Palestine National Council – will there be reform + universal elections? Fatah politicos may not endorse reform proposals

Part of the reform that some Palestinians have demanded, since being galvanized by Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square a year ago [January 25], has been their call for universal elections among all Palestinians wherever they are, on the basis of one person, one vote, for a new Palestine National Council [PNC], the PLO’s [Palestine Liberation Organization] parliament.

The idea may have been first circulated by Mamdouh Aker, a Ramallah medical doctor who was appointed by Yasser Arafat to found and head a then-new body, the Palestinian Independent Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

This commission, which makes annual reports compiling complaints it has received from Palestinians about abuses of their human rights, is now housed in its own office building basically just across the street from the back [service] entrance to the Palestine Legilative Council in Ramallah.

Aker told me in an interview in his office in this building in Ramallah that he had circulated the idea for first-time universal elections in an article he had written in Arabic in January 2010, and posted on one of the several active Arabic-language forums [including the Fatah Forum]. The article caught a great deal of attention, and was adopted by the new grouping of young Palestinians — a significant number of whom had grown up and gone to school in the U.S., and who were now back “home”, finishing university studies, and beginning to become active in trying to change the political situation which they regard as a hugely embarrassing stalemate. This group came together in support of the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square [the first big one was held on January 25 last year] against human rights abuses by the Mubarak regime. But it was not until mid-March that the Palestinian demonstrators [which I will call “Manara Youth”, for lack of a better term to describe this new, loose, coalition] were able to hold their first relatively unmolested demonstration in support of what had then become known as the “Arab Spring”.

Aker told me, in our meeting, that he was advocating elections to revive and reform the important PNC on the basis of one-person, one-vote in almost every place in the world where Palestinians can be found — with one possible exception: the Palestinians who had become citizens of Israel, who he said should maybe not participate.

The idea of reforming the PNC is a very interesting approach.

Continue reading Palestine National Council – will there be reform + universal elections? Fatah politicos may not endorse reform proposals

Reports from Cairo that Hamas will join PLO [election planning/monitoring] commission

This is only a preliminary report… and is still Breaking News —

UPDATE: Nabil Shaath told journalists at a pre-Christmas in Bethlehem tonight [Thursday] that “I heard good news, basically, from Cairo … Hamas is willing to accept non-violence, basically, a long-term ‘hudna’, but they do not want us to talk about it very much … What these people in Gaza are really saying is that our right to armed struggle should not be abandoned, and we agree, but we choose not to exercise it”

The real question at stake in today’s meeting in Cairo was: will arrangements finally be made for Hamas to join the PLO, as previously agreed in Cairo in 2005 — and as suggested in a “reconciliation” agreement between Fatah and Hamas in late April, then encoded in a document signed in Cairo in early May?

Apparently, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but a small step has been taken to keep things moving — or to appear to keep things moving — in the right direction.

Today’s meeting of Palestinian political movements and “factions” in Cairo was chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is, simultaneously:
(1) Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;
(2) head of the largest Palestinian political movement Fatah, and
(3) … um … well … despite the fact that the mandate ran out either in January 2009 or January 2010, depending on one’s legal view … is still President of the Palestinian Authority set up by agreement under terms of the Oslo Accords [+ subsequent practice] between the PLO and Israel.

Last night, in Cairo, there was a previously-unannounced meeting of Abbas and Hamas’ Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal.

Until now, the major obstacle to Hamas joining the PLO has been the objection of Fatah.

The problem existed even prior to the mid-June 2007 Hamas military rout [in Ramallah, it was called a “military coup”] of Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces from Gaza, but that sealed the present division. PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded to this “military coup” with his own “political coup”, dissolving a short-lived [3 months, to be precise] “National Unity” government [negotiated in Mecca by Saudi Arabia] — which was, like the two prior governments formed in the wake of the 2006 elections, led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Hamas reportedly feared an imminent American backed military attack led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan [then a star, now in disgrace].

In the aftermath, Abbas then set up an “Emergency Government”, and named Salam Fayyad as PA Prime Minister. The U.S. and other major donors celebrated with a major “love-in”, praising Fayyad, the American-trained Security Services, and showering Ramallah with donor funding.

Apart from that major rift, the core issue of contention about Hamas joining the PLO: Hamas wanted to have a proportion of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] similiar to the proportion it won in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] elections = over 60%.

For Fatah, furious that it lost a great deal of ground to Fatah in those 2006 elections, that was, and is, unthinkable.

The most Fatah could agree that Hamas deserves was about 25% maximum.

This is where the new elections come in. Not only has the term expired for the PA President + the PA’s PLC… Fatah is somehow hoping that Hamas will lose any new elections it participates in. This would have the felicitous effect of confirming the correctness of Fatah’s stand [which has prevented Hamas from joining the PLO so far, even if Hamas wanted to]: Fatah firmly believes that Hamas deserves less [preferably, much less] than a majority stake in the PNC.

Basically, the position still is: if Hamas joins the PLO, it will have be on Fatah’s terms, already explained by PLO Chairman [and Fatah leader] Abbas.

As Nabil Shaath said in his remarks to journalists in Bethlehem on Thursday night, if I understood him correctly: Hamas “has to go back to where it was in 2006, apologize to the Palestinian people [for the events of 2007], and abandon all pretense to representing the Palestinian people”…

Does anybody seriously think Hamas is going to apologize for what happened in 2007?

The incremental step announced so far in Cairo — Hamas joining a PLO committee on elections — appears to suggest that some progress in Palestinian reconciliation is being made. [After all, it is something demanded by most Palestinians].

At the same time, the step announced does not yet trespass over the limit suggested by the US, which has said that Hamas must not join any new Palestinian government until it has acceeded to all three conditions set by the Quartet [and by Israel]:
(1) recognition of Israel [Netanyahu has officially set the barrier even higher, at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state];
(2) an end to “terrorism”;
(3) acceptance of all prior PLO agreements and positions.

If there is Hamas participation in a new Palestinian government prior to fulfilling those conditions, the U.S. has threatened a cut off of humanitarian funding to the PA…

Slowing down the arrival of day that decision may have to be taken, while keeping up the appearance of movement and progress towards reconciliation, is one of the main goals shared by the Fatah + Hamas, the two largest Palestinian movements participating in the current exercise.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of gymnastically-contortionist statements involving circuitous positions of logic that will be advanced to explain all this…

Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

The Jerusalem Post reports today that it has been told that “Palestinian unity efforts stumble” after the reconciliation summit in Cairo on Friday.

But, while there may be outstanding differences between the two largest Palestinian political factions, the real delay may be an attempt to avoid various threatened punishments, until something changes…

Khaled Abu Toameh, Arab affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, writes today, here, that he has been told “that differences between the two parties remained almost the same as they were before the summit. In addition to the ongoing dispute over the make-up of the proposed unity government, Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve their differences over the reconstruction of the security forces and the release of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being held by both sides. ‘The 45-minute meeting between President Abbas and Khaled Mashaal was not as successful as it is being portrayed’, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. ‘The most important thing was that the two leaders met and agreed to continue talking about reconciliation and unity. It will take a long time before we ever see real changes on the ground’.”

Punishment for Palestinian Unity

Well, that will be reassuring to American officials who have been worried that they might have to punish the Palestinians, if they actually achieve unity”, by withholding large sums of money that have been the opium of the people in Ramallah.

Jordan-based Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab had earlier reported “rumors” following the flying visit to see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Ramallah presidential headquarters [the Muqata’a] by Jordan’s King Abdallah II on Monday, that there were rumors that Palestinian officials told the Jordanian delegation they would not accept security aid if the U.S. withheld other forms of aid.

Kuttab developed this into two articles: one an opinion piece for the Washington Post, published here, and the second was published by the Huffington Post, here.

[See below for more…]

Punishment if Salam Fayyad is replaced as PM {?}

In his Jerusalem Post article, Abu Toameh reported punishment-related issues were a priority matter in the discussion, writing that “a senior Fatah official” told him “that Hamas’s refusal to accept current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any future government remained a major obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation deal … Abbas had initially considered dumping Fayyad in favor of the establishment of a unity government with Hamas. However, immense pressure from the US and some EU countries, as well as a strong warning from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who flew to Ramallah last week for emergency talks with Abbas, persuaded the PA president to hold on to Fayyad … [But] Abbas explained to Mashaal [in Cairo on Friday] that without Fayyad the Palestinians would be punished by the Americans and Europeans, the official said. ‘But this did not change Mashaal’s position. Hamas believes that in wake of the Arab Spring, Arab governments would compensate the Palestinians for any loss of Western financial aid’. On Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, reiterated his movement’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as prime minister of a unity government”.

Abu Toameh added that “Abbas also made it clear during the summit with Mashaal that he would not be able to incorporate Hamas militiamen in the PA security forces, another Fatah official said. The official quoted Abbas as saying that merging Hamas militiamen into the PA security forces would give Israel an excuse to launch attacks on these forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Abbas also expressed deep concern that Israel and Fatah would vehemently oppose any attempt to bring Hamas policemen to the West Bank, the official added”.

He also wrote in the JPost that “On the issue of ‘political detainees’ who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two parties continued over the weekend to blame each other for failing to release their supporters. Abbas and Mashaal have announced twice this year that they would end the arrests of Hamas and Fatah supporters. Despite the announcements, PA security forces continue to arrest Hamas supporters and activists in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has also been accused of cracking down on Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip by arresting them and preventing them from travelling outside the strip. PA officials denied on Saturday that the PA was holding people in detention for ‘political reasons’. They said all the Hamas detainees in West Bank prisons were being held for allegedly violating the law, but did not give further details … [n.b. Elections are supposed to be held around May 2012, according to a reconciliation agreement initialed in Cairo this past May. But…] According to Zahar, there is no way elections would be held while Hamas supporters remain in PA-run prisons”.

Continue reading Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo; will Egypt postpone Monday's elections?

To my surprise, though perfectly according to plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned up in Cairo this morning to meet Field Marshall Tantawy, who as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] of Egypt was handed the country when Husni Mubarak was forced to step down last February.

Abbas meeting Tantawi - photo via PalTelegraph

Abbas meeting Tantawi – photo via PalTelegraph here – presumably taken today

Apparently, Abbas arrived in Egypt Tuesday night.  He had to have travelled via Jordan — he certainly didn’t fly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, and he didn’t drive through Gaza.

In the midst of chaos in [some, main] Egyptian streets, Abbas is supposed be on a four-day visit to Cairo, despite the chaos in the streets, and will meet Khaled Meshaal of Hamas tomorrow, after years of Egyptian negotiations to effect a “reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah…

To go ahead with the reconciliation in the coming days, Abbas and Meshaal will have to ignore the sheer mayhem and brutality in the streets of Cairo and several other Egyptian cities, where vast quantities of what is reported to be an enhanced variety of tear gas has been mercilessly fired upon protesting citizens who are demanding a transition to civilian rule. and on uninvolved bystanders alike.

Egyptian military leaders are saying that “hidden forces” are behind the worst violence and the many civilian deaths — and not the military, which says it is responsible only for the tear gas…

One thing Abbas’ arrival in Cairo does mean is that Abbas was in Jordan on Tuesday, a day after receiving King Abdallah II in Ramallah on Monday.  [Did they meet again?]

King Abdallah’s “historical” visit was announced late on Sunday, and the whole thing is still a big mystery — more to come in a separate post.  The King flew by helicopter to Ramallah, and landed in the grounds of the Muqata’a Presidential palace.   When the King flew back to Amman, he met almost immediately with U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns — who himself had met Abbas on Sunday,  and then with Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Monday morning, perhaps just before Abdallah arrived in Ramallah…  And, there is no way that the Jordanian monarch could have flown across the West Bank without full Israeli approval.

The link between these events is: elections.

The proposed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is supposed to involve agreement on new Palestinian elections — perhaps by next May — to overcome the split that followed the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces, which an infuriated Mahmoud Abbas called a “military coup”, just before carrying out his own retaliatory political coup by dissolving a very short-lived National Unity government headed by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.  Abbas then appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister of an “Emergency Government” which has basically remained in power until today [despite permutations].

Now, Hamas is reportedly still opposed to Fayyad continuing as Prime Minister, after the reconciliation — and there has been speculation that a replacement may soon be named [the most recent speculation involved Dr. Mohammed Mustafa, Economic Adviser to Abbas + head of the, um, non-governmental Palestine Investment Fund]. A new Palestinian Authority/PLO government would be composed only of “technocrats” [meaning, no one associated with Hamas, which would mean the re-imposition of strong new financial and other sanctions — that is, unless Hamas meets the “Quartet conditions: recognition of Israel, or its “right to exist”; renunciation of violence, and allegience to all previous agreements made by the PLO.

A new technocratic government would be charged with overseeing a transition to new elections.

UPDATE: It was reported from Cairo on Thursday morning, just before the Abbas-Meshaal reconciliation talks began, that the naming of a new Prime Minister would not be on the immediate agenda…]

Since the violent Hamas-Fatah break-up in June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas has, insisted on a return to the status quo ante as a prerequisite for any reconciliation with Hamas, meaning that Hamas must know its place, and not rule as a rival regime in Gaza.

By the terms of a previous reconciliation — the Cairo 2005 agreement — Hamas was supposed to be integrated into the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], in which Mahmoud Abbas has been Chairman of the Executive Committee since the death of Yasser Arafat in a hospital in Paris in November 2004.

[Abbas, like Arafat before him, has consolidated his hold on all three reins of Palestinian political power.  Abbas is also the head, by acclamation, of Fatah, which is the largest Palestinian political movement.   And he is the elected head of the Palestinian Authority, established by agreement bween the PLO + Israel under the Oslo Accords, which Hamas opposes — but Abbas’ term of office expired either in January 2009 or in January 2010, depending on which legalistic argument one backs. So, when there are new reports of Abbas resigning, the question has to be asked: from what, exactly?  The PLO, Fatah, or just the PA? In any case, Abbas has also said, previously, that he will remain in office until there are new elections.]

Hamas agreed to join the PLO — but has argued that it should have a percentage of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] that would be proportional to the number of seats it won in 2006 elections for the PA’s Legislative Council [PLC] — in other words, over 60 percent.

Fatah was outraged — and Fatah officials maintained in recent years that they would never agree to Hamas having anything more than 25% of seats in the PNC.

The mandate for the 2006 PLO has also expired, without ever having many meetings, both because Israel arrested so many Hamas-affiliated parliamentarians that a quorum could not be met, but also because of the huge rift between Hamas and Fatah…

And Abbas has ruled by Presidential decree — which some fastidious Palestinian libertarians have quietly criticized.

Meanwhile, Abbas has cancelled Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections that he called for 24 January 2010, and he has also twice scheduled, and cancelled, local or municipality elections.

One of the major demands of the Palestinian “youth demonstrations”, whicht began in honor of the January 25 movement that filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Egypt [until Mubarak resigned in February], was an end to the Fatah-Hamas split.

Another of the demands was to hold elections — for the first time, ever — among Palestinians everywhere [and not just in the West Bank + Gaza] for the PLO’s National Council.

The reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in May, and today’s follow-up “summit” [more than 6 months later] between Abbas + Meshall in Cairo was initially viewed as a response to the Palestinian “youth demonstrations” and to the “Arab Spring” developments in the region.  [One reason the reconciliation summit was delayed was to protect, or insulate, the “UN bid” from reprisals — which have since been imposed anyway, after the UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as a full member state nearly one month ago...]

In other, separate developments, Egyptians were supposed to begin voting on Monday 28 November in the first round of their new Parliamentary elections… though the preparations process has been rather back-room and secretive.

And tonight, Egypt’s Interior Minister called for a postponement due to the situation in the country.

UPDATE: On Thursday, a group of Egyptian political parties also called for a postponement of elections.

But, in reaction to the terrible violence over the last couple of days, the call in Tahrir Square has been, again: “Irhal” —  Go.  Just go.  Get out.

There is not a unified position on cancelling elections now.

So now, here are a few thoughts: is it just possible that a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation in Cairo tomorrow might have enough overwhelming popular appeal and regional magic to distract, and stop the bloodshed in Egypt?

By the same time tomorrow night, after all the violence and suffering and human loss in this region, will everything seem better [and not worse]?

Reality check: The U.S. is lobbying strongly against any reconciliation Palestinian government, which would mean a move toward new Palestinian elections [the visit of Burns to the region on Sunday + Monday was reportedly about that, and about the “UN bid” that Mahmoud Abbas filed in New York on 23 September for full UN membership]. At stake is another full-scale imposition of economic sanctions that will have a devastating impact on the situation in the West Bank, despite defiant Palestinian statements.

There is, of course, a major contradiction, at least in democracies, between supporting elections [as U.S. President George W. Bush did, prior to the 2006 Palestinian elections in which Hamas won a majority of seats in the PLC, dismissing some worry about the lack of Fatah popularity, and the possibility of Hamas gains], and then imposing sanctions because of who wins.

But, the U.S. is still calling for Egyptian elections.

Mark Toner, a U.S. State Dept spox, did so in an exchange with journalists at the daily briefing in Washington:

    “QUESTION: And you remain confident that this election will go on on time?

    MR. TONER: We continue to believe that it can go on, yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you still —

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) boycott the vote given the amount of violence and their distrust of the military?

    MR. TONER: Again, as Field Marshal Tantawi said yesterday, this is – he provided a path that talked about these elections, talked about a newly appointed civilian government, as well as a full transition to – or presidential elections by next summer. And this is the way that Egyptians can create the kind of democracy for which they’re protesting in Tahrir Square. It’s extremely important that they exercise their right to vote … He [Tantawi] did pledge to appoint a new cabinet and to hold presidential elections, as I talked – as I said, and proceed with parliamentary elections as planned. We believe that’s important. We also believe that it’s important that the SCAF ensure that free and fair elections proceed expeditiously, and that their security of these elections is ensured, and that – in an environment that’s free from any intimidation, and that

    this newly appointed civilian government be able to exercise real executive power immediately … What’s important, as I said, is that these elections be seen by the Egyptian people as credible and transparent. That’s the responsibility of the SCAF, to create that kind of atmosphere and that kind of environment, so that they’re – that these elections can be taken seriously by the Egyptian people, and again, building towards eventual presidential elections, a new constitution, et cetera, that will result in a true democracy for Egypt … And so we’re engaged with the Egyptian authorities. Again, our goal here is to provide whatever support we can so that credible, transparent elections can take place. But ultimately, this is something that the

    Egyptian people need to see done”.

The briefing transcript can be read in full here.

But, what about the Palestinian people?

Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

This was a surprise.

The announcement came at the end of the day, in the early evening. Reuters broke the story. Hamas and Fatah, meeting in Cairo, had reached agreement on reconciliation. Further details were not immediately available, and only a few pieces of information filtered out as evening became night, and later.

With the lack of information, there was much scepticism.

And, signs of possible trouble just ahead.

Isabelle Kershner (and four other correspondents in Cairo, Gaza and Washington) wrote in the New York Times that “In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.  ‘The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas’, Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, ‘Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly’.  The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands”. This story is published here.

One Twitterer (from Gaza) called Netanyahu a “Drama Queen” after these remarks.

A Tweet from the Palestinian President’s office said, in response to Netanyahu’s remarks: @MahmoudAbbas – #Netanyahu has to choose between #Peace or #Settlement’s construction.

Continue reading Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

At least, Livni did not lose

It is a tremendous relief that Tzipi Livni was not trounced in this vote.

By the narrowest of leads — the Israeli election commission now gives Livni’s Kadima Party 28 seats while the next highest party has 27, and some votes are still not counted — she seems to have “won” the most votes in yesterday’s election.

Or, at least she did not lose — as had been widely predicted.

Yet, there is still a chance she may not get to form the next government. If the apparent runner-up in the election, Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu’s Likud Party, is able to demonstrate to Israel’s State President Shimon Peres that he can put together a coalition government of parties from the right, that would pose a real dilemma.

Would Peres give Livni a first shot, anyway?

But, then again, why should much of the world be so absorbed by these elections — and all the attendant exotic minutiae of the Israeli political scene?

The only reason is the real concern to know if there is any reasonable chance to see a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Livni’s placement in the polls suggest that Israel’s voters have not rejected continuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, despite the heady anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian atmosphere that has only thickened with the national feelings of justification for the recent military attacks in Gaza, angrily oblivious of strong international criticism.

Her enormously unattractive behavior during Israel’s recent 22-day military invasion of Gaza — threatening more and worse — turned many potential supporters from Israel’s “left” against her, even as most pre-election predictions indicated a victorious Israeli “right”.

Continue reading At least, Livni did not lose