June 25, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 140

Palestinian Reactions to Abu Mazen's Speech at the Aqaba Summit

June 25, 2003 | By Y. Yehoshua
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 140

The speech recently delivered at the Aqaba summit by Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen drew angry reactions from the Palestinian Authority (PA). Many senior members of the PA and the opposition (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) criticized statements related to ending armed operations and Abu Mazen's omission of permanent status issues. Consequently, Abu Mazen called for a press conference to clarify that his speech related only to the first stage of the road map, and that his words should not be interpreted as an abandonment of nationalist principles such as the "right of return" and the release of prisoners.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat referred to Abu Mazen's speech in an interview aired on the Al-Jazeera television program "Open Dialogue." When asked if he agreed with the content of Abu Mazen's speech, he said: "We cannot be in every place together. The person who did Oslo was Ab u 'Alaa, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and there were many problems with that. An agreement was reached in Oslo, and we came and changed many things in the Oslo accords, such as [the issue of] the legislative council. There was no legislative council… They [the Israelis] said there would be only [an executive] committee with 24 [members], and we assembled a legislative council made up of 88 members, including [members] from Jerusalem… But the speech brother Abu Mazen referred to was discussed yesterday by the PLO Executive Committee at an emergency meeting called to hear from the delegation [regarding] what occurred at the Sharm Al-Sheikh summit and the Aqaba summit… [Abu Mazen] said he wasn't given a chance to say the other things he [planned to say.]"[1]

Similarly, Sakhr Habash, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, stated: "You have to understand that [Mahmoud] Abbas [Abu Mazen] has been deceived by the Israelis. He was obligated to [deliver] the text demanded of him, while the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, did the opposite. [The claim is that there was a prior agreement with the U.S. that each side would speak only about his obligations and not about his demands.]… And that created a situation in which [Mahmoud] Abbas appeared as if he was making concessions."[2]

Criticism of Abu Mazen's Remarks on Ending the Violence

A. The Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades

In his speech delivered at the Aqaba summit, Abu Mazen called for an end to the armed Intifada, declaring: " We will exert all of our efforts using all our resources to end the militarization of the Intifada and we will succeed. The armed Intifada must end, and we must use and resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation and the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis. And to establish the Palestinian state…our goal is clear and we will implement it firmly and without compromise: a complete end to violence and terrorism. "[3]

In a communiqué responding to Abu Mazen's speech, Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, the military arm of the Fatah movement, wrote: "Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades promises the Shahids, the prisoners, the injured, the exiles, and the refugees that we will continue on the path of Jihad and martyrdom until the Zionist invaders are removed from our land. The Brigades are not interested in all the humiliating agreements and understandings written in Israeli and American ink. We warn the new pro-Zionists against describing our resistance and Mujahideen as terrorists. Our people and our resistance will make no concessions and will respond decisively against anyone who opposes the resistance and the Intifada… The Aqaba summit will remain an obstacle to those who created it… The speech of the Aqaba summit, planned by the mass murderer of Sabra and Shatila, Sharon, and the terrorist Bush, was intended only to describe the resistance as terror… As long as there is an oppressive occupier on our land, the resistance and the Intifada will continue, until liberation and return."[4] In another communiqué , the Brigades wrote: "We ask the honorable ministers in the new [Palestinian] cabinet, especially those who are members of the Fatah movement, to submit their resignations from this government and to fight together with members of the Legislative Council to revoke the legitimacy of this government." The Brigades also announced that they would continue their "operations of martyrdom …in order to unravel the threads of conspiracy called Sharm Al-Sheikh and the Aqaba summit."[5]

B. Reaction of the Opposition Factions

Firm opposition to Abu Mazen's address was also expressed by the opposition factions. Hamas spokesman Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, stated, "There is no possibility of dialogue with Abu Mazen… [He] closed every door…to meeting [with us] when he made promises to the whole world about dangerous matters that the Palestinian people disagree with entirely."6 Al-Rantisi also said Hamas "stands at the side of the Palestinian people with a rifle and will not allow anyone to concede one [inch] of soil from the Palestinian homeland. We will not be ready to lay down our arms until every [inch] of Palestinian soil is liberated."[7]

In another interview aired on "Open Dialogue," al-Rantisi stated: "Abu Mazen tells us certain things and makes promises behind closed doors, and later we're surprised and shocked [when we hear] that he speaks to the entire world and promises Bush and Sharon [that he will] restrain the Intifada and abolish the resistance, makes accusations against the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people, and describes it as terror and violence… We noticed that Abu Mazen uses double language, one that he uses behind closed doors and another [when he speaks] to Sharon and Bush, and we understood that he has thrust a knife deep into the Palestinian dialogue."[8]

Similar sentiments were expressed by Khaled Mash'al, Hamas' Political Bureau head, in an interview broadcast on the news channel Al-Arabiyya: "There were those who thought that an agreement was reached between Abu Mazen and Hamas before Sharm Al-Sheikh and Aqaba. That was not correct. There was a serious dialogue, that's true. Everyone sensed the seriousness of the current stage, and we searched for a genuine way to protect the rights of our people, protect Palestinian national unity, protect our right to self-defense, and also allow us to emerge from this difficult stage with few losses. It was a serious dialogue. When we got to Sharm Al-Sheikh and Aqaba, the scale of the conspiracy being woven against the Palestinian people became clear. Bush came to the region, and there were those who were happy and even exaggerated with their happiness over Bush once again turning his attention to the Palestinian issue, as if by doing so he would lead us to a state. The truth is different…"

"Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh shed light on what was needed [from the PA]. Bush wanted the PA, through Abu Mazen's cabinet, to commit itself not only to the Hudna [truce], but also to dismantling the infrastructure of the resistance, which they call terror, disarming it from all its weapons and striking all forces of the Palestinian people…"

"The speeches in Aqaba revealed the danger: The conspiracy is bigger than the one presented at the Palestinian dialogue. [At the dialogue], we were told: 'All we want is to get through this period. Let's make a Hudna [truce] and a ceasefire. There will be no dismantling of weapons.' What was said behind closed doors was one thing, and what was said in Aqaba was another. Therefore, afterward, there was Palestinian anger. Imagine a Palestinian speech that speaks of the resistance as terror and about putting an end to the armed resistance. And the speech says nothing about the rights of the Palestinians; the 8,000 of us who are prisoners…are not mentioned… Before Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh there was serious dialogue and there were no commitments… Sharm Al-Sheikh and Aqaba came, and all Palestinian factions felt that at Aqaba all issues were discussed and decided. So what's the point in conducting a dialogue…"[9]

Muhammad Al-Hindi, a senior member of Islamic Jihad, said "Abu Mazen handed Sharon, for free, the only card that was in the hands of the Palestinian people – legitimate resistance to the occupation – without getting anything in return… We will not lay down our weapons, because the weapons of the resistance are the weapons of the Palestinian people, and only when the occupation ends and disappears from our land will we be able to talk about that."[10]

Jamil Al-Majdalawi, a member of the Political Bureau of the PFLP, said: "What took place in Aqaba is the completion of what began yesterday in Sharm Al-Sheikh , and it is one example of the overall American offensive against our region. This offensive began with the occupation of Iraq, and today it has reached its Palestinian link, part of the American plan for [re]arranging the region. The participants in Aqaba made it clear that they want Israel to remain the strongest nation in the region and become the central and most influential nation in the region. And they want the [Palestinian] Authority to be one of Israel's security links. Unfortunately, the speeches given in Aqaba were consistent with the joint American-Israeli goal."[11]

C. Clarifications by Abu Mazen and his Cabinet

In response to these accusations, Abu Mazen held a press conference in which he stated:
"At the Aqaba summit we declared the commitments of the Palestinian cabinet, which reflect the position of the Palestinian leadership and which were coordinated with President Yasser Arafat."[12] "[Even in the past] we spoke in the Legislative Council about ending the militarization of the Intifada, and we said, frankly, that it must end. We must express [Palestinian] public opinion in non-violent ways, as was the case in the first Intifada."[13] "Perhaps my declarations in Aqaba were not properly understood. We think that dialogue is the only way of achieving the goal. Through this dialogue, we want to create calm, not civil war."[14]

Similar statements were made by Muhammad Dahlan, head of security affairs , in an interview aired on Al-Arabiyya: "No one talked about the Intifada… Abu Mazen was talking [only] about the armed Intifada. The Intifada ended when the armed conflict began.
The Intifada means the participation of all sectors of the Palestinian people in everyday events and in a daily exhaustion of Israel. In essence, since Israel used violence, killing, and destruction… the Palestinian citizen and the Tanzim member was forced to hold a weapon and defend himself in this way, whether it was logical or not… until we were pushed to the corner that Israel wanted [us to be in], which is military conflict, pure and simple, which was [then] viewed by the U.S., Europe, and Israel as terror."[15] "The Hamas movement," said Dahlan, "has no route other than dialogue. If it refuses [to conduct] dialogue, it means that it is interested in an internal confrontation, and we, as the Palestinian Authority, are not interested in confrontation… We have a plan for controlling the internal Palestinian situation in a way that enforces the law for all. We will not allow anyone or any faction, whether from Fatah or Hamas, to take the law into its hands."[16]

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said in an interview broadcast on
Al-Jazeera: "Regarding terror [referred to by Abu Mazen in his Aqaba speech]… I don't understand why they think this means resistance. There's no text [in the summit] that says that the resistance of the Palestinian people is terror and that it is denounced. President Yasser Arafat said the same things in Geneva about 15 years ago. That is part of our ideological base. Yes, we denounce terror. But anyone who says that denouncing terror is denouncing the resistance is maligning legitimate resistance and saying it is as despicable as terror. Therefore, the text in Aqaba [was] derived from the PLO's commitment in Geneva, which formed the basis for the Palestinian-American dialogue in Tunis. We know what we are including and [what we are] not including in the text."[17]

Criticism of Abu Mazen's Omission of Permanent Status Issues from his Speech

Abu Mazen's speech was also criticized for not mentioning permanent status issues such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and prisoners, as well as for its reference to the suffering of the Jewish people.

A. Reactions within Fatah

In a speech delivered at a support rally in Gaza for Yasser Arafat the day after the Aqaba summit, PLO Executive Committee member Zakaria Al-Agha stated: "The Aqaba agreement is a sad agreement. The [correct] message for Bush and Sharon is… that the Palestinians have a right to a country and a right of return to their villages and towns, which is an absolute and unalienable right… That is a red line… And as long as [the conflict] remains unresolved in accordance with international resolutions, there will be no peace in the land… Resolution 194 is the fundamental resolution… There will be no peace until all settlements and the entire occupation are removed, and until Jerusalem becomes the capital of Palestine… The Palestinians have a right to a country with no occupation and no settlements. Anything else is a waste of time."[18]

Jibril Rajoub, formerly the head of the Preventive Security Apparatus in the West Bank, expressed his dismay over Abu Mazen's speech: "Not even the Fatah movement feels the speech expressed its aims." Rajoub demanded that Abu Mazen re-examine all the systems he relies on for operating his cabinet so that he can ensure a minimal degree of unity within Fatah regarding the PA's aims.[19]

B. Reaction of the Opposition Factions

A communiqué published by the National and Islamic Forces said: "The Palestinian speech that recognized the suffering of the Jews throughout history should have included the suffering and pain of the Palestinian people [caused] by the Jews and the Zionists at this time and sponsored by the American government. The speech should have concentrated on the continuing aggression [against the Palestinian people] as a result of the occupation and the settlements and the denial of our people's rights." The communiqué also stressed the need to remain committed to Palestinian national principles, primarily "the sacred right of return of the refugees…"[20]

Hamas , in its communiqué , stated: "The Hamas movement clearly declares that it denounces this dangerous speech… for the following reasons: The speech did not mention the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and their country… The speech did not mention the issue of Jerusalem… No mention [was made] of the [prisoners issue]… Mention [was made of] 'the suffering of the Jews throughout history' while ignoring the suffering of our people."[21]

C. Clarifications by Abu Mazen and his Cabinet

Abu Mazen responded to accusations in the press conference, stating: "This is [only] the first step in the first section of the road map, which will be followed by other sections that relate to withdrawal, and to Palestinian suffering, and to putting an end to the settlements as specified in the Tenet and Mitchell reports, and the release of all prisoners."[22]

He added: "The Israeli government wanted to set a preliminary condition related to the [Palestinian] concession of the right of return when it presented its reservations about the road map. The Palestinian government firmly refused and opposed any preliminary condition, and the Americans also were opposed to this…"[23] In his remarks, Abu Mazen also stressed the right of return for refugees according to UN resolutions and the Saudi initiative, which, he said, had the support of American and Israeli public opinion.[24]

At another press conference, Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said: "Mazen's speech discussed only the Palestinian obligations to the road map… No one can erase the national principles, whether they concern the issue of Jerusalem, the refugees, or the borders… All diplomatic decisions [by the government] will be made in full coordination with President Yasser Arafat."[25]

Muhammad Dahlan said in an interview with Al-Arabiyya: "What connection do the refugees and Jerusalem have with implementation of the road map at this time? Permanent status issues appear in the road map. Jerusalem, the refugees, and the borders will be discussed in the third stage, and there will be agreement on these before the road map is fully implemented… We will not agree to any deviation on these rights. If Israel thinks we will make concessions and withdraw from our position regarding Jerusalem and the refugees, it is mistaken. We [are] now at the beginning stage [that deals with] the simple issues that will form the basis for this agreement… The permanent status issues will remain the permanent status issues."

"Our positions in this matter are known and have been publicly announced, not only for the purpose of negotiations. We've already had experience with this and collided with the U.S. and Israel at Camp David because they were convinced that the Palestinian side would make… serious concessions on the issue of Jerusalem, the land, and the refugees. Therefore, we are saying that if we reach the permanent status stage, we will not agree to less than East Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty, including the Haram. [We will demand] a just solution to the Palestinian problem based on Resolution 194 and according to resolutions of the Arab summit. [Likewise], we will not agree to less than 100% of the land [occupied in] '67, with an exchange of territory here and there [to be determined] through negotiation."[26]

* Yael Yehoshua is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), June 7, 2003. A transcript of the program appears on:




[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2003. In his column for the daily Al-Ayyam.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 7, 2003.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 5, 2003.

[8] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), June 14, 2003.

[9] Al-Arabiyya (Dubai), June 15, 2003.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 5, 2003.

[11] Al-Quds (PA), June 5, 2003.

[12] Al-Quds (PA), June 10, 2003.

[13] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 10, 2003.

[14] Al-Quds (PA), June 10, 2003.

[15] Al-Arabiyya (Dubai), June 5, 2003.

[16] Al-Hayat (London), June 8, 2003.

[17] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), June 14, 2003.

[18] Palestinian Television (PA), June 5, 2003.

[19] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 8, 2003.

[20] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 8, 2003.


[22] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 10, 2003.

[23] ibid.

[25]Al-Hayat (London), June 8, 2003.

[26] Al-Arabiyya (Dubai), June 5, 2003.

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