"Gaza is the Palestinian state" – UPDATED

UPDATE:  It seems that the premise of this post — that Ismail Haniyeh expressed support for the UNGA move planned by PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — may [or may not] be wrong.  A Hamas spokesperson [though not Haniyeh himself] reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.  [AFP reported later that “Last week, Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement denied a report by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had expressed support for the UN bid in a phone call with Abbas”. The AFP account is posted on the Al-Ahram website here.] This post was amended. But, even later reports suggest that our original reporting was correct. Hamas will at the very least not oppose the move [and may actually even support it]…

Of all the surprises that emerged from the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds, one of the most significant is the pair of statements — after the cease-fire agreement — by the two top Hamas political leaders indicating their support for a Palestinian state.

Hamas was supposed to have done this before [several times], but then swiveled.

Now, just after the cease-fire, Khaled Meshal, long-time head of Hamas political bureau, said Wednesday night in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.  This was posted at here.  This interview can also be viewed here.

Amanpour was part of the caravan of top media stars who had flocked to Israel and to Gaza, with their entourage of producers and camera persons and assistants, during Operation Pillar of Clouds.

She had been reporting in Israel. Then, suddenly, she Tweeted on Monday that she was heading to Cairo to do the interview with Meshal.

On Friday 16 November, she Tweeted this: @camanpour — “In Israel. Reporting on growing fears of an all-out war: http://abcn.ws/U35bg7”

Then, on Tuesday 20 November she Tweeted @camanpour — “En route to Cairo for an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashal”.

On Wednesday 21 November, she sent out these Tweets:

@camanpour — “I’m in Cairo – just finished an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader: http://on.cnn.com/XC7ESH”

@camanpour — “Khaled Meshaal says Hamas thought there was actually a deal last night, but Israel refused some points”

The cease-fire was announced late on Wednesday 21 November, in a joint media appearance in Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr, It was confirmed by a press appearance in Jerusalem by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, flanked by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Then, by a press conference in Cairo by Hamas’ Khaled Meshal, on an adrenalin high, and Islamic Jihad’s Ramadan Shallah.

In Amanpour’s interview, aired shortly after that, Meshal spoke in the first person: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.

But, what did that mean? Was Meshal indicating that this was just his personal position?

The next day, Haniyeh appeared to repeat what Meshal said.  Haniyeh and Meshal are the two top political leaders of Hamas.

However, Haniyeh noted that he would like to see a Palestinian state on “all Palestinian land”.

[In both of his statements, Haniyeh also added another condition: the freedom of the Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.]

With these statements, Haniyeh and Meshaal seem to have dispelled concerns that they might be working for a separate state in Gaza.

More than that — Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank now appear to agree on pursuit of state recognition within the UN.

In a day-after, post-cease-fire press conference in Gaza on Thursday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh seemed to say he supported Abbas’ move to get acknowledgement and acceptance of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital — with the right of return.

A Hamas official later reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.

But, even later, Hamas officials were indicating that Hamas will, at least, not publicly disagree with the Abbas move.

FURTHER UPDATE: On Monday 26 November, after the confusion described above, Ma’an News Agency posted a story saying that “Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas on Monday to confirm the Islamist movements’ support for the upcoming UN bid, the official news agency Wafa reported”. This is posted here. The Wafa story is posted here.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported Saturday, here, that “[Ahmed] Yousef, a former Haniya adviser who now runs a research organization…said Hamas, which has opposed the United Nations bid almost as vociferously as Israel, would no longer speak against it. Asked about his vision for a Palestinian state, Mr. Yousef’s contours echoed those of Mr. Abbas: 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital”. The NYTimes described Yousef as “an analyst close to the Hamas leaders”.

UPDATE: Daoud Kuttab wrote on the Huffington Post site here that “Mohammed Ramahi, a Hamas legislator and spokesman for the group’s parliamentary faction, has told Al Jazeera that Hamas will support the UN initiative”.

UPDATE: AFP reported that in a Ramallah rally organized to support the UNGA move, “Abbas said the attempt to secure upgraded status was backed by many UN member states and by all the Palestinian political factions…Abbas reportedly told those assembled: “Today, the UN. After that, reconciliation, and after that, our own state”.

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday evening with Hamas figures in the West Bank at his Ramallah office, according to sources present at the meeting. The meeting discussed Abbas’ bid for upgraded UN membership, due for a vote on Thursday, as well as reconciliation between Hamas and his Fatah party, attendees said. Nasser al-Shaer, a former government minister and Hamas deputy, said after the meeting that he supported the UN bid.” This is posted here.

UPDATE: Adam Shatz has just written in the London Review of Books that “If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists”.

UPDATE: Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] this week wrote that Hamas has helped develop and push forward the promotion of a real Palestinian state with state status in the UN: “the idea of any future peace arrangements including a Palestinian agreement to demilitarization just became more remote … Fatah and the PLO cannot be dismissed in Palestinian politics, but their longstanding approach of currying American favor, in the hope of delivering Israel absent the creation of Palestinian leverage and assets, has run its course. They appear to have missed the boat in leading a popular campaign of unarmed struggle and the PA’s security cooperation with Israel looks distinctly unseemly in the eyes of many Palestinians…And a likely U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestine observer state status has in all likelihood been reduced to a sideshow … This past week demonstrated that Europeans not only lack a coherent policy to the Palestinians; they are also missing such a policy vis-à-vis Israel … If the Palestine vote takes place at the UNGA, Europe should vote in favor not because of some mathematical computation of strengthening one Palestinians faction at the expense of the other, but rather because it is the right thing to do if Europe is committed to a two-state outcome. Europe might also be useful in utilizing some of the leverage it has with Israel as an outrider to an America still boxed in by its own politics…Russia and China will have enjoyed embarrassing the Americans and some Europeans this week at the UN Security Council over the Palestine issue [Gaza] by siding with Arab parties. It’s something they are likely to indulge again next week if the Palestinians go for a UN vote”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Haniyeh’s statements about “all Palestinian land” is a restatement of the longstanding Hamas position — which Israel interprets as meaning Hamas wants Israel to disappear. But, Haniyeh’s words on Thursday can be interpreted in more than one way: it could mean “all of historic Palestine” from the Galilee to the Sinai, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Rivers, the usual interpretation of this Hamas position. But it could also mean “all Palestinian land” within the 1967 borders, or within this proclaimed Palestinian state.

Like some of Hamas’ other positions, it seems to be a deliberately ambiguous expression, a construction of words that could be interpreted in various possible ways — as diplomats like to do.

Until now, the position of Hamas was not clear. For Hamas, the idea of a state was never one of the organization’s stated founding principals — their goal from the beginning was the return of the Palestinian refugees “to their homes”.

Israel has said that a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized — a call not every Palestinian has accepted, though Abbas may have acquiesced.  How will Israel now be able to demand demilitarization of Gaza?.

At the end of Operation Pillar of Clouds, there was no requirement for Palestinian disarmament in Gaza, nor has there been in the past — as if the Israeli policy leaned towards encouraging a separate status for Gaza.

Uri Avnery wrote in his weekly article, published here today, that “Operation Pillar of Cloud has given the Hamas mini-state in Gaza wide international recognition…In all diplomatic deliberations, Gaza was treated as a de facto state, with a de facto government (Hamas)”.

“Gaza is the Palestinian state!” a Fateh friend declared yesterday, with a mixture of chagrin and astonishment.

But so is the West Bank [including East Jerusalem], according to the 1988 Declaration of Independence.  But, Palestinian negotiator Muhamed Shtayyeh told journalists recently that he was told by Yitzhak Molcho, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s envoy to direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in Amman at the beginning of the year, Israel wants to keep 45% of the West Bank — most but not all, of “Area C” [a designation from the Oslo Accords, where most Israeli settlements in the West Bank are located].

Gaza is theoretically and by agreement an integral part of the Palestinian state, but the split and rivalry between Hamas which is ruling in Gaza and Fateh which is dominant in the West Bank has led to considerable speculation about a “three state solution”, with Gaza being  the third state.   This possibility has now been removed by the declaration of the two Hamas leaders.

Gaza and the West Bank were declared a single territorial unit in the first Israeli agreement with the PLO, the Declaration of Principles signed on 13 September 1993.   The DOP stated that “The two sides [Israel and the PLO] view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period“.

The International Court of Justice [ICJ], in its 9 July 2004 Advisory Opinion on “The Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory”, which is posted here [and which alternates between English + French], said that it based itself on the Oslo Accords when deciding to refer to the “occupied Palestinian territory” [in the singular].   The West Bank is under direct Israeli belligerent military occupation, the ICJ ruled.  So was Gaza at the time, but Israel was already preparing its unilateral “disengagement”.  The ICJ Advisory Opinion dealt only with the West Bank, however, because that is where the Israel Wall is being built.

The Palestinian Declaration of Independence by Yasser Arafat in November 1988 was coupled with a decision endorsed at the same session of the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] that this state would be established within the 1967 borders. An earlier PLO decision adopted by the PNC in 1974 declared that a Palestinian state would be declared in any inch of “liberated Palestine” — this was explained as a formula of concession to the idea of trading land for peace, the principle of UN Security Council resolution 242, adopted after long debate following the June 1967 war.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat died in a military hospital in Paris on 11 November 2004 after a two-month illness of still-undetermined origins, after living in difficult conditions through a multi-year Israeli military siege in his Ramallah Muqata’a headquarters. Arafat maintained the purse-strings, and also good relations with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, targetted + killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on 22 March 2004, just six month before Arafat’s death. Yassin’s successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed in a targetted assassination on 17 April 2004.   [Khaled Meshal nearly lost his life when he was poisoned by Israeli agents in Jordan, and only the quick intervention of Jordan’s King Hussein, who demanded that Israel bring the antidote,  saved  Meshal.  During Operation Pillar of Clouds, various Israeli officials spoke about targetting Haniyeh, who was apparently unfindable…]

Mahmoud Abbas was elected to replace Arafat as PA president in early elections called in January 2005.

Earlier in 2005, a Cairo Agreement between Hamas and Fateh resulted in an agreement that Hamas would join the PLO, recognized at the UN for decades as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. But, despite years of negotations, that has not yet happened.

Egypt [under Mubarak at the time], which was mediating, supported many of the Fateh positions, and Fateh negotiators refused to grant the Hamas demand for seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council in proportion to the seats it won in the 2006 elections for the PA Palestinian Legislative Council.

Israel in September 2005 carried out a unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza that it had been preparing for over a year– leaving Gaza no longer under direct Israeli military control, but still occupied, despite Israeli arguments to the contrary. The indirect military control that Israel exercises [Israel can and does put “boots on the ground” in Gaza at will], in addition to the Israeli control of Gaza’s air and sea space, confirms that Gaza, despite Israeli arguments to the contrary, is still occupied, despite the withdrawal of 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli troops who were protecting them.

In January 2006 Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections held in the West Bank [including East Jerusalem] and in Gaza, Hamas acceded to international advice to become a political party, and ran candidates [not all Hamas members] on a Change and Reform list — despite its previous objections to the various institutional manifestations of the Oslo agreements. When Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, even Hamas was reportedly surprised. Fateh was bitter and furious, and behaved like a spoiled favorite and sore loser, and refused to participate in the new Hamas-led Government headed by Ismail Haniyeh as Prime Minister.

Israel demanded strong censure of the new PA government from the international community, on the grounds that Hamas does not recognize Israel, has attacked Israel, and even supposedly wants Israel’s destruction — and international donors withdrew most financial support for the new Hamas-led PA-Government. Hard times ensued in both the West Bank and Gaza.

A short lived National Unity government was formed in March 2007, following Saudi-facilitated agreement negotiated in Mecca. In mid-June 2007, Hamas — fearing a possible U.S.-backed military coup carried out by Palestinian Preventive Security Forces led by Fateh strongman Mohammed Dahlan — moved against Palestinian Preventive Security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007. A short civil war ended in a rout for Fateh, whose more privileged members were helped by Israel to flee to the West Bank.

Mahmoud Abbas said this was a military coup, and declared Hamas hostile. Then — in what can only be described as a political coup — Abbas dissolved the National Unity government led by Haniyeh, and replaced it with an appointed Emergency Government in Ramallah, headed by Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who is still the PA PM in Ramallah.

Since 2007, there was no progress in rapprochement, despite declarations — until the slight opening now.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has dug in his heels and now seems determined to seek state status for Palestine in the United Nations [albeit as a non-member Observer]. Just over a year ago, when Abbas could have pursued this option, he chose instead to go to the UN Security Council to request full state membership in the UN for Palestine. This was blocked by the U.S. and its allies at Israel’s request.

Abbas recently announced — and he now repeats it on every public occasion — that he will press for a vote in UN General Assembly on 29 November. This is the anniversary of the date, in 1947, that the UN General Assembly resolution voted to adopt resolution 181, recommending partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.

The new Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, who strongly backs the Palestinian moves for upgraded status in the UN and even for full UN membership of the State of Palestine.

UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon, who was in Israel and in Ramallah this week, and then in Cairo, repeated his strong backing for a Palestinian State while standing next to Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a.  BAN said he had spoken with both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu [after meeting him the day before] and with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [who was also in Israel, Ramallah and Cairo], before his appearance with Abbas.  But, Clinton reportedly told Abbas that if he goes forward with this move, his career will be finished.

The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reported today http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=293166 that: “Washington is urging Israel not to allow construction in the area known as E-1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim as a possible response to the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition next week at the UN, The Jerusalem Post has learned….The Post has also learned that European diplomats are holding separate discussions with Israel and the PA about the wording of the resolution that will be brought to the UN, and the possibility that it will be modified a bit to mollify Israel and temper Jerusalem’s response.  One of Israel’s chief concerns regarding the step is that as a result of being given statehood status by the UN General Assembly, the Palestinians will be able to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, something only states can do. One suggestion under review is the possibility of a side letter whereby the PA would commit not to take Israel to the ICC as long as diplomatic negotiations begin within a certain period of time.  It is not yet clear how the EU will vote on the UN measure…One European official said that while it was clear Abbas had a built-in majority at the UN to get the measure passed, he wanted European support to ensure it had the legitimacy of the world’s established democracies. He said it was not clear whether the lack of EU support would prevent Abbas from moving forward with the bid.  Even during the height of the Gaza crisis, Netanyahu, during numerous talks he held with various world leaders, raised this issue. According to government sources, Netanyahu asked his interlocutors why they were not calling on Abbas to stop the rockets from Gaza.  “They would tell him to get serious, and that Abbas has no control, to which Netanyahu would reply, “So what is all the talk about statehood recognition at the UN”, one source said.  The idea, he added, was to demonstrate how divorced from reality the whole UN proposal was, and how Abbas needed to be convinced not to go through with the plan.  Further, the source asked, ‘If the Palestinians go to the UN and get recognition, next time there is a rocket attack from Gaza, why can’t we attack Ramallah, and why can’t we take them to the ICC and accuse them of war crimes?’ Reuters contributed to this report”.

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