“Together with all Arab peoples, then, we must do our utmost to ensure that Netenyahu is not re-elected”
The date that has been set for Israel’s early elections, May 17, 1999, was not arrived at by chance. Earlier dates suggested by the Labor Party were rejected by the Likud on the pretext that they did not allow for the required administrative preparations. The date agreed upon allows the Likud to stay in power for the longest possible period of time, during which the party hopes to put its house in order, as well as to work to erode the popularity of the new candidate, Shahak.
The May 17 date was also suggested for symbolic reasons related to the counter coup staged by the Likud in 1997, when they won the elections. The Labor Party wants to remind its electorate that it is time they regained power as the real builders of Israel.
Finally, the Likud selected this date because it hopes that by so doing it may prevent the PLO and PNA from declaring a Palestinian state on May 4, 1999.
However, the month of May, and in particular mid-May, has a symbolic value in Palestinian history, too. In 1947, UN Resolution 181 set the date of May 15 as the date for establishing the Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. Palestinian institutions, then, might declare the state on May 4, while May 15 could be the actual day of its realization. The second date reminds the world of the previous commitment made to the Palestinian people.
For our part, we only wish to put an end to the politics of deception that Netenyahu’s government practices. Saying this is not to deny that the Labor Party engaged in similar practices, albeit to a relatively lesser degree, during the days of Rabin and Peres. Certainly, we expect the Labor Party to continue in the same vein. There is, however, a difference between a party that sees its interest in peace and one which sees its interest in the destruction of peace.
The strength of the Palestinian position rests on its grounding in realism. Solidly based on the knowledge that all its goals, as well as all the accords and protocols signed despite the prejudice they involve, are in line with a legal framework that calls for the application of international law, the Palestinian position is a good one from which to pressure those whose interests are different.
We will continue to recruit international support for implementation of these internationally sponsored agreements, while the Israeli side will continue to be condemned for its failure to keep its promises. This failure, unfortunately, has become a feature of all the agreements both sides have signed, to the tune of the Israeli slogan, “No date is sacred”.
Among the most important of the dates referred to in all agreements, including the Wye River Memorandum, is the date on which the interim period is to end, May 4, 1999. On this day, the Palestinian people will be freed from the restrictions they accepted under the Oslo Accords. On that date, they will be free to implement all international resolutions issued concerning their rights — including the right of return and the right to self-determination and the establishment of the Palestinian state.
As we know, the right of return is one of the final status issues and cannot be implemented unilaterally. This right, however, is one which concerns the Palestinian people only. It is the sacred duty of the PLO to respond to the will of its people.
After May 4, 1999, the PLO becomes the party that is formally delegated to pursue the legal aspects of the Palestinian declaration of statehood. This delegation of power to the PLO has been approved already by the Palestinian National Council. Well before the collapse of Netenyahu’s government, the president of the council and the committees concerned were requested to, and did, make the final arrangements.
Just how apathetic Netenyahu can be towards international relations is made clear in his attempt to use the early elections as a pretext for not implementing the Wye Memorandum. That gesture also makes clear the position Netenyahu has selected in a bid to ensure his re-election. This position will be seen to have been a tragic mistake.
And what, after May 4, 1999, Palestinians may wonder, shall we do? Into this discussion come our reliance on realism and our knowledge of the bargaining power which is in the hands of the PLO. We’ve adhered to all peace agreements, and now we are free. Some may call for the adoption of a “pragmatic” position, involving postponing the deadline until after the Israeli elections.
Such a position, in our view, rewards Netenyahu’s procrastination and implies that we have succumbed to his will.
It was revolutionary realism that caused Fateh to launch its first attack on January 1, 1965 — an attack that most Arab regimes and even some Fateh movement leaders opposed. It was that same realism which provided the movement with the energy to undertake its second attack on August 28, 1967, after the 1967 war, despite the opposition of the majority in the Arab world. It was just that realism which made possible the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in Algeria on November 11, 1988, in response to the Intifada.
To those who are reluctant, we say this: failure to realize our independence, to realize the state which already enjoys the support of legal resolutions, could only provide Netenyahu with the victory he wants so badly. If we were to back down, Netenyahu would only impose his will on the Palestinian people, rank and file. He would persuade the Israelis that he had managed to lower the expectations of the Palestinian people, in contrast to his predecessor, Peres, who avowed that “a successful peace depends on a successful Palestinian state.” Such will be the tenor of Netenyahu’s political discourse.
Netenyahu could, some of his advisors believe, achieve a double objective if he were to implement the second stage of the Wye Memorandum. Doing so would, on the one hand, postpone the re- affirmation of the existence of an independent Palestinian state, while on the other bringing Netenyahu more votes from those who would see in the action an instance of his commitment to peace.
One of the principles that has distinguished Fateh has been its policy of non-interference in the local affairs of other countries. Article 28 of the Basic Law of Fateh, however, used the term “local”, as different from “internal” affairs, a distinction which has allowed the movement to act whenever a country’s “internal” affairs could positively influence our cause. Such interference has never been direct, but has, rather, been undertaken through certain local forces to ensure a positive effect on the Palestinian question. Certain mistakes has been made, but the Palestinian cause has always been the sole beneficiary of all our efforts.
Israeli elections are internal affairs the results of which will have a direct influence on the entire peace process. As we have seen, these elections were timed to release Netenyahu from his obligations within the peace agreements. If he is re-elected, Netenyahu may well impose his own version of “peace”: autonomy for Palestinians within the land of Israel. In short, these elections directly and forcibly influence our fate as Palestinians. Together with all Arab peoples, then, we must do our utmost to ensure that Netenyahu is not re-elected, while recognizing that even if this goal is achieved, it still represents only a somewhat lesser evil.
The PNA may decide to adopt a neutral stance toward the Israeli elections, especially after the negative experience it underwent following its obvious support for Peres in the last election. At that time, the PNA agreed to allow postponement of the Israeli troop withdrawal from Hebron, in the hope that the delay might help Peres win the elections.
Inside Israel, Arab forces need to close ranks to ensure the strongest representation of the Arab population. Pluralism need not prevent these forces from adopting a working program that pushes toward the implementation of all UN resolutions concerning Palestine, the Golan Heights, and South Lebanon.
Unfortunately, the language used by the two main contenders, Barak and Netenyahu, is the same as to final status issues. It differs only regarding the issues of the interim period, the period that Netenyahu has just about killed off. His re-election platform includes the following:
No more land should be transferred to the Palestinians, since doing so would endanger Israeli security.
A Palestinian state must not be allowed to exist, since such a state would be used to launch armed attacks against Israel in an attempt to get Israel to accept the 1947 UN Resolution 181, and thereby re-take some of the territory now called Israel proper.
There will be no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, because of the dangers such a withdrawal would pose to the security of Israel.
As for Barak, who does not outright oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and who is willing to concede somewhat more land, his election platform is based on the following:
There will be no return to the 1967 borders.
A foreign army cannot be positioned to the west of the River Jordan.
Settlements will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Both positions, clearly, contract all agreements made as part of the peace process, as well as United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of land for peace. These positions, representing an Israeli consensus, should in turn help us to create a Palestinian consensus on final status issues. We can achieve this by means of a national dialogue involving all Palestinian forces and factions. Such a dialogue would determine those principles, or constants, from which none of us would deviate and which none of us would overlook.
Achieving a Palestinian consensus regarding the establishment of a state at the end of the interim period should help open a new chapter in relationships between the various Palestinian factions, including the PLO and other Islamic or Pan-Arab movements. The discussion should lead to a clear formulation of our united position on the establishment of a state and on the adoption of a collective national work program. Such a consensus should assure the continuity of our struggle to free the territories occupied in 1967; to secure the return of our refugees; to take control of our natural resources, borders and points of crossing into other countries; and to put an end to the building and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Agreeing on such a program before the actual creation of the state would require the existence of PLO and PNA institutions strong enough to carry out our mission, including the plan of action already set by the two bodies. Again, we emphasize the importance of village and city councils. Local elections should be considered, in order to reinforce both our national unity and democratic institutions at the local level.
Some of the unfortunate practices that accompanied the Arab local elections in Israel might have strengthened the position of those arguing against elections and in favor of the appointment of local heads of councils. The latter practice can only reinforce individual loyalties and decisiveness. Needless to say, Zionists favor the practice of appointment rather than elections in the Arab “sector” of Israeli society, as a way of weakening the unity of the Arab community in general and especially as Arabs support the cause of their brothers and sisters across the Green Line.
No one denies the existence of social ills within our society. Tribal affiliation gives rise to some of these. But the deliberate manipulation of religious sectarianism is a new and dangerous development which must be fought. We in Fateh try our best to minimize the effects of tribalism on movement conferences. We realize the importance of re-shaping our social fabric so that loyalty is foremost to the nation, rather than to the family or the tribe. The future of our nation is based on our belief that victory is inevitable and sacrifice willingly made. These twin poles will be the means to obtain a prosperous future and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Revolution until victory!