The National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners, the 18-point program for political consensus agreed last month by Fatah and Hamas, has been near-universally characterized as a groundbreaking Palestinian peace plan.
Media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Boston Globe and NPR have claimed that the document represents an endorsement of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict while, on this side of the pond, newspapers such as Le Monde, the Guardian and the Irish Times followed suit under headlines such as “Climbdown as Hamas agrees to Israeli state.” Meanwhile politicians such as the EU external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, described the document as “a step forward” along the path to peace.
These claims center on Article 1’s calls for the establishment of “an independent state … on all territories occupied in 1967,” which has been interpreted as an implicit recognition of Israel. And, to be fair, this might, taken in isolation, reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement of a two-state solution, echoing as it does the March 2002 Arab League initiative which offered explicit recognition in return for an “independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4 1967.”
However, while the Arab League saw the establishment of such a state as the beginning of the end of the conflict (in that this would be followed by full legal recognition and a complete normalization of relations with Israel), Hamas considers it as but the end of the beginning.
For since signing the Prisoners’ Document, a succession of senior party spokesmen has clarified that a “1967” state will constitute just the first phase of “a gradual and transient solution” resulting in eventual Palestinian sovereignty from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea.
Such thinking is identical to Fatah's 1974 “strategy of stages” which sought to "liberate" the land of Israel through incremental territorial gains, which is in line with past statements of previous Hamas leaders such as Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi who agreed to accept a "1967" state as part of “the phased liberation” of Palestine.
Nor will the establishment of this proto-state "stem from recognition of the Israeli occupation regime … [or] lead to the recognition of [Israel’s] legitimacy." For, consistent with its Charter’s designation of the entire area of Mandated Palestine as “an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day,” no part of which may be ceded or sold, Hamas believes that the creation of a state on one part of Palestine cannot involve the acceptance of non-Moslem sovereignty over another.
That Hamas views the Prisoners' Document through the prism of its Charter was confirmed by Transportation Minister Abdel Rahman Zeidan who told the BBC that it would "not find one word in [it] clearly stating the recognition of Israel as a state" and by MP Salah al-Bardawil who stated that while "we said we accept a state in 1967 ... we did not say we accept two states." Given that Fatah officially abandoned the "strategy of stages" and recognized Israel 18 years ago, the Prisoners' Document's cultivated ambiguity on the issue is a retrograde step.
The document’s insistence on the “right of return” constitutes a further repudiation of a two-state solution in that its demand that 3.5 million Arabs be allowed to settle inside Israel would, if granted, destroy the Jewish state through a process of demographic subversion.
Also, in maintaining that UN Resolution 194 “stipulates the right of refugees to return,” the document represents a significant regression from the position reached by Fatah during the Oslo era when it acknowledged the need for a more practical formulation if peace was to be achieved. It then accepted that the main solution to the problem lay not in ‘return’ but in the Resolution 194’s supplementary recommendations regarding resettlement, rehabilitation and restitution within the West Bank and Gaza. These recommendations formed the basis of negotiations on the issue from the Beilin-Abu Mazen discussions in 1995 to the Taba talks of 2001, a fact recognised by the Arab League initiative whose demand for “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194” was deliberately left vague enough to accommodate them.
Not so the Prisoners’ Document whose signatories last year in Cairo jointly defined the right of return as “the refugees’ right of return to their [pre-1949] homes and plots of land.” This extreme formulation rules out any possibility of a resolution to the conflict.
Nor, as has been widely reported, does the Prisoners’ Document grant a concession on terrorism by restricting "resistance" to the West Bank alone. On the contrary, Article 3 makes it clear that terrorism is merely to be "focused" there; the West Bank is to become the primary but not the solitary theatre of war.
That this is how Fatah and Hamas both understand Article 3 is demonstrated by the fact that Mahmoud Abbas tried and failed to insert the word “solely” into the text. Furthermore, in explicitly calling for the establishment of “a unified resistance force called the Palestinian Resistance Front which will lead and engage in resistance against the occupation …alongside the political action and negotiaions and diplomatic action,” the document’s Article 10 elevates terrorism to the status of official Palestinian policy. Given that Fatah in the past committed itself to a strategy of non-violence, the document’s sanctioning of "armed struggle" represents a serious retreat from previously reached positions.
The reality is that the signing of the Prisoners’ Document has not only failed to nudge Hamas any nearer to an agreement with Israel but has actually pushed Fatah further away. It constitutes not a step forward on the path to peace but several significant steps backward.
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