The main problem with Abbas’s speech is that he did not offer a comprehensive vision based on a review of previous experience that ends in proposing a viable alternative, writes Hani al Masri
by Hani al-Masri – www.masarat.ps
Over three hours, President Mahmoud ‘Abbas delivered a speech at the start of [Sunday’s] PCC meeting, in which he delved deep into history, passed quickly over the present, and largely – almost totally – ignored the future.
– The good part of the president’s speech is that he stressed that Israel is a colonial project that aims to partition the region; that he will never accept the ‘deal of the century’ because it is the ‘slap of the century’. He exclaimed: ‘May your house come to ruin’ [shame on you] in reference to Trump. He denounced American aid money, he noted his refusal of proposed meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv, and he threatened to strike [U.S. UN Envoy] Nikki Haley with a worse shoe than the one she had threatened to use against anyone who stands up to Israel.
The president also renewed his rejection of the U.S. as mediator, and demanded a multilateral sponsorship for the peace process instead. He threatened to sever relations with any state that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or that moves its embassy to it. And he added: ‘We shall not repeat the past’s mistakes; Israel has ended Oslo, and we shall not be bitten from the same snake pit twice’ – but added jokingly, ‘even though we have been bitten again and again’ – which requires a reconsideration of relations with it. And he said that we would not accept a Palestinian Authority that remains without authority, or a cost-free occupation for Israel.
He also confirmed that the effort to join international institutions would continue, including at the UN Security Council to obtain full UN membership, and at the UN General Assembly, as well as joining more international organizations and trying to obtain new recognitions of the Palestinian state. And he stressed his adherence to the PLO’s 1988 program, especially the aim of establishing a state along the 1967 borders. He reiterated his refusal of the proposal that Abu Dis [village near Jerusalem] should be the Palestinian state’s capital, or that normalization between Israel and the Arab states should come first, despite a financial offer made three times to him to accept to reverse the peace process’s priorities. And he stressed his support for peaceful resistance and inter-Palestinian reconciliation – which he said ‘is neither stuck at the same place nor moving ahead, and requires a great effort.’ And, finally, he confirmed that the Palestinian National Council (PNC) will convene and that the PLO would be revitalized and invigorated, but without clarifying how this is to be achieved – which raises the fear that it may be convened in the same manner as the PCC [in Ramallah].
– The bad part of the president’s speech stems from the fact that he came across as angry, griping, and mocking, as well as lost and desperate at the possibility of realizing his dream of establishing a [Palestinian] state. Moreover, he left the door ajar and did not burn all his bridges, as evident from the fact that no practical measures have been taken on many issues that would rise to the level of what is required and the threats emanating from these issues.
The main problem with the president’s speech is that he did not offer a comprehensive vision based on a review of previous experience that ends in proposing a viable alternative. He praised the  Oslo Accords because Israel recognized the PLO as the Palestinian people’s representative as a result; but he ignored the catastrophes that Oslo has produced, and ignored the fundamental difference between recognizing a state [Israel] in return for recognizing an organization that represents a people.
If Israel is a colonial project, then the outcome that the peace process has reached was inevitable, and not merely the result of bad luck or unknown reasons that justify continuing to cling to this process’s coattails, hoping to achieve our goals via merely formal bilateral or multilateral negotiations, and by clinging to the same option despite the fact that this process has ended in disaster.
In other words, the problem stems from the fact that the president’s introductory remarks were good, but they were inconsistent with his conclusions. After all, he has proposed many such threats and options for years without them being implemented, or with a partial or selective implementation that transforms them into mere tactics intended to improve the terms for persisting with the same option.
Moreover, the bewilderment and the absence of an alternative emerged from the president’s statement that the Palestinians have secured 86 UN Security Council resolutions and hundreds of General Assembly resolutions in favor of their cause, without any being implemented. And he wondered: ‘So, to whom are we to complain, and where should we go?’ And he added that he has no solution, and asked the PCC to find one.
‘Here is the rose, dance here.’ [Quoting Hegel, meaning that fulfillment should not be postponed to some Utopian future]. One would have expected the president’s speech, the PCC meeting, and the concern of the various Palestinian forces, groups, and individuals to focus on finding an alternative; and if one is not available, to develop one. Otherwise, we will be stuck in the same place, reproducing a policy whose main concern is survival, waiting, and wagering on a settlement that will never see the day of light.
This has been the exclusive policy pursued throughout Abu Mazin’s years in power. Experience has shown that he refuses to surrender; yet it is a policy that has not led to an alternative that is capable of achieving our aims and rights, even at the level of confronting the occupation and establishing the state, to say nothing of the Palestinian people’s other rights.
Moreover, it is a policy that cannot maintain the status quo even though it is bad. For this status quo is deteriorating continuously, and is likely to deteriorate further in an unprecedentedly dangerous manner, unless the president, the leadership, and the forces that control the Palestinians’ decision – including Hamas – are convinced of the need for a radical change of course, and unless new forces or developments emerge that are able to alter this course. But the wager has always been and remains on this nation of mighty people.
Evidence of the absence of vision and alternative comes the fact that the president asked the PCC to reconsider relations with the occupation; but he did not clarify how or what he means. Was this to be achieved, as one would suppose, by ending the commitments stemming from Oslo, especially security coordination [with Israel], thereby changing the PA’s tasks? Or was the proposal meant to refer the matter to the PLO’s Executive Committee to begin implementing this as recommended by the political committee in charge of preparing for the PCC meetings – where ambiguous recommendations were made, such as suspending recognition of Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian state, but without making clear what this means and how it is to be achieved? This was an attempt to avoid withdrawal of recognition of Israel.
And there is another remarkable issue that may be gleaned from the number of recommendations: The fact that the PLO’s Executive Committee has been throwing the ball into the PCC’s court, only for the latter to throw it back to the Executive Committee. As a result, we do not know whether the recommendations are meant to be implemented or to begin to be implemented, or whether to study the matter and determine the appropriate means for implementing them. This ambiguity and dithering are intentional and understandable, of course, since they stem from impotence and the lack of a deep conviction in the need for change, and the will to bear the cost of adopting options that rise to the level of the statement that ‘we can no longer accept an Authority without authority’ or ‘putting an end to a cost-free occupation’.
These contradictions and confusions emerge as clear as daylight in the president’s talk of severing relations with any state that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or moves its embassy to the city, for he has totally ignored the fact that the Trump administration has done just that, and relations have not been severed with it.
The difficulty of confronting the U.S. and Israel is understandable, especially against the background of a weak Arab position that does not want any confrontation with the U.S., with elements in it that are preparing to form an alliance with Israel against Iran. This was manifest in the president’s anger at the Arabs in more than one place in his speech.
It is not possible to engage in a long and decisive confrontation without a new and comprehensive vision that builds a complete alternative, even if that is achieved a step at a time, and without the will to pay the price and with a clear and achievable plan. The only thing in our hands, and where other parties’ ability to influence it is less than in other issues, is something that the president offered us no reason to be assured of. This is the achievement of unity as a priority. Instead, we listened to leading figures who failed to see any link between confronting the U.S. decision and national unity, despite the fact that entering a confrontation and achieving victory are impossible without giving priority to achieving unity – unity of the people, the factions, and the leadership – on the basis of a national program of struggle and genuine pluralistic participation that aims to change the balance of power in a manner that allows for defeating the occupation and achieving the Palestinians’ aims.
The president confined himself to repeating his previous plan for reconciliation, which is based on empowering the government. But this plan has not opened and will not open the way to participation; it will only pave the way to exclusion and containment, as we have noted ever since the latest Cairo [Hamas/Fatah] agreement was signed. He also expressed his great irritation at Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s boycott of the PCC meetings, ignoring the fact that these meetings were convened on occupied territories, not on liberated or sovereign land. After all, the likely pressures and costs of meeting in Gaza or in an Arab capital would have been incomparably more tolerable than what the occupation is doing. For many invitees were unable to attend the meeting in person because the occupation refused them entry. Nor was this coupled with the option of video-conferencing between Ramallah, Beirut, and Gaza; the factions did not call for this option for fear that it may set a precedent. They either boycotted or attended the meeting in Ramallah, and they either rejected or did not insist on video-conferencing. They argued that attending a historic meeting that is called upon to take fateful decisions should not remain symbolic or at a level lower than the various factions’ secretary-generals and prominent leading figures.
However, despite the good arguments in favor of boycotting the meeting, even a merely symbolic attendance – especially if it reinforced with a clear and daring vision and position that prevents them from serving the role of false witness that many of the attendees were playing – would have been much better and more effective, especially since the meeting is being held anyway in circumstances in which a reconciliation is underway, if only formally, and at a delicate juncture when the cause is being exposed to unprecedented threats.
Moreover, the leadership has adopted a satisfactory position that deserves support, although it is insufficient, is much less than what is required, and may yet be retracted. Nonetheless, it may be possible to develop and build on it, especially if the people act to exert pressure and the various parties behave responsibly. Furthermore, the threats will grow, but Palestinian participation in liquidating their cause is not easy for any Palestinian party.
“So the position adopted by the leadership may manifest a degree of defiance, which seems the least that could have been done – even though it may be akin to suicide as far as the leadership is concerned