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How can Israel find itself supporting Marwan Barghouti, locked up in an Israeli jail as a terrorist and instigator of the violence that began in September 2000? It seems strange, but it could happen.

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas challenged the Hamas-led government to adopt the national reconciliation document of the Palestinian prisoners last week, he created an ingenious challenge to the Hamas, to Israel and to the quartet and the roadmap for Middle East Peace.

Abbas proposed that the Hamas government accept the document within 10 days, or else he would call a referendum to approve it within 40 days. Indications are that Hamas will not accept the document. The formidable nature of the challenge Abbas has issued is due to the fact that the document is a masterpiece of political and diplomatic maneuvering.

The prisoners document is widely misunderstood and misrepresented as offering recognition and peace to Israel and complying with the quartet road map. It does none of those things. The prisoner's document calls for:

3- the right of the Palestinian people in resistance and clinging to the option of resistance with the various means and focusing the resistance in the occupied territories of 1967....

This is the line adopted by Marwan Barghouti, instigator of the second Intifada and one of the principal cosignatories of the prisoners' document: Keep fighting and keep talking. It is in conflict with specific road map stipulations for an end to terror and incitement, and it is also unacceptable to Israel.

The document states:

the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora seek to liberate their land and to achieve their right in freedom, return and independence and to exercise their right in self determination, including the right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Shareef as its capital on all territories occupied in 1967 and to secure the right of return for the refugees and to liberate all prisoners and detainees based on the historical right of our people on the land of the fathers and grandfathers and based on the UN Charter and the international law and international legitimacy.

While a state in 1967 borders is accepted, a state in the remainder of the land is not ruled out, nor is recognition of Israel or the right of Israel to exist mentioned explicitly or implicitly anywhere in the document.

The document does not include the previous Fatah insistence that the Hamas must accept all previous agreements of the PNA and PLO. That would be an implicit call for recognition of Israel. Instead the document states:

7- Administration of the negotiations is the jurisdiction of the PLO and the President of the PNA on the basis of clinging to the Palestinian national goals and to achieve these goals on condition that any final agreement must be presented to the new PNC for ratification or to hold a general referendum wherever it is possible.

Therefore, the document is not about recognizing Israel at all, but rather about granting the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas jurisdiction over the negotiations.

A recent poll indicates that nearly 80% of Palestinians support the Prisoners' document. Thus, Abbas's adoption of the document is a shrewd political move.

In the same poll, over 40% of the respondents agreed that Hamas should continue to maintain its position on the elimination of Israel. Therefore, from the point of view of many Palestinians, it is apparently possible to accept the prisoners' document and at the same time to favor elimination of Israel.

Despite his vaunted weakness, it would appear that Abbas has succeeded in outmaneuvering everyone. He has gained the support of the Fatah "activists" led by Marwan Barghouti who crafted the document. He has gained popular support among the Palestinians. He has forced the Hamas to either accept the supremacy of the Fatah/PLO in negotiations or find itself in a distinct minority. He has managed to appear to the international community and, to some extent to the Israelis as a champion of peace and moderation, while at the same time advocating a program that is compatible with elimination of Israel and that calls for continued violence in violation of the road map.

Israel Justice minister Haim Ramon was quick to point out that Israel cannot accept the document as a basis for peace because it includes right of return, a point underscored in a New York Times article:

Israel has so far called the prisoners' proposal an internal Palestinian matter, but strongly objects to it as a basis for talks. The proposal does not explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist, insists on the right of return of refugees and their families to their pre-1948 homes and supports "resistance" against Israel in areas occupied in 1967 - in other words, attacks on Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as on the Israeli Army.

Hamas doesn't appear to be rising to the bait either:

Ziad Dia, a Hamas participant in the talks with Fatah, said in a statement that any document that even implied recognition of "the Zionist entity and ceding an inch of Palestine" would be rejected. That is also likely to be the view of the Hamas political leadership in exile, including central figures like Khaled Meshal and Mousa Abu Marzook.

Hamas has also rejected the ten day deadline imposed by Abbas, and is seeking to procrastinate.

Official Palestinian media (The Palestinian Media Center) billed the proposal a plan that implicitly recognizes Israel and claim that Hamas has rejected the referendum proposal, title their article: Hamas Rejects Referendum on Plan that Implicitly Recognizes Israel.

At the same time, Abbas has managed to garner personal support from Israel, which made an announcement, embarrassing to him, that it would be sending arms to his presidential guard for personal protection. Abbas promptly upped the ante and announced his intention to create a 10,000 man security force that would suppress both Fatah and Hamas extremists. One might be understandably receptive to skepticism that the Palestinians require yet another group of armed men to suppress the other groups of armed men, all presumably bankrolled by the European Union and the United States. However it is intriguing that Abbas, or those who are behind him, have now maneuvered Israel to the point where it is supporting a leader who insists on right of return for refugees. Abbas's initiative managed to put the Fatah "young generation," led by Barghouti, on his side, and he is apparently managing to get US and EU acquiescence in a document that explicitly asserts the right of Palestinians to violate the roadmap and continue violence. All this under the banner of "Support us because we are less bad than the Hamas."

If, as appears likely, Hamas rejects the initiative, it will be bad for peace and bad for the Palestinians. It could result in armed violence, because the issue is who controls the Palestinian Authority, not what terms to offer Israel.

If Hamas accepts the initiative, it may mean nothing for peace, but it will present Israel with a formidable peace 'adversary' and it may legitimize the right to continue terror in violation of the road map. Moreover, acceptance of the document by the Palestinians would have overwhelming political implications.

When Abbas stood on the podium to deliver his surprise speech about the peace initiative, the voice was the voice of Abbas, but the hands were the hands of Marwan Barghouti. Until now, Abbas was ridiculed as a weakling who could not and would not stand up to the Hamas. What changed is that he adopted the program of Barghouti and the Palestinian militants. It contradicts Abbas's own announced program, which called for an unconditional end to violence rather than supporting a continuation of terror. It may give Abbas the political clout to take control of the Palestinian Authority away from the Hamas, which is in line with the goals of the quartet and of Israel. On the other hand, we have to understand not only who will lose the control, but who will get it. Real control will not pass to Abbas, who is old, but to Barghouti and to his national and Islamic front. They are the initiators of this document, and it represents their political line. Abbas will be "in power" as a puppet of Barghouti. Of course, eventually, Abbas, who is not a young man, must in any case be replaced by younger leaders.

Internal Palestinian strife has been thought to be none of Israel's concern, and there are those who believed that it was to Israel's advantage. In fact, the developing saga of the prisoners' letter indicates that the Palestinian leadership may be able to leverage on the strife to maneuver Israel and the quartet into supporting the insupportable, and perhaps into accepting the unacceptable. That is, Israel and the quartet now find themselves supporting a political process that could lead to empowerment of Barghouti and the National and Islamic Front, violence during negotiations and a rigid and uncompromising Palestinian stance regarding return of refugees that would mean the extinction of Israel. The prisoners' document created a dilemma for Israel and the US: either they must abandon their candidate for peace partner, Abu-Mazen, or else they must accept an unpalatable program that cannot lead to peace.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000078.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 1 Comment

I agree with your analysis of the Prisoner's Document, but I think you've missed an important point. Not only doesn't the document explicitly recognize Israel, it explicitly denies Israel: "all territories occupied in 1967" would be all of Israel, not simply the areas outside the 1967 borders.

Ken Green, Monday, June 12th

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