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memri
June 8, 1999 No.
20

The Palestinian Discussion of Israel's Elections - Part II: Possible Strategies in Response to Barak

By: Yotam Feldner*

Calls to Escalate Violence to force Barak to Adopt more Flexible Positions

One of the options PA officials suggest, in the face of Barak's 'Red Lines,' is the escalation of violent activity on the ground in order to force Barak to adopt more flexible positions. For example, Director-General of the PA Culture and Art Ministry, Ahmad Dahbour, states that pressure should be used in order to size up Israel's Prime Minister-elect: "A wise man was asked how to determine the gender of a strange bird. His answer was 'squeeze it; if HE twitters he's male, and if SHE twitters, she's a female...' the strange bird [i.e. Barak] is in front of us, and it is impossible to determine whether he twitters or she twitters just by looking at it..."[1]

Head of the Department of Publications at the PA Ministry of Information, Hani Al-Masri states: "Barak is different from Netanyahu, but he is good for the Jews just as Netanyahu was good for the Jews. He will not become good for the Arabs unless we implement a policy that forces on him the conviction that if he doesn't do so, he and Israel will suffer heavy loses."[2]

Those people who support the escalating primarily rely upon the precedent of South Lebanon. Barak's promise to withdraw from South Lebanon within a year is seen by the PA as a proof that the use of violence is more effective in making Israel's positions flexible than the Palestinian 'Peace strategy.' The Director-General of the PA Ministry of Information, Hasan Al-Kashef writes: "Barak's statements to the Palestinian partner were full of red lines, while the messages to Hizbullah included supplications to [enable] a quick and unconditional Israeli withdrawal… the bombs and missiles of Hizbullah are more capable of convincing Barak to withdraw than the Palestinian adherence to the peace option."[3] On a different occasion, Al-Kashef wrote, "We believe deeds are more influential than words." He goes continues saying that this becomes evident when Israel's desire to unconditionally withdraw from Lebanon where it is suffering losses and 'Red Lines' Barak has placed on negotiations with the Palestinians.[4]

Avoiding Meaningful Final Settlement Negotiations before Completing the Interim Agreement

Barak's four 'Red Lines' shook the cautious optimism that prevailed in the Palestinian leadership following the Netanyahu's collapse. "Barak knows that it is impossible to conclude the conflict with the Palestinians on the basis of these declarations by him," PA Minister and Negotiating Team member, Hasan Asfur stated.[5] Palestinian officials claim the reason for the dead-end regarding the Final Settlement is that Israeli society is not ready to make the necessary concessions for peace. The Director-General of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, Hassan Al-Kashef explains; "we are aware that the Israeli reality that has not yet ripened for real peace, on both the social and the public consensus levels, as well as the level of the establishment. Barak represents this situation. Even if he is a phase on the road to peace, he is not the phase of peace itself." [6]

Head of the Israeli Department in the PA's Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, Sufian Abu Zaideh, attributes Israeli optimism regarding the possibility of reaching a Final Settlement to the Israeli ignorance regarding the real Palestinian claims and the seriousness of the Palestinian demands. He states "There will be no readiness [for concessions] in the Israeli government on the issue of Jerusalem, whatever coalition forms it. There will be no readiness on the refugee issue... When the Israeli society – even including [the leftist party of] Meretz - talks about peace and a solution for the Palestinian problem, it does not want to think that it involves four million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They think that peace will be implemented in the West Bank, and that will be it. [Israelis say] regarding Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora, 'We have nothing to do with them.' Few days ago, I was arguing with an Israeli and when discussing the approaching next phase, I asked him what was the platform of Barak, who IS interested in realizing the peace, regarding the solution of the refugee problem? He replied, 'What refugee problem?' I replied back, 'You want peace with only the West Bank and Gaza?! After all we are talking here of a lasting, just, and comprehensive peace, meaning finding a fundamental solution to this [refugee] problem...'" [7]

Due to the pessimism about the possibility of reaching a Final Settlement, Palestinians emphasize the completion of Israel's unfulfilled commitments from the Interim Period. The Palestinian leadership does not wish to rush to the Final Settlement negotiating table before the realization of the territorial assets that were included in the Interim Accord. PA Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath, declared that the PA will not agree to start negotiations on the Final Settlement until the completion of all the articles of the Interim Agreement.[8] On another occasion, Sha'ath explained that the Palestinians should not "reward Barak" just for being elected and that he should prove that he deserves a reward for his activity on the ground.[9]

The freeze on settlement activity is viewed as an integral part of the Israeli commitments to the PA in the framework of the Interim Accord. The Palestinians consider Barak's position on this issue and on the issue of building in East Jerusalem as decisive regarding the future of the negotiations. PA Cabinet General Secretary, Ahmad 'Abd Al-Rahman, said "stopping the settlement is the touchstone of the new government's policy... according to which we will determine our position towards Barak." The PA Minister of Information, Yasser Abd Rabboh, went even further by demanding as a precondition for renewing negotiations with the Barak government putting [a stop on settlements]. He also called for an over-all popular war against the centers of settlements and expansion." [10]

Conclusions

The Palestinian leadership does not see a significant difference between Netanyahu and Barak's positions on Final Settlement issues and therefore will focus in the near future on acquiring assets included in the Interim Accord. The Palestinians may even obstruct the Israeli efforts to start serious Final Settlement negotiations because if these negotiations face difficulties, it would be much harder for the Palestinians to get the assets they are entitled to by the Interim Accord from Israel.

Nevertheless, Palestinian pessimism about achieving a Final Settlement does not reflect the "lowering of Palestinian expectations" to which Netanyahu aspired. Palestinian officials state that historical experience reveals that on issues that are essential and principal; Israel is the one that ultimately becomes flexible. "Barak's 'Red Lines' result from the strategic position of both Likud and Labor," explains the Head of the Israeli Department in the PA's Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, Sufian Abu Zaideh, however, "this does not mean that the strategic position is unlikely to change. Many strategic [Israeli] positions have already changed [in the past] like the refusal to recognize the Palestinian people and the refusal to hold contacts with the PLO... The Labor Party also retreated from its ideology, and it now remains void of any ideology. Barak's 'Red Lines' are not a specific problem of Barak, but they are a problem of the pulse of the Israeli public. The Israeli public, despite all of the changes it has undergone regarding the Palestinian issue, is still far from a Final Settlement that will satisfy the Palestinians. This does not mean we should sink into pessimism. It only represents the necessity for an additional struggle on all fronts to fortify our status as Palestinians and to achieve more of our rights. I am not talking out of pessimism but rather out of realism. I am convinced that we will defeat our enemies and that the Israeli position, not the Palestinian, will change."[11]


*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 2, 1999.

[2] Al-Ayyam, May 18, 1999. Similarly, Governor of the Jenin District, Zuheir Munasrah, said: "In the last clash we will need all our forces united. The difference between Barak and Netanyahu is not in our favor and the clash with Barak will be more difficult and dangerous. In all the clashes we will be the winners. "

[3] Al-Ayyam, May 30, 1999

[4] Al-Ayyam, May 25, 1999

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 19, 1999

[6] Al-Ayyam, May 22, 1999. Similarly, Head of the Department of Publications at the PA Ministry of Information Hani Al-Masri said: "the talks about the victory of peace are mere hallucinations. The voting proved that Israel is not ready yet for a just and balanced peace. It got rid of an extremist government and brought in its place a government that is ready to conduct negotiations and pose conditions on peace that are unacceptable for us." Al-Ayyam, May 22, 1999.

[7] Palestinian Television, May 23, 1999. Similarly, columnist Amjad 'Arar said: "I do not attribute much importance to this "change," since the foundations in Israel have not changed... It is possible that Barak and his government will be more flexible regarding the Interim Period, but once the files of the Final Settlements are opened, we will face a wall again, the deadlock will return. And we will go, once again, to the international community in order to put pressure [on Israel]" - Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 18, 1999

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 28, 1999

[9] Al-Ayyam, May 28, 1999. Many senior Palestinian officials insisted that the PLO would refuse to open negotiations over the Final Settlement before completing the implementation of the interim agreements, including Head of the Palestinian Negotiating Team, Sa'eb Ariqat and the Chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Qurei' 'Abu Alla' to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 19, 1999. Abu Mazen to Palestinian Television, May 29, 1999 and PA Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Nabil Amru to Palestinian Television May 23, 1999 emphasized that negotiations over the Final Settlement will not start before the implementation of the third phase of redeployment. General Secretary of the Palestinian Presidency, Al-Tayyeb 'Abd Al-Rahim specified the pre-conditions for negotiations of a Final Settlement: "Stopping all settling activity of the previous government, returning all the land that was settled, canceling the projects of Har Homa and Ras Al-Amud [Jewish building in East Jerusalem] and others, release of the prisoners, opening of the safe passages, beginning the work on the sea port, operating the airport in its full capacity, allowing free import, export and movement between the homeland districts, and implementing the second and third phases of redeployment." - Al-HayatAl-Jadida, May 28, 1999.

[10] Al-Ayyam, May 26, 1999

[11] Palestinian Television, May 23, 1999. Journalist Tawfiq Abu Bakr, who opposes the common assumption in the Palestinian media that "Netanyahu and Barak are two sides of the same coin" joins Abu Zaideh and states that Barak's positions are likely to become more flexible. He states, "Haven't they stated thousands of times that under no condition will they recognize the PLO? Hasn't Netanyahu declared dozens of times he would not shake Arafat's hand? The [Israelis] positions are never the final word."