestinian state with full sovereignty with Jerusalem as its capital, and the guaranteeing of the right of return of refugees to their homes and property".

Aside from these victories, Hamas more or less got its way on the terms for its entrée to the PLO. This includes a high-powered committee to set new bases for membership that "reflect the radically different realities of the Palestinians and their representatives today rather than those that existed when the PLO was established", said Hassan Youssef, Hamas West Bank spokesman.

The Cairo conference also recommended that the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in July be held under a mixed electoral system in which 50 per cent of the seats are determined by constituency and 50 per cent by proportional representation. Hamas had already declared its intention to run. The change in the electoral law may persuade Islamic Jihad and the other non- PA factions to do likewise.

Not surprisingly, Cairo's "historic" decisions received a cool response in Tel Aviv and Washington. In a phone call with President Mubarak, Ariel Sharon said the declaration was "a positive first step" but "for there to be progress in peace efforts, terrorist organisations cannot continue to exist as armed groups and certainly not as terrorist organisations". The US went even less. While "certainly not negative", the declaration "did not go as far as we would like" since it failed to tackle "the root cause of all this, which is the acceptance of violence to solve a problem," said State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli.

Still -- with calm in place -- Abbas can now press on other parts of his strategy. One is to accelerate Israel's painfully slow redeployment from the West Bank cities so that the PA as a government can resume the position and power it had prior to the Intifada. With this, progress on the political front and a "sense of personal security restored to the Palestinian citizen", Abbas hopes the parliamentary elections will deliver Fatah the democratic mandate he needs to move from calm to a truce and from security coordination with Israel to final status negotiations. But here too there are mountains to climb.

Even as the Palestinian delegates were assembling in Cairo, the Israeli cabinet announced that the West Bank separation wall would separate occupied East Jerusalem from the West Bank by looping around the vast settlement bloc of Maali Adomim. On 20 March Israel's defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, approved plans for the construction of 3,500 new houses for the bloc, cutting off another large slice of the little urban space that remains to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

The Cairo Declaration anticipated these moves. "Continued settlement, construction of the wall and the Judaisation of Jerusalem are issues liable to explode the calm," it warned. This should not be taken as bluff, says PA Assistant Minister for Detainees and Fatah activist, Ziad Abu Ein. "Settlements were a cause of the first Intifada and the cause of the second. And, believe me, if Israel does not end their expansion, withdraw from our cities, end the construction of the wall and free the prisoners, they will be the cause of the third. Abu Mazen has until the rest of the year to deliver on his 'negotiations alone' strategy -- but that's all he has".

Cairo Declaration

(1) Those gathered confirmed their adherence to Palestinian constants, without any neglect, and the right of the Palestinian people to resistance in order to end the occupation, establish a Palestinian state with full sovereignty with Jerusalem as its capital, and guaranteeing the right of return of refugees to their homes and properties.

(2) Those gathered agreed on a programme of action for the year 2005, centred on the continuation of the atmosphere of calm in return for Israel's adherence to stopping all forms of aggression against Palestinian people and land, no matter where they are, as well as the release of all prisoners and detainees.

(3) Those gathered confirmed that the continuation of settlement and the construction of the wall and the Judaisation of East Jerusalem are explosive issues.

(4) Those gathered explored the internal Palestinian situation and agreed on the necessity of completing total reform in all areas, of supporting the democratic process in its various aspects and of holding local and legislative elections at their determined time according to an election law to be agreed upon. The conference recommends to the Legislative Council that it take steps to amend the legislative elections law, relying on an equal division of seats in a mixed system, and it recommends that the law for elections of local councils be amended on the basis of proportional representation.

(5) Those gathered agreed to develop the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on bases that will be settled upon in order to include all the Palestinian powers and factions, as the organisation is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. To do this, it has been agreed upon to form a committee to define these bases, and the committee will be made up of the president of the National Council, the members of the PLO's Executive Committee, the secretary-generals of all Palestinian factions and independent national personalities. The president of the Executive Committee will convene this committee.

(6) Those gathered unanimously felt that dialogue is the sole means of interaction among all the factions, as a support to national unity and the unity of the Palestinian ranks. They were unanimous in forbidding the use of weapons in internal disputes, respecting the rights of the Palestinian citizen and refraining from violating them, and that continuing dialogue through the coming period is a basic necessity towards unifying our speech and preserving Palestinian rights.

17 March, 2005

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