By Malik Samara
Ramallah, (Al-AKhbar): Without consulting the people or representatives, the Palestinian leadership decided to unilaterally return to negotiations. The Palestinian street is being kept in the dark, while its leaders get ready for a new round of the Oslo negotiations concerning their destiny.
Although the Israeli press is buzzing with statements and positions by Israeli leaders, Palestinian officials are keeping mum about behind-the-scene agreements. This led Israeli Channel 10 reporter Ohad Ben Hamo to conclude his report from the presidential headquarters in Ramallah by declaring, “The Palestinian street is apathetic concerning the resumption of negotiations.”
In the past two days, the only statement was a brief reply by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Jordanian al-Rai newspaper. “Negotiation is the first choice for Palestinians wanting to create a Palestinian state,” he maintained. “We have achieved choices that will safeguard our people’s rights.”
On the other hand, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who will be meeting chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat next week in Washington, maintained that the negotiations will uphold Israeli interests, “as a Jewish democratic state.”
However, leaks to the media indicate that US Secretary of State John Kerry provided Abbas with guarantees that negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders and Israel’s agreement for a “calm freeze” on settlements, without announcing it publicly. In addition, Israel will also release prisoners “with blood on their hands,” as it calls them, but without indicating who they were and how many will be set free.
The leaks also speak about the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to continuing negotiations for at least nine months and providing guarantees to halt any steps against Israel in international organizations.
On the economic level, there is talk about an attractive economic package presented by Kerry to the Palestinians, which includes allowing the construction of a small plane airport in the West Bank and initiating vital projects in locations adjacent to Area C, in addition to facilitating the movement of Palestinians and international troops in the Jordan Valley.
Palestinian factions unanimously rejected the Palestinian leadership’s return to negotiations. Opposition voices were loud, even inside Fatah. “It is clear that this leadership is fluent in the language of militancy,” said Fatah leader Nabil Amr. “However, it ultimately surrenders to the status quo.” Amr continued that this is “a leadership crisis and not a political one.”
Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki mentioned pressures by Arab countries on Abbas to return to the table with Israel.
These statements were probably behind Abbas’ decision to issue a circular indicating who is allowed to speak in the name of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the presidency, namely Nabil Abu Rudeina and Yasser Abed Rabbo.
Hamas, on the other hand, considered the return to negotiations as “a major prize for the extremist occupation government.” Islamic Jihad on its part said it was “reproducing failure and a departure from national consent.”
Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Palestinian National Initiative Secretary General Mustafa Barghouti said, “The Palestinian National Initiative believes that we should not go into negotiations without altering the power balance, commitment to clear benchmarks, and a complete cessation of settlement activities.”
“There are no current indicators that these negotiations will fulfill such terms,” Barghouti continued. “Thus, we do not see any use of entering into them.”
“Kerry’s announced something fragile that could collapse at any moment. Until today, the US has not provided written guarantees that negotiations are based on clear measures. There are no guarantees that the Israelis will stop their settlement activities during the negotiations,” he added.
“This poses a great threat since we do not want the Oslo sin to be repeated. The number of settlers is now 650,000, up from 150,000 at the time of signature,” Barghouti warned. “There are also no confirmed indicators that Israel is willing to commit to a government decision to free the detainees.”
When asked if the Palestinian leadership had informed them of the “consensus formula” mentioned by Kerry, Barghouti replied, “As far as we know, there is nothing concrete related to the demands. Thus the position has not changed yet.”
Speaking to Al-Akhbar, PFLP-GC political leader in Palestine Hossam Arafat, called on the Palestinian Authority to “immediately retract its agreement to go back to negotiations and announce a referendum of the Palestinian people on the issue.” He described the step as “a blatant and explicit liquidation of the Palestinian cause.”
“Returning to negotiations at this time and under US and Israeli conditions is a very dangerous political step,” Arafat explained. “It expresses the mainstream Palestinian mentality concerning the major issues. I believe the Palestinian president is duping the Palestinian people. He made a unilateral decision to return to negotiations, despite the settlement assault and Judaization of Jerusalem.”
Perhaps the most notable position was given by PFLP politburo member Rabah Mohanna. He called for “holding President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO executive committee accountable for making a decision to go back to negotiations, in violation of the rules of the council.”
He called on “Palestinian masses at home and in the diaspora to go out in mass demonstrations against negotiations, which are destructive and harmful to the Palestinian cause.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.