September 18, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 147

Ahmad Qurei' - Abu 'Alaa: A Brief Political Profile of the Nominated Palestinian Prime Minister

September 18, 2003 | By Y. Yehoshua and B. Chernitsky*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 147

On September 7, 2003, the Central Council of the Fatah Movement and the PLO Executive Committee approved the appointment of Palestinian Legislative Council Chairman Ahmad Qurei', also known as Abu 'Alaa, to the post of Palestinian prime minister.

Abu 'Alaa's appointment came days after the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the wake of severe internal disputes within Fatah. Unlike Abu Mazen's appointment, which followed external pressure and was resented by Yasser Arafat, Abu 'Alaa's appointment was Arafat's choice. The following is a brief political profile of Abu 'Alaa focusing on his positions regarding the conflict with Israel, the peace process, and final status issues:

The Political Process

The Oslo Accords

Abu 'Alaa, one of the architects of the Oslo accords, believes that "the first Intifada is the one that brought Oslo, and this is an important and great accomplishment since it brought achievements without us giving anything in return." [1]

Despite the Al-Aqsa Intifada, he explained, the Oslo accords are still relevant: "The flaw is not in Oslo but in the Israeli policy that is incapable of implementing Oslo and therefore cannot comply with U.N. resolutions…

"Oslo is not dead and it is not ended, because if it were dead or ended, all trace of it would have disappeared. It is true that Israel is trying, and has already tried in the past, to evade all its obligations, but it [Oslo] still is a source of authority and a basis, and still exists and influences Palestinian-Israeli relations, despite Israel's aggression and violations." [2]

Camp David and the Clinton Plan

As a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, Abu 'Alaa discussed the July 2000 Camp David summit on numerous occasions. In an interview with the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Abu 'Alaasaid: "No new Israeli position was presented at the Camp David negotiations. On the contrary; the same unacceptable positions presented in [previous] negotiations were presented [again]." [3]

According to a report by the Omani daily Al-Watan, Abu 'Alaa asserted that he would not agree to what the Israelis proposed at Camp David with the understanding of the Americans "even if it were to be proposed in another 100 years from today, because what is required is a comprehensive and viable peace agreement that provides stability and security for both peoples equally… Barak wanted to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and look like a hero to his people. But his proposals were in no way sufficient for achieving such an agreement. He had illusions that inviting President Arafat to [such] a summit would make him and the Palestinian leadership accept what was offered to them. This did not happen and will not happen." [4]

In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, Abu 'Alaa said that he had anticipated the failure at Camp David and had even tried to get out of participating in it: "There is no doubt that President Clinton was determined to reach a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and invested unusual efforts [in trying to do so], and to this I am a witness. But there was no serious Israeli partner.

"Prior to Camp David, there were serious negotiations in Stockholm. I personally held these negotiations, with [then-Israeli foreign minister] Shlomo Ben-Ami. We did not attain the necessary success, but we made much progress. For example, we agreed that the eastern border of the Palestinian state would run from Beit She'an in the north, to the Dead Sea in the south. Then we turned to the west, and almost reached [an agreement] regarding the western borders. We set out the principle that says that the borders are the 1967 borders with mutual adjustments. This is the first time I am speaking of this matter, because I want to talk about Camp David.

"Twenty days before Camp David, Shlomo Ben-Ami came and said: 'We must go to the Camp David summit.' I said to him: 'If the gap between us is not clear – [even] if the gap is small – it will lead to disaster. It is inconceivable that the leaders will come to the summit to talk about the matter from beginning to end. But if we go to the summit with clear positions – this is another matter.'

"We went to Camp David without clear positions and this is what caused the disaster. I said these things in public after they announced the [American] invitation to Camp David. I tried to get out of participating in the summit, but I went [anyway], and I participated, and there were problems there. The Israelis and the Americans suggested nothing at all to which the Palestinians could have said 'yes,' on various issues, and therefore the summit failed. But this does not mean that we can be blamed for the failure of the summit. Our rights are sacred and we cannot relinquish them. Had Camp David been [just] one round of negotiations, then I would say it was excellent. But as a summit where decisions are made, it was a failure." [5]

On the continuation of the negotiations after the failure of Camp David, he explained: "In order for an additional summit to be convened, the Israeli position must come closer to the Palestinian position, rather than the other way around, because the Palestinians are not the party that surrenders to pressure." He said that the Palestinians wanted to resume the talks "from where they left off," and asserted that the conditional concessions retained their validity. [6] He also said, "The rules of the game have changed. Now there is a need to implement the legitimate international decisions and not return to negotiations according to their former rules… After Camp David, we became convinced that the Israeli government would try to impose its position on the Palestinian side by force. But the experienced Palestinian people thwartedBarak's attempts by adhering to its national principles." [7]

The Palestinian position of rejecting the December 2000 Clinton peace plan was also supported by Abu 'Alaa: "We refused to recognize the Clinton initiative as a basis for negotiation. The Israelis said that it should be seen as a basis [for negotiation], but we rejected this and therefore when Clinton says that 80 percent of the settlers should be absorbed [in the settlement blocs], we ask: According to what standard?! According to what logic? These standards are meaningless and therefore we do not see them as a basis [for negotiations]. The basis, as far as we are concerned, is international legitimacy." [8]

The Final Status Issues
The Permanent Settlement of the Jerusalem Issue

According to Abu 'Alaa, east Jerusalem as a whole, and Al-Haram Al-Sharif in particular – the area of the mosques on the Temple Mount – must be under sole Palestinian sovereignty: "Jerusalem is the most important cause for the Palestinian leadership," he said, "and there can be no peace without Jerusalem, whose return [to the Palestinians] was explicitly mentioned in the international resolutions." [9] He further said, "The Israeli government and its officials must know that the Palestinian state, in the eyes of all the Palestinians in the West Bank, the [Gaza] Strip, and the diaspora – is Jerusalem. The state means Jerusalem, and a state of which Jerusalem is not the capital will not be a state." [10]

East Jerusalem, according to Abu 'Alaa, must be under Palestinian sovereignty and must include Jewish neighborhoods too, such as French Hill and Ramat Eshkol. [11] "When Jerusalem comes up for discussion," he asserted, "the Palestinian side will discuss the Palestinian assets in west Jerusalem, such as Ein Kerem." [12]

In August 2000, Abu 'Alaa claimed that accepting the Israeli compromise proposal at Camp David – according to which there would be Palestinian sovereignty above Al-Haram Al-Sharif and Israeli sovereignty below it – was a betrayal of the faith: "[At Camp David], the Israelis offered Palestinian sovereignty over the ground and Israeli sovereignty underneath the ground. Who would agree to this? They also offered Palestinian sovereignty, and Israeli super-sovereignty. There is no precedent for such a thing. They also offered Palestinian control under Israeli sovereignty, in a sort of diplomatic representation, similar to the status of a Palestinian embassy on Israeli land. Whoever agrees to such offers betrays the faith. They spoke of dividing the city into quarters: the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. The city has never been divided into quarters as they proposed. If one Israeli soldier stands at one of the gates to the Old City, talk of Palestinian sovereignty is emptied of all substance." [13]

In July 2000, Abu 'Alaa told thePalestinian daily Al-Ayyam: "Jerusalem is presently in danger. A smell of scheming [aimed at] imposing new facts in the city emanates from the American and Israeli proposals, and therefore it is necessary to support the Palestinian position by means of a [united] Islamic decision [by the Islamic states]." [14]

Despite these positions, in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Abu 'Alaa brought up a proposal to "internationalize Jerusalem." This proposal, later rejected by the PA leadership when it was brought up by Shimon Peres, was based on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, that is, the 1947 UNFA partition resolution. According to Abu 'Alaa's proposal, if a permanent settlement is not achieved, the two parts of the city would be united to become "the capital of the world" subject to international sovereignty. [15]

On the Refugee Issue and the Right of Return

Abu 'Alaa's position on the refugee issue is that the Palestinian refugees must return to their homes, and that "the principle of the right of return is sacred, and the issue of the refugees is on the same level as the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque." [16]

"The Oslo accords have succeeded in returning more than 150,000 Palestinians to their homeland," he said. "This is part of our great ambition, to return all of the Palestinian refugees, our people, to their Palestinian towns and villages and to obtain for them compensation for the losses and the suffering that was inflicted upon them since 1948." [17]

As early as 1996, Abu 'Alaa asserted that in addition to the right of return, the refugees must receive compensation: "The right of return does not cancel the right to compensation, and the right to compensation does not cancel the right of return, and does not constitute a substitute for it, since this is compensation to the Palestinian refugees for the expulsion from their homeland, the destruction of their political, social, and economic framework, the halt to the course of their lives, and the exploitation of their lands and homes, over the last five decades." [18]

As a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, Abu 'Alaa also demanded that Israel must first recognize the principle of the Palestinians' right to return to their homes, and only then could ways of implementation be discussed: "The Israelis must recognize their political, legal, and moral responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees, and they must recognize the refugees' right of return. After Israel recognizes Resolution 194, there will be a need to discuss the mechanism and plans for [implementing] the return, and then the refugees' right to receive compensation... [19]

The Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Struggle Against Israel

In Support of Resistance to the Occupation and Opposition to Suicide Bombings

Abu 'Alaa has made statements in support of the Palestinian resistance to the occupation but has also objected to the suicide attacks within Israel proper. At an October 2000 press conference in Ramallah, he said: "The resistance of our people will continue until Israel complies with the law, the international resolutions, and the national Palestinian rights." [20] In November 2001 he explained, "All efforts to stop the Intifada will fail, because Israel and other elements approach the crisis as a security problem – calling for a halt to the shooting and demonstrations and a return to security coordination – and not as a political problem for which a political solution must be found." [21]

As early as 1996 Abu 'Alaa was not ruling out the possibility that a violent conflict with Israel would be renewed. Asked during an interview with the independent Palestinian daily Al-Nahar whether "the Intifada could return, even though the Palestinian leadership is situated in Gaza and the West Bank," he replied, "[This] is definitely possible, if this becomes an option that has no alternative. Today we have only two options: either the peace process continues, or a struggle in all its forms will be undertaken, including stoning the occupier. The answer to the occupation will be more dangerous than the Intifada. The weapons are distributed and the organization is bigger than in the past. The alternative to peace will be hard on the Israelis. They realized this after the Jerusalem Intifada [of September 1996] that conveyed a message to the Israelis that there is a possibility that all the Palestinians will unite against the occupation, starting with the children and including the elderly and the police. The Israelis must realize that we have options and alternatives." [22]

In 1998 he made a similar statement, "The leadership that threw stones is ready to return and use stones to free the people and the land." [23]

Throughout the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Abu 'Alaa has expressed his objections to suicide attacks inside Israel proper, while asserting his belief that the Intifada has brought the Palestinians political achievements and that they should take advantage of it. Asked about the suicide attacks by the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, he replied: "I personally support stopping these operations and giving an opportunity for the peace process to get back on its natural track. This is because I think that the current Intifada has achieved much, and we must take advantage of this." [24]

Support for a Political Solution

Alongside his support for the 'resistance,' Abu 'Alaa has often called for solving the conflict by political means. In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, he explained: "I do not say that the current Intifada must end, but that it must move towards another track and another direction. There are many diverse ways that our people can employ to express its absolute resistance to the occupation." [25]

Abu 'Alaa also asserted: "Blood is not the only means of accomplishing our goals. There is also the political, cultural, and social struggle, and these are also elements of the struggle for our cause." [26]

During a January 2002 visit by a delegation of U.S. Congressmen to his office in Abu Dis, he stated, "The Palestinian Authority understands completely that the world entered a new era after the events of September 11, and thus it is increasing the efforts [that it has been making] to stop the violence and return the peace process to its track." [27]

During a visit to Paris, Abu 'Alaa said: "The only way to a real and serious breakthrough in emerging from the current crisis is the political solution… There is a need to create a mental change in the minds of the Palestinians and the Israelis, like the change created by the signature on the 1993 Declaration of Principles agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Then, Israel announced that it recognized the State of Palestine [that would exist within] the June 4, 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, and Palestine recognized the State of Israel in the borders prior to June 4, 1967, which means a solution of 70 percent of the problem." [28]

Rejecting Israel's Jewish Identity

Abu 'Alaa rejects Israel's Jewish identity. He shared his views on U.S. President George W. Bush's statements on this issue at the June 2003 Aqaba summit with the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: "The words of President Bush, that Israel is a Jewish state, aroused great concern among us. These words should not have been said. This summit has positive elements and they are the emphasis that the Palestinian state is the right of the Palestinian people. But issues regarding the essence [of this state] and its nature will be determined in negotiations…

"What is the meaning [of Bush's words] 'Jewish state?' Do we say: 'This is a Jewish state, this is a Sunni state, this is a Shi'ite state, or Alawi, and this other [state] is Christian?' These are definitions that will bring the region into turmoil. It also causes concern regarding the right of return, which is one Palestinian principle that none must discuss before we come to the negotiating table." [29]

Demanding the Implementation of the U.N. Partition Plan

Although he was one of the architects of the Oslo accords, which related to the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, following a delay in the implementation of the accords, Abu 'Alaa threatened to demand Palestinian sovereignty over the 1948 territories as set out in the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan.

In an article he wrote for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Abu 'Alaa claimed: "The legal legitimacy of this [Palestinian] state can be strengthened by applying to the international court, which will reemphasize the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Palestine, with all its rights and obligations, like all other states of the world. Similarly, it must be emphasized that this country has borders that are internationally recognized, and these are the borders determined by the partition plan.

"There is no doubt that all the decisions that recognized the establishment of the Arab state [in Palestine], based on the above mentioned resolution, include implicit recognition of the borders of the Palestinian state, the legitimacy for whose establishment still exists [since 1947] even if it was not established at that time." [30]

On another occasion Abu 'Alaa said that in order to urge Israel to carry out its obligations, "we on our part will reconsider our obligations towards Israel and will demand starting new negotiations on Haifa, Jaffa, and Safed…" [31]

* Y. Yehoshua and B.Chernitsky are Research Fellows at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 12, 2003.


[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 30, 2001.

[4] Al-Watan (Oman), July 25, 2001.

[5] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) June 12, 2003.

[6] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 30, 2000.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 26, 2000.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 22, 1997.

[10] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), November 12, 1997.

[11] See Independent Media Review and Analysis interview with Abu 'Alaa, December 22, 1997.

[12] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 22, 1997.

[13] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 12, 2000.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 30, 2000.

[15] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 6, 2000.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 20, 2000.

[17] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 13, 1998.

[18] Al-Nahar (Jerusalem), June 28, 1996.

[19] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[20] Al-Hayat (London), October 26, 2000.

[21] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), November 26, 2000.

[22] Al-Nahar (Jerusalem), December 27, 1996.

[23] New York Times, December 3, 1998.

[24] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 12, 2003.

[25] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 12, 2003.

[26], February 6, 2003.

[27] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 11 2002.

[28] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 25, 2003.

[29] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 12, 2003.

[30] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 21, 1998.

[31] Al-Nahar (Jerusalem), June 28, 1996.

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