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talking politics

A Palestinian State Within Two Years?

O

n Tuesday, August 25, 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad presented his plan to establish a Palestinian state within two years. He stressed the internal changes that must be made in order to build its legal, economic and social infrastructure.

It is not clear what led Fayyad to present his plan at a time when contacts between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are at their lowest in half a year. It appears that he wants to build his political status on this attempt to flesh out the vision of US President Barack Obama.

Fayyad has no public or party base. In the Palestinian arena he depends mainly on PA President Abu Mazen. He is the Great Palestinian Hope of the Americans, who condition all aid to the PA on Fayyad's being the one to administer the funds. This condition arouses the ire of Fatah members who want to dip their own hands into the public purse. That is apparently the reason why some old-timers came out against Fayyad's plan, accusing him of going over their heads in declaring a Palestinian state, when they are the ones who have devoted their lives to the cause. Hamas too opposes Fayyad, accusing him of compromising Palestinian principles, above all the refugees' right of return.

Deep internal division

The Palestinian factions are wrangling over the skin of a bear they haven't caught. Internally, they are more fractured than ever. At the height of the August heat we were witness to the Fatah convention in Bethlehem, where, after two decades, the Old Guard was swept out in favor of the New.

A quick check of the names of those elected to Fatah's Central Committee, which has 20 members, shows the predominance of people identified with the Oslo Accords. At their head is Abu Mazen, who was elected by consensus: no one challenges him. The representatives from the Palestinian diaspora are mostly out. Their places have been taken by younger people from the West Bank and Gaza. Thus Fatah has sealed the transformation that began at Oslo, when the exiles in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon lost influence.

There are many, to be sure, who view the election of Marwan Barghouti, imprisoned in Israel, as a sign of deep change. The other elected figures, however, include Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Tufik Tirawi and Hussein Sheikh—all heads of the various security forces. These former grassroots leaders have risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of well-deserved oblivion. They are from the regime that Yasser Arafat founded, which was rife with corruption. They cooperate fully with America—currently in the person of General Keith Dayton—and with Israel's Shin Beth. They were among those who created the situation that enabled Hamas to win the 2006 elections. In effect, the Fatah Convention gave a seal of approval to the policies of the PA since its beginnings, without calling anyone to account. The sole exception is Farouk al-Kadumi, the PLO's "Secretary of State," who boycotted the convention in Bethlehem. Kadumi gave an interview to Al Jazeera accusing Abu Mazen and Dahlan of planning Arafat's assassination with Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli Prime Minister, after the outbreak of the second Intifada.

It is no wonder, too, that the talks between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo are in deep freeze. The Fatah Convention amounted to a Declaration of War on Hamas: those elected are the very people who want to overthrow Hamas in Gaza. They tacitly support Israel's continuing siege on the Strip.

Hamas, for its part, prevented Fatah members living in Gaza from attending the Bethlehem convention (while Israel allowed entrance to Fatah members from the refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon). Hamas continues a policy aimed at perpetuating its rule and alleviating the siege. To this end it maintains a strict cease fire de facto with Israel and seeks the release of a thousand prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Internally, on the other hand, Hamas wields an iron fist. It has ordered girls to wear the jilbab (long garment) as a condition for entering school, clearly a sign that it intends to enforce Islamic law. The laws of separation between the sexes impose rule by fear, enabling the regime to intervene in the private lives of its citizens. Thus two very different entities are crystallizing in the Occupied Territories: a secular one with its capital in Ramallah and a fundamentalist one with its capital in Gaza.

Fayyad's plan to prepare the ground for a Palestinian state within two years appears, in the light of all this, as no more than an additional item in a long wish-list, beginning with the celebration in Algeria in 1988, when Arafat accepted a two-state solution and the Palestinian national anthem was unveiled (lyrics by Mahmoud Darwish, music by Mikis Theodorakis), then continuing to Oslo with its successors: the Mitchell plan, the Road Map and Annapolis. Nothing remains of these castles in the sand.

Fayyad's plan is strange in another respect. Shouldn't it have been the task of the Fatah institutions to come out with a program? Instead, we get a document written by the protégé of the Americans.

Concerning prospects for a solution of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, Israeli Foreign Secretary Avigdor Lieberman claims that the next 16 years will be pretty much like the last: nothing doing. Given the gloomy conditions within the Palestinian arena, this prophecy is probably not too far from the mark. Within 16 years the number of settlers, now almost half a million including East Jerusalem, will grow by 250,000. The dream of a Palestinian state will be lost forever. The West Bank will become Israeli territory de facto. In order to avoid an Arab majority, Israel will implement apartheid. It will then lose whatever legitimacy it still has in the eyes of the international community. In short, Israel's attempt to exploit Palestinian weakness will bring disaster not only on the Palestinians but on the Israelis too.

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