Creating new perspectives since 2009

The Palestinian Authority and the settlement freeze

January 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [Shadi Hatem/Apaimages]

How do we stop the creeping growth of Israeli settlements? How do we put the freeze on settlements in their various manifestations at the top of the agenda for the struggle of the Palestinian people? How do we resist external pressures for a ‘resumption of peace talks’ without a total freeze on settlement building? And what will we do after eight months have passed, when Netanyahu announces there are ‘no conditions or restraints’ on settlement expansion in the West Bank? These questions and a lot more are provoked by Washington’s rejection of the Palestinian ‘demand/precondition’ for returning to the negotiating table and full adoption of the Israeli position; and by the inclination of some Arab states towards an American equation that ignores the Palestinian demand/precondition.

Many simply interpret the attitude of Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) towards the settlements as nothing other than a ‘political tactic’, a temporary phase to be abandoned in the near future. Others, like myself, describe the multi-national endeavours to convince Abbas to change his mind as “letting him get off the tree” Some believe that it is only a matter of time before the negotiating table will be set up in any case, whilst the settlements grow and their grip on the land becomes even tighter. Some go even further to say that the goal is nothing more than a ‘way out’ or a ‘ladder’ for President Abbas that would allow him to ‘get off the peak of the very top of the tree’ safely and with dignity.

I do not rule out the last scenario and I am even inclined to say it is at the top of the agenda over all the other options. The PA that is now boycotting negotiations actually longs for them. It is behaving like a fish out of water, having absolutely no idea what to do.

Read: Hamas calls on Abbas to give up on US as mediator

This does not, of course, undermine the severity of the disagreement between the PA and the Netanyahu government, which is likely to be aggravated not because of this steadfastness that the PA has developed, but rather because the right wing government headed by Netanyahu has no time for Palestinians, whether ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’. For them, no Palestinian is good enough; the only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian. We have seen Netanyahu’s campaign against the Ramallah-based PA and his accusations that both Abbas and his Prime Minister Fayyad incite hatred and violence. Not content with occupying the land and confiscating Palestinian rights, he intends to obliterate Palestinian history, erase Palestinian place names completely and be at the forefront of those who defend Israel and its ‘democratic image’ in the face of ‘vagabonds and anti-Semitic propagandists like Goldstone and Galloway’.

In politics, however, we should not judge people solely by their intentions. Rather, intentions should be tested; and when the PA says it will not move one inch forward with negotiations unless settlement construction is completely frozen, it is logical to judge the words first and any deeds that contradict them second, then ask the PA to formulate its tactics and strategies to turn into action rhetoric designed for internal consumption.

The first criterion of the PA’s commitment to a settlement freeze can be seen through its militancy and the leadership of the people’s struggle against settlement construction. It is not enough to point out that the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian villages of Ni’lin and Bil’in last December is the ‘tiny test’ of Fatah’s new slogan, “popular civil resistance”. The PA ought to lead a popular movement against Israeli settlements. Waves of popular anger should face down Israel’s expansionist policy if Palestinians are to achieve their goals and aspirations.

I am not talking about military resistance or an armed struggle, only ‘popular civil resistance’ as President Abbas put it during Fatah’s sixth convention. And to be able to reach this target, Palestinians need to turn to ‘dialogue, reconciliation and national unity’; and, I might add, to stop wasting their time. The first meeting Abbas should agree to has to be with Khalid Mish’al, in Damascus, Riyadh or even Cairo when Omar Sulaiman has calmed down. Such a meeting would lay the foundation for an end to the estrangement between Hamas and Fatah and set the stage for confidence-building between the two sides.

Read: I urge President Mahmoud Abbas to step down immediately

If we are able politically, intellectually and spiritually to sit side by side with the ‘occupying enemy’, cooperate with it in security matters, and negotiate for long hours and weeks with its arrogant leadership, why can’t we sit with our brothers on the same side? It is hard to accept that Abbas spent more time talking to Israel’s ex-premier Ehud Olmert than he ever has with Mish’al. Is it reasonable for some Arab leaders give the head of Hamas’ political bureau a warm welcome whilst Abbas refuses to meet him? Is it wise for Jordan to call for dialogue with Hamas before demanding that the Palestinian president opens up a similar communication channel?

We know that some Arab parties are calling for such a meeting, and that Mish’al has told mediators that he would welcome the chance to meet with Abbas. Maybe the latter is surrounded by advisers who do not want
him to meet Mish’al, or is under pressure from abroad not to do so. It is desirable, though, for the pressure from the mediators to outweigh the advice Abbas is being given, so that Abbas upholds the presidential oath to preserve Palestinian rights, national unity and legitimate struggle for the return of the refugees and a state with Jerusalem as its capital. The big question remains, is Abbas big enough in every sense to see it that way?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.