ZSTREET Conference: Rethinking the End Game – May 4th, 2011
Khaled Abu Toameh
Thank you very much.
I have been arguing for many years that things have been going wrong in the Middle East since the peace process or if you want ever since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. And we have even reached a point where you will find many Jews and Arabs who will tell you we miss the good old days before peace. Its not that I am opposed to peace, or I think peace is bad. I actually believe that the majority of Jews and Arabs there want peace in different ways.
My problem is not with the concept of the Oslo accords but the way they were implemented back then. Why? Because the Oslo Accords in Israel and the West were based on the assumption that Yasir Arafat and the PLO are reliable partners, that if you dump them in the West Bank and Gaza and you start pouring guns on them and billions of dollars you will get peace. Now what did this bring us? It brought us Hamas, it brought us rockets, it brought us corruption, it brought us bad government. Why? Because in 1994 Yasir Arafat came there and established this corrupt regime called the Palestinian National Authority and the show began, it was actually a one man show called Yasir Arafat, and everything under Yasir Arafat went in the wrong direction, largely because of the failure of the international community to hold him accountable back then.
I can tell you as a journalist, I am very disappointed with the international media I work with, because when I tried in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 to alert my foreign colleagues that there is financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority, some of them actually asked me: Did Jews give you money to say these things against the PLO, are you on the payroll of the Zionist lobby? And things like that.
So the international community did not want to hear what was happening under Yasir Arafat, the international media did not want to report what Arafat was doing, even many in Israel did not want to hear these things. Back then everybody preferred to turn a blind eye in the name of peace. Why? Because Arafat is a man committed to peace, we were told back then. Now I was telling American and EU officials back then you are mistaken you do not know the Palestinians, the Palestinians will not accept bad government and they were asking me why, how are you different than the rest of the Arab world? And I would tell that, ironically, the Palestinians are different because for many years they were exposed to the Israeli democratic system, they were exposed to freedom inside Israel, to the free media and I am not ashamed to say and I even say it sometime in Ramallah, yes, we even learned some good things from these Jews (4:10) as we say over there. Why?
Because in the good old days before peace over there, when it was an open country, many of the Arabs were exposed to many of the good things in Israel. We were exposed to the Israeli democratic system as I said the freedom of the media, freedom of expression and even when I was working for a PLO newspaper back then, we used to say that we hope that when we have our own country, our own government over here we will have a free media like the Jews have we used say back then we hope one day we will have our own Knessest – our own parliament, where a member of the parliament would be able to criticize the Prime Minister and say whatever he or she wants these are things we all hoped for back then. And that is why, on the eve of the Oslo Accords, many of the Palestinians living over there, if not most of them, were all hoping that any government established would look more like Israel than any of the other Arab dictatorships.
WHAT DROVE HAMAS TO POWER
But, like I said, the international community did not care, no one wanted to listen to the Palestinians back then, and in the end, we got this corrupt regime that brought us Hamas. Why? because Arafat deprived his people of the money and by doing so he drove the majority of the Palestinian population towards radicalization, towards Hamas because many Palestinians woke up one morning and said the hell with this peace process, we do not see the fruits of this peace. And Hamas became so strong that when they won, they challenged Arafat’s people to free and democratic elections. And Hamas won, because they were clever, they ran under the banner of change and reform and what’s been happening since then is this power struggle between the guys who won the elections with the guys who lost the elections. Between Hamas that came to power in the January, 2006, elections, and Fatah which lost the election largely because of their corruption but we also need to be very careful, because I heard a comment here before not all those who voted for Hamas did so only because it was a vote of protest against Fatah Hamas does have a lot of support and a lot of following for its ideology and strategy and there many people who voted for Hamas simply because they believe in the Hamas political platform. So its incorrect or inaccurate to say Hamas won the election only because of Fatah’s corruption.
Now this power struggle, as I said, has been growing in the past 4 years. Just today this marriage finally happened between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo, just a few hours ago, before I came here. We all heard they signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo. I can tell you that I think it will not hold. They will sign it, but implementing it is a whole other story.
This power struggle is not one between good guys and bad guys, this power struggle is between bad guys and bad guys. (7:36) Hamas is bad, but who said that Fatah is any better? Actually, Hamas is very strong today because of Fatah’s bad government and corruption and failure to reform.
Now, if anyone stands to win from this marriage, it is Hamas. This marriage or unity should worry all of us. Why? Because it is seen by many Palestinians as a moral victory for Hamas. Hamas is finally given recognition and legitimacy and is brought into a unity government without making any serious concessions. Until last week, the PLO’s main demand was that Hamas relinquish control over the Gaza Strip because Hamas seized Gaza in a violent coup in 2007. Now this agreement allows Hamas to stay in control over Gaza, this agreement allows Hamas to maintain its security forces and militias in the Gaza Strip, this unity agreement brokered by the new government in Egypt allows Hamas to join the government without accepting the three conditions required by the Quartet: recognition of Israel, honoring previous agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians and renouncing violence (9:10).
So, in many ways, Hamas is being rewarded without giving up anything. Hamas from now on will become a full partner in the Palestinian government while not making any concessions to Abbas - or the international community for that matter - so it is going to be a very interesting time right now. If I were the Europeans or the Americans and because Abbas planning to go to the UN come September, I would go to Abbas and tell him wait a while, you are planning elections now you are saying you want to have elections. After one year after the elections then we will allow you go to the UN, because if he goes to the UN now and the UN recognizes a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders, in a few months we will have elections in the Palestinians areas and I am willing to state my reputation that Hamas will win. It should be the other way around the demand for UN recognition should come after the elections not before it. It is a very dangerous move on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
What Abbas has actually done is spit in the face of the Americans and Europeans who have been supporting him and his prime minister for the past three years. He has also spit in the face of Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister, because just two months ago Abbas asked Fayyad to form a new government and while Fayyad is working to establish a new government, Abbas goes behind his back and strikes a deal with Hamas!
So these are all points we need to be open to and to watch out what is really going to happen over there. I said before that this agreement should worry all of us, it’s not something between good guys and bad guys it’s seen as Fatah moving closer to Hamas and not Hamas moving closer to Fatah. It’s seen as an admission of the failure of the peace process and is seen (11:32) in the context of the Palestinian Authority as an effort to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the international arena. What the Palestinian Authority has done is declare a diplomatic intifada on Israel (11:50). And this intifada is aimed at isolating Israel in the international community, so by September the Palestinians will have enough support in the international community for Statehood. Now this bringing Hamas into the government should be seen in this context Abbas trying to put pressure on the international community meaning, that if you don’t give me what I want, I will go to Hamas. That’s his strategy, and these are all things we should keep our eyes on as I said before but most important is to try to delay the Palestinian decision to go to the UN before the elections otherwise we will end up with another Islamist state over there that is run by Hamas and recognized by the international community.
So on this unhappy note thank you.
[SEE COMMENTS OF ABU TOAMEH IN THE QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS INTO THE SITUATION]
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