Poll may backfire on Abbas

The Palestinian president’s pledge to call a referendum to help overcome a stand-off with the Hamas-led government may well backfire on him, according to some observers.

Abbas won approval from the PLO for the referendum
Abbas won approval from the PLO for the referendum

The government has not rejected the document outright, and one official, Nayef Rajoub, minister of Wakf and Islamic affairs in the Palestinian government, says Hamas has little to lose by endorsing it.

“There is a feeling that Hamas stands to lose very little or nothing by consenting to the prisoners’ document,” he said

On Tuesday, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation gave Abbas its support for a public referendum, but a date was not set, giving Hamas and Fatah time to work out disagreements on a programme proposed by the leaders of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Hamas has argued that more time is needed to reach an agreement with Fatah and that a dialogue should not be held hostage to ultimatums.

‘Positive points’

On Monday, Ismail Haniya, the prime minister, was quoted as saying that “the document contained some very positive points”.

However, he said: “I am not prepared to act with a gun to my head.” He was referring to Abbas’s original Monday deadline to accept the prisoner document or face the referendum.

Haniya reportedly said the document had positive points

Haniya reportedly said the
document had positive points

Haniya’s remarks, coupled with statements by Hamas leaders, suggest that the Hamas government is looking for ways to accept the document without appearing to give up on the movement’s commitments and ideals.

Those include not recognising Israel.

If forced to address the document directly, Hamas is expected to highlight an item asserting the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

Setback denied

A Hamas official, Aziz Dweik, the parliament speaker, denied that a referendum would be a setback for his party.

“I think the [prisoner] document is a very important piece of paper,” he told Aljazeera.net. “The fact the right of return is established and confirmed in the document makes it easier for us to accept it.

“On the contrary, a ‘yes’ vote would kill all other past initiatives and understandings excluding the right of return.

“It would push others, not us, to the corner, since others, not us, have shown a willingness to compromise on the right of return.”

Right of return

Duweik was referring to the Arab initiative of 2002 and other understandings that indicate that the refugees would return to a future Palestinian state, not to Israel.

The return of refugees is a mainpoint in the conflict

The return of refugees is a main
point in the conflict

This suggests that a “yes” vote, which Abbas and his Fatah movement expect, would lead to a hardening of the Palestinian position on refugees, a main issue in negotiations with Israel.

The Camp David talks – involving Bill Clinton when he was the US president, Ehud Barak when he was Israel’s prime minister and Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader – collapsed when Arafat refused to scrap the right of return.

Fatah leaders are aware of this dimension in the referendum.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former director-general of the Palestinian foreign ministry and now a Fatah member in the Palestinian parliament, agreed that the referendum would play to the ideology of Hamas more than that of Fatah.

“The prisoners’ document is very compatible with Hamas’s uncompromising ideology. If I were a member of Hamas, I would adopt it immediately,” he said.

Hamas leaders, especially those in the West Bank, know what Abdullah is talking about.

This is why they are trying to develop a consensus favouring the adoption of the document.

Rajoub, the Islamic affairs minister, said: “We realise that the significance of this document doesn’t go beyond the public relations sphere, since Israel is firmly opposed to a total withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967.”

He said the referendum affair was “a pressure tactic on the government aimed at creating crisis and instability and turmoil”, but hinted that an agreement could be reached in the coming days.

Israel not interested

There are also signs that Israel is not enthusiastic about a referendum on the prisoners’ document.

A “yes” vote would commit Palestinian leaders, present and future, to preserving the right of return for more than five million refugees dispersed across the globe.

On Monday, Shimon Peres, Israel’s deputy prime minister, told Israeli public radio that Israel “should not be enthusiastic about the Palestinian referendum”.

“This referendum is unlikely to serve the cause of peace and Israeli interests,” he said.

But it remains to be seen whether a Hamas acceptance of the prisoners’ document would end the present stand-off in the occupied territories and make the US, Israel and EU reconsider their blockade of the Palestinian government, which is inflicting hardship on millions of Palestinians. 

Source : Al Jazeera

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