Walid Salem

(1)  Conflict Management in the Name of Conflict Resolution

During the last 20 years since the Palestinian declared officially the right of Israel to exist in the 19th Palestinian National Council held in Algeria in 15/11/1988, what was going on is a process of conflict management on the name of conflict resolution.

When the two sides (The Palestinians and the Israelis) failed to get to a permanent status agreement when they first tried to get to an agreement with each other. They replaced that by agreeing together on a Declaration of Principles (DOP: or Oslo agreement as it wrongly called) in 1993. This DOP was a conflict management tool by three ways.

The First: By postponing the permanent status issues and leaving them to future negotiations, therefore the two sides were left with the daily life issues to manage and agree upon during the “interim period” that was supposed to be no longer than five years.

The second: By continuation of the Israeli settlement expansion during the “interim period”, and therefore the conflict management approach worked for the side of Israel, helping it to create more “facts” on the ground that will undermine the outcome of the Permanent status.

And the third: DOP is an agreement between Israel and PLO, and not Israel and the state of Palestine, a matter that hinted to all the practices that took place later from Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories built on the justification that it is the sovereign state that has the right to decide what is good for its benefits and security, without any coordination with PLO, because the later is less than a state, therefore, Israel as a state has the right not to coordinate its decisions and activities with it.

Therefore, from the beginning the conflict management approach played in the hands of Israel, and it was accompanied all the way ahead with the Israeli unilateral decision making process in regard to the main issues of the conflict.

The joint decision making of the two sides were only on the daily life issues of the Palestinians, while the issues related to the decisions on permanent status issues were left to the Israelis unilateral decisions especially in regard to the issues of Jerusalem, settlement expansion, and borders while the issue of refugees was postponed.

When the promise was to get to an agreement on the permanent status issues by the 4th of May 1999, this did not take place at that time due to the Israeli unilateral decision that the “dates are not sacred”.

At that time the Palestinian leadership was stuck in an impasse, some thought that the way out should be by declaring the Palestinian statehood unilaterally, and practice its sovereignty in the grounds as a response to inability to get it through negotiations.

The Central Council of PLO was about to take that decision at that time, but the American pressure came on, and obliged Arafat to postpone that unilateral declaration. Therefore, the process of conflict management continued.

The rest of the story is also well known. The two sides went to Camp David in July 2000, and then to Taba in January 2001, and failed to get to an agreement on the permanent status issues. The result of that failure went in three directions.

First: The two sides fall apart reaching a point when Ariel Sharon declared Yasser Arafat as a “non-partner”.

Second: The emergence of the Road map in May 2003 as a new tool of the Quartet based on an incremental approach, managing two stages of conflict management, till the third stage gets to an agreement on two states solution, that was promised to be achieved in 2005, then extended to 2007, and finally to 2008. Now in 2009 the two sides went back to square one, maybe even ten years ago they were closer to the two states solution than today!

Third: The non-partnership transformed the Israeli unilateralism from a one that Israel practiced previously while negotiating, to a deeper one that Israel is practicing without negotiations, and according to its needs and interests. In this framework Israel withdrew from inside Gaza, but it did not give Gaza yet its independence!
(2)  What Path for Gaza’s Full Independence?  

Given all what was said above, the Palestinian state project is far away once again through this type of negotiation process. The Israeli government in the last 20 years failed to present this kind of strategic leadership that can lead two states solution as a strategic interest of Israel. Their strategic interest looks like as it was in another field, which is:

Exploiting the agreements with PLO in order to achieve a full defeat to the Palestinians by using the time of calmness resulted from the agreements in order to expand the settlements, grab more land, build the wall inside the Palestinian territories, and seize Jerusalem, in addition of delegating the refugee issue from the agenda of permanent status negotiations.

What left after the project of establishing a Palestinian state reached a negotiations impasse, is the process for full and complete independence of Gaza Strip. This is what Hamas aims for.

The battle left for now is not about Palestinian full independence, but it is about Gaza independence while the fate of Wes Bank will be postponed till Hamas take it over by another electoral success more by force as it is more foreseen according to the latest public opinion polls showing that Hamas is the powerful in West Bank than Fatah.

While Israel was unwilling to give a political agreement leading to two states solution to the Palestinians moderates as it calls, in all the period of the last 20 years, it looks more unwilling to do that now, therefore, the moderates will pay the price, because they left their fate and credibility dependent on the success that they will have in the peace process. The failure of the peace process will bring them down in the polls, and the Palestinians will not believe in their promises any more.

In this atmosphere what left in the eyes of the Palestinian public opinion are two projects in order to get to get to Palestinians statehood: The one of resistance (both violent and non-violent), and the one accompanying resistance, which is one can call: The abstention of making any concessions as a translation to the Arabic word (Momana’a).

With Gaza freed from settlements and the existence of the Israeli Army inside it since 2005, presented as a victory and an outcome of Hamas and the other factions resistance, leading to Gaza partial independence, that the Israeli forces failed to bring down in the last December 2008 – January 2009 war. With all of that in hand, Mashal the head of Hamas was clear after the war stopped, when he said: “Now we are moving to a political battle that is not less complicated than the war”.

On that he was referring to the battle for fully freeing of Gaza, by ending the imprisonment of the Gazans, through the opening of the crossing borders that link Gaza with the West Bank, and those that link Gaza with the outside world (Rafah crossing borders).

Some observers noticed that Hamas focused on the reopening of Rafah crossing border more than the others linking Gaza with the West Bank, indicating to Hamas inclination to build its Emirate in Gaza, while forgetting the Unity with West Bank.

The deficit of such observations is that it might create the illusion that Hamas is leaving the West Bank to the PA of Ramallah which is not the case, since Hamas has also a power in the West bank, and the reports of the PA security forces in West Bank indicated capturing several groups of Hamas “executive Force” in the West Bank that were planning to take it over. Now with the polls showing Hamas as the biggest power in the West Bank, they might be willing to take it over by elections rather than by force.

One can conclude based on the above that Hamas has a strategy in two directions: The First: Complete the political “battle” for the full independence of Gaza, and the Second: Take over West Bank, as a first step to the other political battle for its independence.

Are these two shifts on the Palestinian strategy for independence are bringing us again and back to the strategy of liberation (called this time the Islamic way: Jihad), or there will be a new “peace process, not like the previous one of non-delivering, and making the process as the alternative to Peace? This is the essential question for peace building/peace making?
(3)  From Gaza’s Independence to Palestine’s Independence  

All the Palestinian factions agree together that Palestine as a territory of the Palestinian state consists of Gaza strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. None of the Palestinian factions consider Israel territory as a part of any future Palestinian state.

The difference between the Palestinian fractions yet still, between those who want a Palestinian state with direct recognition of Israel, and the others who want it without direct recognition of Israel, but to exclude the relationship with it to Tahdi’a (calmness) and Hudna lines.

Therefore, all the Palestinian factions are on the line of two states solution, Hamas joined this line in 1994 when it declared at the time its acceptance of a state in 1967 borders, but without recognition of Israel. Islamic Jihad joined the club in 2004, by similar declaration of Hamas 1994 one.

With the impasse of the ‘moderates”, one might ask about Hamas alternative strategies to get the Palestinian statehood without a direct recognition of Israel. In this regard one can find two stages in Hamas strategy towards this aim:

The first stage goes for achieving a full independence of Gaza through an agreement with Israel on calmness and borders opening, hoping that this will create a calm, peaceful atmosphere that will make Israel accept free elections in West Bank, even if it knows in advance that Hamas will succeed in it, taking West Bank over in this way.

The questions now then will be if Israel will allow this process to happen and if happened: How Hamas will move from the electoral success in West Bank to the “Liberation” of West Bank, or it will create a functional distribution of tasks between it, and the Israeli occupation there? What also will be the fate of Jerusalem?

Questions that are difficult to know the answers to them in the moment, but one thing is certain, which is: Even if the Israeli government made an agreement with Hamas on Gaza issues, and later on about elections in West Bank and East Jerusalem, but this will be a temporary “cooperation” that at the end will explode on the stone of the Israeli proposals for permanent status that cannot meet with the Palestinian minimum aspirations, unless if Hamas will accept those proposals.

In between, and if Israel and Hamas will have such “cooperation”, again Abu Mazen as his team will be obliged to pay the price, surrendering completely to Hamas and giving it all what it want to become the new leadership of the Palestinian people.

What are the opportunities and obstacles for such scenarios might be a subject for another analysis. For now it might be said that the growing right wing in Israel that is not interested in territorial concessions to the Palestinians, might turn his back to Abu Mazen who looks for these territorial concessions in West Bank, and alternatively move to Hamas to agree with it on tactical agreement for Calmness and elections in Gaza and West Bank without territorial concessions. This kind of agreement might not prevail for very long time, but it still have the merit of undermining the Palestinian secular and semi-secular moderate, and maybe forever.

The alternative path to this might be through the initiation of a new process for peace based in comprehensive Middle Eastern solution, and in delivering and implementing the previous agreements more than keeping renegotiating them.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Feb 2009.

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