Abdel Bari Atwan
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas will be the White House guest this morning and is scheduled to meet his US counterpart George Bush and have their photos taken next to the famous fireplace following warm handshakes and mutual smiles.
It is our right to be anxious and put our hands on our hearts in fear of the outcome that might result from the visit. As indicated by the American and Israeli news leaks, it was President Bush who invited the Palestinian president so as to pressure him into reaching an agreement that he can take with him to occupied Jerusalem and announce it there during his participation in the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel on Palestine’s territories.
President Abbas is unlike his predecessor Yasir Arafat and can resist US pressures and adhere to the constants without budging a single inch. He does not have unanimous Palestinian support or even the support of the majority of the Fatah movement’s members in whose names he rules. He depends directly on American financial aid that reaches him through the channel of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who is considered the accredited person and the one trusted by the donor countries.
Our fears from this visit to Washington and the meetings which will be held during it can be summarized in the following points:
First: President Abbas disclosed yesterday in an interview with Al-Arabiya channel that secret Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are being held away from the media eyes. Ahmad Quray, head of the Palestinian negotiations team, had complained about the existence of a parallel and secret channel behind his back. In other words, history is repeating itself. In the same way that Quray was negotiating in Oslo behind the back of the late Haydar Abd-al-Shafi and his negotiating team on the basis of the Madrid conference resolutions, someone has now come to make Quray drink from the same cup and opened a secret negotiations channel without his knowledge.
The question is: Why does Abbas resort to secret negotiations since there are overt ones conducted by Quray, the second man in his organization whom he trusts, and what is happening in these secret and overt negotiations? Is it not the Palestinian people’s right to know what is being cooked for them and for their cause?
Second: Abbas made statements in which he said he was seeking to reach a framework agreement and not a declaration of principles from his US-sponsored negotiations with the Israelis. We do not know the reasons for this play with words. The differences are very simple between them. The Palestinian people are still suffering from the fire of the Oslo agreement which was a declaration of principles and which Israel exploited to double its settlements, destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization and its institutions, and take the Fatah movement, the largest and most important Palestinian organization, out of the resistance circle.
Third: There are reports that the United States prefers to postpone the major disputed issues like Jerusalem and the settlements for five years, to establish a temporary Palestinian state in the West Bank, and to cancel the Palestinian refugees’ right of return once and for all on the basis that it is an impractical right and cannot be implemented.
Fourth: President Abbas also told Al-Arabiya channel that the issue of the Palestinian refugees would be resolved, especially those in Lebanon, stressing that no Palestinian refugee would remain in that country. But he did not say where these will return. Will they return to Galilee, Haifa, Safad, and Akko where their houses and lands are still there or to the Palestinian state that will be established on the torn-off limbs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
Fifth: [Israeli Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni – who was accorded a warm welcome in Doha one week ago, which was something regrettable – said the Palestinian refugees’ right of return should be exercised in the Palestinian state exactly as the Jews’ right of return to the Jewish state. She went even further than this when she said that the 1948 Arabs, who are estimated to number 1.2 million Palestinian citizens, should also return to this Palestinian state, that is, expelled from Israel.
Sixth: There is much talk these days to the effect that any agreement which President Abbas reaches should be put to the Palestinian people in a public referendum. It is painful that Khalid Mish’al, chairman of Hamas’s Political Bureau, fell in this trap intentionally when he told [former] US President Jimmy Carter that he would accept any agreement which the Palestinian people approve in a public referendum, even if it was contrary to Hamas’s stands.
We fear that the media lights accompanying President Carter’s visit might blind the Hamas leaders to some facts. They must remember that it were such meetings which pushed President Arafat into conceding the plan for a secular state in all Palestine and accepting Security Council Resolution 242 and the two states solution and then into renouncing terrorism or resistance and adopting the peaceful solution as the only option for a settlement.
A referendum, if held, will be limited to the West Bank and Strip population and can be easily rigged by those who forged history and denied the existence of a people called the people of Palestine.
Seventh: Jordanian King Abdallah II is in Washington these days and met with President Bush before the latter’s meeting with Abbas. This confirms that there are accelerating efforts to formulate some agreement. Some in Jordan are whispering that the return of the united kingdom of the two [west and east] banks is now under exhaustive study and among the options being on offer at present and which is accepted by the USA.
Eighth: All these visits, meetings, secret and overt negotiations, parallel and non-parallel channels, the alliance of the moderates’ countries, Rice’s visits which have so far numbered 15 in less than 18 months, and the Abbas-Olmert summits which have come close to 17, we say that despite all this circus not a single Israeli military roadblock has been dismantled in the West Bank or the building of a single housing unit in the settlements surrounding occupied Jerusalem has stopped despite Abbas’ shouts and the wailing of those speaking on his behalf.
Ninth: President Arafat stood fast for more than two weeks in Camp David and came under pressures that mountains could not tolerate from President Bill Clinton and some Arab leaders. He rejected any incomplete sovereignty over Jerusalem or conceded the right of return because he knew that any agreement that did not include Jerusalem and the refugees would be his end. He told President Clinton that he would walk in his funeral if he signed this agreement. For the sake of history, we assert that President Abbas was the biggest supporter of Arafat in this stand in the face of a group of capitulationists around him who were encouraging him to relinquish.
President Arafat chose to die a martyr at the Israelis’ hands at his Ramallah headquarters rather than die as a traitor by the bullet of one of his people’s sons. He just set a precedent for every single Palestinian official after him. Abbas must surely know this truth as he sits at the negotiating table with President Bush this morning.
Tenth: Any peace agreement, framework, or declaration of principles concluded under the present Palestinian division and the blockade of starvation through which the Palestinian people are going through, especially in the Gaza Strip, is sedition in the making and probably civil war. Therefore Abbas should have gone to Damascus, Gaza, or Cairo to meet Hamas’s leaders for ending this regrettable abnormal situation before going to Washington, Moscow, or anywhere else.
We hope, and even pray, that President Abbas will stand fast against the pressures of Rice, Bush, and some Arab leaders who are eager to enter into an alliance with Israel against Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas and that he will not let this fair Palestinian cause be used as a paper for implementing dirty American wars against Arab and Muslim brothers so as to perpetuate the Israeli-American hegemony over the region.
We are with the peace as defined by the Palestinian constants, the National Council’s resolutions, the Palestinian charter, and all UN resolutions, including the right of return one. We do not believe that the solution which Washington is proposing now comes close to even half of these constants and therefore caution and a warning are needed.
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