A seminar entitled "The Palestinian Cause and the Prospect for Peace,” which was held on day 2 of the 9th Al Jazeera Forum – involved a brainstorm in which political and legal issues overlapped with historical ones. The participants offered a wide range of ideas based on their political expertise and the contribution to Palestinian decision-making. They include Dr. Mohsen Saleh, director general of the Al-Zaytouna Center for Studies and Consultation; Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the political committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council; and Osama Hamdan, a member of the politburo of Hamas.
Some ideas were legal-based such as those of British-Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayoub. Others were based on historical narratives such as those of Susana Khalil, founder of the Venezuela-based Canaan Association for the Relief of the Palestinian People.
The ideas converged in many aspects and conflicted in others, but they all provided a joint space through which the participants expressed their visions of the Palestinian cause and offered solutions based on the situation on the ground.
Dr. Mohsen Saleh made a note of the structural link between the Palestinian cause and the Arab world. He hinted that the crisis of the Arab regimes is linked to Palestine’s tragedy, and that the absence of a healthy Arab environment has contributed to the existence of the Zionist entity.
He pointed out that the Zionist project goes beyond Palestine’s borders and threatens the entire Arab region because it aims for the expansion of Jewish territories, replacement of the Palestinian people, and settlement of Jewish people. He explained that it also seeks to weaken and dismantle the Arab strategic environment, asserting that a revival in the Arab region poses an existential threat to Israel.
Furthermore, he argued that the Arab rulers established their legitimacy during the 1950s on the basis of the liberation of Palestine, and that they worked to reinforce their oppressive regimes and destroy the Arabs' dignity rather than to liberate Palestine.
Saleh noted that this distortion made the liberation of the Arabs a priority during the liberation of the territories. He pointed out that the Arab Spring restored part of the Arabs' dignity.
He stressed the importance of the Arab and Islamic roles in liberating Palestine, citing that the Zionist project is a universal one. He pointed out that the current situation is very complicated, given the siege of the Palestinian people and the anti-resistance Arab environment. This resulted in a lack of official Arab support for the Palestinian resistance.
He explained that official Palestinian legitimacy was linked to official Arab legitimacy and that Hamas was hindered by anti-political Islam sentiment, rendering it unwelcome and leading to a struggle of legitimacies.
Saleh talked about the current Palestinian political system, describing it as fragile due to its suffering from crises and structural issues. He asserted that the status of Arab regimes is not to blame for this. He attributed it to internal Palestinian issues pertaining to the definition of constants and priorities, national program arrangements, the ability of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to assimilate all parties, and the mistrust among the Palestinian factions.
He maintained that the strategic environment that surrounds Palestine is still experiencing unrest due to the uprisings, and that it is in the process of being reshaped. He discussed a number of scenarios for the Arab region: the restoration of authoritarian regimes and the re-fragmentation of the region according to a new Sykes-Picot scheme along sectarian and ethnic lines.
He continued by saying, “All the region’s currents might reach a consensual formula. There might be a second wave of uprisings which will learn from the mistakes of the first wave.”
Fatah’s Vision of the Palestinian Cause
History was a continuous theme in the seminar. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, for example, started his discussion by narrating the Palestinian struggle which started through the foundation of the Fatah Movement in the wake of Israel's occupation of Gaza Strip. He cited the option of armed resistance, which required a partnership with those who contributed to the struggle.
He also pointed out that the October 1973 War made a qualitative shift in the Palestinian strategy, explaining that the evolution of Fatah’s political role required the combination of armed struggle and political work. He highlighted the 1974 Ten Point Program which he considers the beginning of the political aspect as a supporting factor. “The reliance on the political option as a major one was established in 1988 through factors, the most prominent of which was Egypt’s exit from the battlefield after the signature of the Camp David Accord in 1979," he declared.
He then added, “The status of the Arab region was affected by two major events, namely Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of the New World Order. The Madrid Conference was held and the Oslo Accord was sealed in these atmospheres."
Moreover, Abdullah suggested that “the focus at the third stage of the Palestinian struggle was on the political dimension. The stage after the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accord had some issues such as the assassination of Isaac Rabin. This incident brought back to power the Israeli right wing which denies the Palestinians’ rights.”
He stated that these factors combined led to the reoccupation of all Palestinian territories in 2002 and that efforts were made on the international arena to provide support for the political option amid an inconvenient Arab environment.
“The process to reach a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian cause was shifted to a conflict-management process. This shift gave Israel an opportunity to initiate the policy of elimination, persecution, settlement, and expansion while being at the negotiation table," he remarked.
He stated that the United States’ unilateral sponsorship of negotiations and Israel’s current policies cannot lead to a political solution. Hence, resorting to the international community and the United Nations to obtain an international recognition was the best option. “We have become convinced that the techniques of negations should be changed," he reasoned.
Abdullah asserted that the rectification of the internal Palestinian situation is considered a priority to support the current political course, and explained that this can be achieved by emphasizing the right to return, supporting the Israeli Arabs until they achieve equality as citizens in the current state, and achieving reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinian resistance will continue, but its techniques will be changed according to the surrounding circumstances.
In addition, he alluded to the bid to prosecute Israeli regime figures through the International Criminal Court. He revealed that the upcoming elections will give an indication of how to establish Palestinian political leadership, noting room must be made for one party at the expense of the other, and stressed the importance of the principle of participation.
Finally, he emphasized the importance of intentions over election results and warned against Israel's attempt to isolate Gaza Strip from the West Bank under the pretext of the humanitarian situation.
Osama Hamdan gave a historical overview of the Palestinian cause different from the one he had previously presented. He pointed out that the Palestinian revolts began with the Buraq uprising and the Izz al-Din al-Qassam movement, hinting at the existence of a constant voice calling for negotiations with Israel. He criticized this trend, explaining that it was developed through the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
“As part of the Arab political regime, the Palestinian political regime was controlled by a single party within the Palestinian Liberation organization. However, the 2006 elections came to assert that this party has a partner that can defeat it. The Palestinian regime could not stand this, and the factors of rift began to emerge," he declared.
In addition, he pointed out that the party in favor of compromise is still waiting for an Israeli approval that will never come. “This team witnessed an internal struggle for leadership and power between its leader and Mohammed Dahlan. This struggle hampered reconciliation efforts, " he explained.
Nonetheless, Hamdan asserted that Hamas places the national interests above its own, cited its support for Fatah’s bid to obtain the United Nations’ recognition of the State of Palestine.
He went on to say, “After the formation of the government and the accomplishment of the first step of reconciliation, some watched for the outcomes of the changes that took place in the region. Others bet that changes in the region can help them undermine the reconciliation and reshape it as they like. This can help them to restore the one-party system.”
He reasserted that Hamas is committed to implementing the reconciliation as it is, regardless of the surrounding conditions due to the dramatic and ongoing change in regional and international conditions.
He noted that Israel has its own impact on the reconciliation through pressure and the internal factor that is the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He stressed the necessity that the national interests be taken into consideration and that the reconciliation be implemented honestly so the division can be ended.
“We hope for a national institution that accommodates everyone. The Palestinian Liberation Organization can play this role, but it should be restructured though elections since legitimacy should be derived from the Palestinian people. The initiation of a liberal national project will be the next step," he confirmed.
Salma Karmi-Ayoub discussed the importance of international law in resolving conflict. She pointed out that international law should be considered in the Palestinian case as it contributes to the mobilization of international public opinion, which she believes is beneficial in the long run.
“I do not mean that international law can make changes alone, but it can be part of a wider system. It was an effective tool when the Israeli leaders were prosecuted as war criminals, and when arrest warrants were issued against them," she contended.
She pointed out that the International Court of Justice confirmed in 2004 the illegality of the settlements, and that the United Nation recognized the Palestinian state. She cited these examples to highlight the importance of international law.
Additionally, Karmi-Ayoub explained that the current strategy of the Palestinian forces in using international law does not pay off because it focuses on the recognition of the Palestinian state at the expense of other equally significant issues. She maintained that the current situation gives the impression that two countries are disputing over shared borders, not that one country is occupied by another.
Still, she indicated that the United Nations, while recognizing the Palestinian state, did not touch on the status of the Palestinian citizens inside Israel and marginalized the rights of Palestinian refugees.
She believes that a strategy that takes the rights of all Palestinians into consideration can be part of the solution, implying that it can be achieved through better coordination among all parties.
Suzzana Khalil presented a historical overview of the ongoing ideological conflict in the occupied territories and its impact on the situation on the ground. She explained in the same context that Israel is conducting ethnic cleansing no less heinous than the previous ones experienced by humanity.
She stressed that the Zionist project is based on the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land in aims of building Jewish settlements, noting that, in this manner, Israel is attempting to control geography.