Fatah says no
Historic party figures are speaking out against resuming, on Washington's bidding, unconditional and open talks with Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
With Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas pressed hard by Washington to surrender to an Israeli fait accompli, mainly agreeing to resume open-ended but seemingly futile peace talks, prominent Fatah leaders in the West Bank have come out against any concessions to the Obama administration.
This week, two heavyweight Fatah leaders have castigated the "current political course", calling it "disastrous" and "catastrophic". The critics include veteran Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials Ahmed Qurei, a long-time negotiator and aide to former PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In a far-ranging interview this week, Qurei noted that 19 years of talks with Israel achieved no results. "Not a single file has been sealed," he said. Qurei argued that given the futility of talks and Israel's adamant refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war, it was pointless to keep going just for the sake of it.
"It seems utterly impossible to reach an agreement with Israel. Therefore, the Palestinian people must seek alternatives," Qurei said. The elderly Fatah leader tacitly criticised the present Palestinian leadership in Ramallah for "succumbing to the meaningless controversy" over having direct or indirect talks with Israel. "This is not the problem. The problem is that Israel is not willing to end its occupation and allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state."
Qurei also castigated US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, saying he was dealing with secondary and procedural issues while shunning real issues of substance pertaining to Jewish settlement expansion and the alteration by Israel of the landscape of the occupied territories. "The Americans are telling us just to sit down with the Israelis and talk and talk and talk. That is all."
Much harsher words lambasting the futility of the peace process, especially US-coordinated proximity talks between the PA and Israel, came from Nabil Amr, former PLO ambassador to Cairo and an increasingly harsh critic of the present Palestinian leadership.
Amr told reporters in Ramallah this week: "We are facing a real dilemma and anyone denying this fact is either detached from reality or thinks that rhetorical overindulgence is the solution for every predicament we face." Amr harshly criticised the Abbas leadership, describing it as vacillating, inconsistent, and unable to withstand external pressure, even when so doing is extremely detrimental to the Palestinian cause.
Amr further criticised capitalising on "the mantra of American pressure" to push the Palestinian people into submission or capitulation. "There are those amongst us who are trying to portray American pressure as if it were expedient to our interests, not Israeli interests." Amr said the Obama administration was now dealing with the PA from the viewpoint of "trying to please a losing player", citing, as an example, the upgrading of PLO representation to Washington.
"Obama has already been transformed from a friend and supporter, as portrayed by some of our genius politicians, into a coercer, even a bully, while Netanyahu is given near carte blanche to dictate the rules of the game," Amr added.
Asking who has brought the Palestinians to this point of helplessness, Amr said the question was not really important itself, as "we have already reached what we have reached." "The vital question is how we will get out of this predicament," said Amr, adding that, "in the past we paid dearly for our extemporaneous and unstudied political behaviour. Now, the conditions we face force us to seek real answers without which we can't deliver ourselves from these pitfalls. Getting out of the predicament requires more than verbal manoeuvres on satellite TV networks."
Amr concluded his remarks by saying that, "the blunders of the past condemned us to falling in the heart of the ambush, and if we allow these blunders to be repeated, it will mean the end. I say this because political blunder will be fatal from now on."
Such grave warnings by historic Fatah figures are also being echoed elsewhere. In recent days, imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan voiced their opposition to abandoning Palestinian preconditions for the resumption of talks with Israel, direct or indirect.
But this is not to say that Abbas can no longer cajole the bulk of Fatah's ranks and file to back whatever steps he might take to get out of the current fix. The PA leadership can always tread on Fatah's sensitive nerve -- arguing that Washington, upon whose monetary aid the financial survival of the PA depends, cannot be alienated.
In the final analysis, Abbas, facing a "recalcitrant" Fatah and a Palestinian public that is disillusioned with the bankrupt peace process, will have to study his options carefully.
On the one hand, if Abbas decides to meet Washington's dictates, his leadership, especially at the personal level, would be weakened. On the other hand, if he decides to follow the "beating heart of the Palestinian street", he will risk upsetting the US administration and playing into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinian cause is already undergoing one of its most crucial episodes. Any wrong move, purposely or inadvertently, could have disastrous consequences for the Palestinian people.
If unable to make the right move, Abbas could announce his "practical" resignation. The Palestinian leader already announced his resignation more than a year ago, but then said it would go into effect at an undesignated date.
As to Fatah, it must soon chose whether the so- called peace process is really worth the trouble, lest it be seen by default as defending it and its public standing suffer vis-à-vis Hamas, or the Palestinian people as they become ever more repulsed by its theatrics.