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The Platform of the Palestinian Unity Government

INSS Policy Brief – Editor – Shlomo Brom
No. 4 - April 1, 2007

"There is a Partner, There is no Partner":
The Platform of the Palestinian Unity Government

By Amir Kulick

The swearing in of the Palestinian unity government on March 17, 2007 raised great hopes in the Palestinian street and earned widespread public support. The European Union and the United States have decided for the interim to maintain the economic boycott of the Palestinian government and refrain from contributing to its budget directly, as long as it fails to meet the conditions laid down by the Quartet (recognition of Israel, commitment to non-violence, and acceptance of agreements ratified previously by the PLO). At the same time, they have expressed a willingness to establish contact with the members of the government not associated with Hamas. The government of Israel, on the other hand, has decided to continue to boycott the unity government and cease transferring the taxes that it collects. Israel's official position is that the unity government's platform imposes constraints on Abu Mazen, and thereby "limits the possibilities and range of topics which Israel can discuss with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority." [1] Journalists and Middle East experts have also dismissed the platform as devoid of any important breakthroughs, contending instead that it is a tactical attempt to circumvent international sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority.

Against this background, the goal of this essay is to offer a textual analysis of the unity government platform and examine whether it in fact limits Abu Mazen in future negotiations. The main conclusion of the analysis is that the platform does not actually impose limitations on the president of the Palestinian Authority as far as political contacts are concerned regarding a final status agreement. This of course does not necessarily imply that current conditions are ripe for this type of negotiations, or that Abu Mazen is in practice not bound by related restrictions (in the political arena, on the security level, and vis-à-vis intra-organizational concerns – within Fatah and in relation to Hamas).

The platform of the Palestinian unity government clearly does not fulfill the conditions of the International Quartet. The platform contains no commitment to refrain from the use of violence; more than that, it explicitly states that: "the resistance to occupation, in whatever a legitimate right of the Palestinian people." [2] In addition, there is no explicit and direct recognition of the State of Israel. Even the wording that the government will respect the documents signed by the PLO does not fulfill the requirement of explicit acceptance of those said documents. On the other hand, the government's platform contains several positive points that indicate a degree of progress towards accepting some of the Quartet's conditions. The document certainly does not limit the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and may even allow him relative flexibility in future political negotiations. This provision is also significant given its timing, namely, while the Palestinian prime minister is one of the Hamas leaders in the territories. Within this context, a number of important points should be highlighted:

Readiness to establish a state within the 1967 borders. In the first article the platform declares that the government will act to "establish an independent Palestinian state...occupying all the territories conquered in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital." This statement is the political formula sanctioned by the Palestinian National Council as a cornerstone of a peace agreement with Israel. The inclusion of the statement in the platform enables further negotiations along the lines of a two-state solution. Abu Mazen's degree of freedom on this point is clear, especially if one compares this statement with the official position of Hamas, which declares that all of Palestine is Islamic land (wakf), no part of which can be ceded or forfeited.

Rejection of a state with temporary borders. Article 4 of the platform (section 1) states that the "government adheres to its rejection of what is called the state with provisional borders proposed in the American-Israeli plan." In other words, it prefers negotiations about a permanent status. This article implies an additional restriction to further negotiations: the rejection of a long-term interim solution. Opposition to this has been part of Abu Mazen's official position since he was elected to office in late 2004. It is worth noting that this position does not replicate Hamas' position, which prefers the idea of a time-limited armistice (hudna) – in effect, a temporary agreement, as was proposed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon over the course of 2001.

Accepting previous agreements as a basis for further negotiations. Article 2, section 1 of the platform states: "the government will honor the international agreements and decisions signed by the PLO." This article falls short of Israel's entire demand for abiding by the agreements signed by the PLO. Nevertheless the specific language of the platform still leaves room for Israel to demand that the agreements be fulfilled, and at the same time leaves Abu Mazen the ability to present the previous agreements with Israel as a basis for further negotiations. It is clear that this does not constitute full de jure acceptance of the Oslo agreement, but certainly the wording (as well as Hamas' very participation in the elections and government), constitutes a de facto recognition of these agreements.

Conducting negotiations based on the Arab initiative. Article 2 also states that the government will strive "to achieve the national goals as stated," among others, "in the decisions of the Arab League summit." This text enables working with the Arab peace initiative (the Saudi initiative), accepted at the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002 as the basis for further negotiations. Within the framework of this initiative the Arab states proposed normalization of relations with the State of Israel and a declaration of an end to the conflict, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all areas conquered in 1967, establishment of a Palestinian state, and a solution to the refugee problem.

Abu Mazen and the PLO have the authority to conduct negotiations. In the third section of the platform ("Dealing with the Occupation"), article 3 declares that "conducting negotiations is within the mandate of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority," and that "any political agreement that is reached will be submitted to the Palestinian National Authority for approval or to a referendum among the Palestinians, both those inside (i.e., in the territories) and outside (i.e., in the diaspora)." This wording gives Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority internal license – including from Hamas – to conduct peace negotiations with Israel. Similar declarations have been made in the past by various spokesmen for the movement, most notably Ismail Haniyeh. At the same time, putting it in writing and including it in an official document to which Hamas is a partner grants this assertion greater authority. The end of this clause, which requires approval of any agreement by either the Palestinian National Authority or by the Palestinian people themselves, is neither new nor constricting with regard to future negotiations. It is completely reasonable that any political agreement, and certainly one with profound national implications such as a permanent settlement, would need approval of one of these entities, if not both.

In addition to the discussion about future negotiations, the platform contains another important point relevant to this analysis:

Expansion of the ceasefire. The new government, at least according to its statement (Article 2, section 3), will strive to "stabilize the lull in hostilities (tahdiya) and to expand it in order to achieve a comprehensive calm." The platform's preconditions to expand the ceasefire are numerous, and their practical application means a cessation of all Israeli military activity in the West Bank. These terms complement other preconditions, including a removal of roadblocks, cessation of the excavations in Jerusalem, and timetables for releasing prisoners. At the same time, there is no doubt that this article could come into play as the basis for negotiation about the extension of the ceasefire to the West Bank. Various security sources argue that an interruption of the Israeli military activity in the West Bank is likely to lead to Hamas' rehabilitating its armed forces in this area. At the same time, one could claim that this step might be a useful turning point in creating a different, more positive dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians. This might happen, especially if it is accompanied by significant benefits (freedom of internal movement and economic benefits) alongside release of prisoners (perhaps as part of the deal to release Gilad Shalit). Beyond that, it would be possible to use a ceasefire of this type as an initial step towards renewing permanent status negotiations. In addition, the positioning of this article in the document may be significant. The formulators of the document declared the intention to work towards a ceasefire immediately following the statement that "resistance to the the legitimate right of the Palestinian people," and included it in the section dealing with negotiations with Israel. The contiguity of these two sections may testify to the Palestinians' pragmatic intentions. It seems they intended to say that resistance to the occupation is their right, but in practice it is their intention to strengthen and expand the ceasefire and bring about the end of the occupation by way of negotiations.

One way or another, the platform of the Palestinian unity government can certainly be seen as a tactical step whose purpose is to remove the political and economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian government. It attempts to achieve this without Hamas or the government that it heads recognizing Israel or dissociating itself from the path of terror. On the other hand, one can also look at the document from a different angle and see it as part of the new pragmatism characterizing Hamas. If so, the platform could serve as the basis to establish initial contacts with the new government. This should of course be done slowly and gradually, in order to leave some of the political and economic pressures in place until Hamas and its partners in government completely fulfill the Quartet's conditions.

In any event, however, it is clear that the text of the platform in no way inhibits Abu Mazen in future negotiations with Israel. It enables him, at least formally, to advance on the political front. Therefore, the decision whether or not to enter negotiations with Abu Mazen should be based on broader and more serious considerations, such as the internal and public state of the Israeli government or the ability of Hamas to torpedo further negotiations, and not on the wording of the Palestinian unity government platform.

1 The State of Israel's policy towards the Palestinian government, as communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat, March 18, 2007.
2 Al-Ayyam, March 19, 2007. All translated references to the Palestinian unity government platform are taken from this source.


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