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

What did he really say?

Did he or didn’t he?

UPDATE: Abed Rabbo is reportedly unavailable for comment on Thursday

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Executive Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] — the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, remember? — or, as Ma’an News Agency has identified him, “PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo” — reportedly told the privately-owned but donor-funded Ma’an News Agency that “Israel is an unknown entity in terms of borders [so] how does it suggest to recognize it as a Jewish state? Israel and the US should first set out Israel’s borders”…

Ma’an’s story, posted here, said that: “The PLO official further denied speaking with Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday, where he reportedly said ‘If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour’. According to the daily [Haaretz], Abed Rabbo said ‘Any formulation the Americans present – even asking us to call Israel the ‘Chinese State’ – we will agree to it, as long as we receive the 1967 borders. We have recognized Israel in the past, but Israel has not recognized the Palestinian state’. However, Abed Rabbo said he had only spoken with Agence France-Presse over the issue”.

Abed Rabbo apparently did not, himself, utter the words “Jewish State” – here, again, are reportedly his exact words:
“If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour”

The Jerusalem Post noted that “The top PLO official was responding to US State Department Spokesman Phillip Crowley’s announcement [Tuesday] that the Palestinians should respond to the Israeli demand of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in return for the extension of a moratorium on settlement construction. Abed Rabbo’s remarks were interpreted by many Palestinians as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state – a position that contradicts the official PA policy. A number of Palestinians factions, including the ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank, strongly condemned Abed Rabbo and called for his firing”. This is posted here.

But is that what Philip Crowley really said?

In a post on his Ibishblog today, Hussein Ibish, a “senior fellow’ at the American Task Force for Palestine, wrote: “It’s because of their reciprocal character that Palestinians, or anyone else, shouldn’t have seriously considered Netanyahu’s proposal for exchanging recognition of Israel’s ‘Jewish character’ for an eight week extension of the temporary, partial moratorium. It’s widely reported that Patrick Crowley, the State Department spokesman, backed Israel’s demand at a recent press conference. I think that’s completely false. If you read what he said, it most importantly begins with, ‘It’s not for us to endorse this idea or this idea’. So much for an endorsement. Just like President Bush he referred to Israel as ‘the homeland of the Jewish people’, language, as I have noted in the past, that is pulled directly from the Balfour Declaration and lacking any great political or legal significance. He said Israel was ‘a state for the Jewish people’, but also ‘for other citizens of other faiths as well’, an important addendum that has been downplayed if not ignored by the media, especially the Israeli press. Crowley urged the Palestinians to make a counteroffer, and now they have. Israel, naturally, isn’t interested”. This Ibish post can be read in full here.

Incidentally, Ibish began this post by writing: “I don’t usually respond to other bloggers commenting on my work, but in this case the question was put to me directly by someone called Yaacov Lozowick, who wrote a response to my recent blog posting about PM Netanyahu’s ridiculous demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’, whatever that means, in return for an eight week extension of the temporary, partial settlement moratorium. I guess it’s worth responding to somebody once in a while just to clear things up, so here goes”…

But, is there really a “Yaacov Lozowick”?

Back to Abed Rabbo, and what he said: “If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour”… What is that “not” in the phrase? Is it a bad translation from the Arabic? Is it bad editing? Or, did Abed Rabbo misspeak?

Abed Rabbo, a former spokesperson for one of the Popular Fronts back in Beirut in the good old days, is the co-sponsor of the “Geneva Initiative”, with his Israeli counterpart Yossi Beilin, who was Israel’s Minister of Justice [when Ehud Barak was Prime Minister], and Beilin was later leader of the Meretz Party.

The late PLO leader Yasser Arafat never made a clear public statement on the “Geneva Initiative”, in which Israel and Palestinian “civil society” — actually, there were many has-been and would-be politicians in their midst — tried to stake out a possible outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The most notable advance of the “Geneva Initiative” was its declaration that the two sides could “swap” pieces of territory, beyond the 1967 Green Line border, on the basis of a 1:1 [one-to-one] trade…

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that what this really is all about is a Palestinian demand for the U.S. to set the borders between Israel and Palestine: “The Palestinians on Wednesday called on the US administration and Israel to define borders in response to Israel’s demand for recognition as the Jewish state. ‘We officially demand that the US administration and the Israeli government provide a map of the borders of the state of Israel which they want us to recognise’, senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP. His remarks came after the US State Department asked the Palestinians to extend a counter-proposal to Israel’s call for recognition as a ‘Jewish state’ in exchange for a possible extension of restrictions on settlement building”. This story can be read in full here.

The AP story added that Abed Rabbo also said: ” ‘We want to know whether this (Israeli) state includes our lands and houses in the West Bank and east Jerusalem’ … referring to Palestinian lands occupied during the 1967 Six Day War. ‘If this map is based on the 1967 borders and provides for the end of the Israeli occupation over all Palestinian lands… then we recognise Israel by whatever name it applies to itself in accordance with international law’, he said, without elaborating. ‘We are awaiting a response from Tel Aviv and Washington’, he added. When asked about Abed Rabbo’s comments, senior Israeli cabinet minister Silvan Shalom said it was ‘unacceptable to return to the lines of June 1967. There is a very large consensus in Israel on this point’, Shalom told public radio”.

We have been suggesting that Palestinian negotiators ask for guarantees against what they say they fear most, in all this commentary on these very touchy issues — expulsion, transfer, etc. Finally, somebody has taken up our suggestion [but its not a Palestinian…] According to an article published in Haaretz, “The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking he make clear his government has not discussed the transfer of Israeli Arab citizens to the Palestinian Authority as part of a peace agreement, and that the government will not bring the subject up in the future”. This is posted here.

Fatah and Hamas – Yasser Abbas and the house built for his father, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza

Other excerpts:
Part 4: Separation of Powers in Ramallah
Part 3: Business and Businessmen in Palestine
Part 2: Fatah and Hamas – what’s the problem?

Yasser Abbas is the second son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen, after the given name of his oldest son, Mazen, who died following surgery in Qatar some years ago).  He is also an international businessman who is based in Palestinian West Bank, but who also travels frequently.

Last December, he spoke to me at length in his office in Ramallah about his businesses (Falcon Holding Company), his views, and the development of Palestine.

A few days later, when Israel launched a massive military attack against Gaza — Operation Cast Lead — from 27 December to 18 January, I took a decision not to publish anything from the interview at the time, in case it might have inadvertently made anyone more vulnerable, or anything worse.

Now, as Fatah and Hamas are on the verge of possible reconciliation — or a possible slide to the worse — Yasser Abbas’ views give us an insight into the mind-set in Ramallah:

(Marian Houk) Question: In every country in the world, of course, Presidents and leaders have relatives who make their living. But the question is – your position gives you so much more influence, how do you decide, for you what’s ethical, and what’s not ethical? How do you make these decisions? How do you decide how you’re going to function?

(Yasser Abbas) Answer: Well, first of all, the first company that I’ve ever established in my life – no, it’s not the first company, I established one in Canada, but maybe the second company I established in my life was in Palestine, in Ramallah, 1996, when Mahmoud Abbas was not the President, not the Prime Minister. He was Secretary-General of the PLO. I decided to open a company, and to go and compete like any other company in the market. And there you go, it happened. And from 1996 until 2000, we had those rosy years that we’ve never seen back again. Everybody was working. So we went and started bidding, and we started making relations with international companies coming from outside, like any other engineering office. So, that’s the way I started, and that’s the way I do business here, in Palestine. I can claim that all my projects that I take are competitive bidding. Nobody has any privilege to me, personally, to come and tell me, “I will give you this”, or “I will give you that”. Nobody has any power to do so. I have no power over anyone, and I mean anyone, to tell them, “This project is mine, nobody touches it”. Or, “I have a concession on such-and-such sector, and nobody touches”. I don’t have that. I challenge, I challenge, though you, publicly, anyone – anyone – who can come to me and point his finger at me to tell me, “I, or we, or such-and-such agency or ministry, gave you the job”, or “I have a concession on any sector of this economy”. I challenge him.

After the coup, Hamas – before they went into the Presidential headquarters – they went into my store, and they robbed it: goods, desks, office equipments, computers, worth half a million dollars. So I had the great lost [the greatest loss], money-wise, out of all the Palestinians, as an individual.

Q: Yours was the greatest loss?

A: Yes – as an individual. I’m talking about, as an individual. Maybe other companies lost much more than me, companies.

Q: What was the company?

A: Falcon, Falcon Tobacco Company – we are the importers of British-American tobacco. We have negotiated this, and it is one company, and it is not the monopoly of the importation of cigarettes in the world. I hope you understand this. British-American is one company. Philip Morris is another company. Gauloise is another company. And all the other importation from Israel is another company. So. it’s a big, broad market. BAT – British-American Tobacco – happens to be one of the largest in the world. We are their importers since nine years. Hamas went into my stores and robbed all my stores, and our loss was greater than any other.

Q: They took cigarettes?

A: Yes, and they sold them in the market. That’s one of the things.

Q: You know, when I was there, right after the coup, first we were met when we arrived in the parking lot by these people who careened up, some of them had black uniforms, and some of them looked like Taliban … with different layers of robes, and vests, and turbans. It was a little bit tense. And then, I asked them where they got the car – and they said, “from Abu Mazen”…

A. You know, they took Abu Mazen’s house.

Q: This is what I wanted to tell you. Then, we went to the house.

Continue reading Fatah and Hamas – Yasser Abbas and the house built for his father, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza