Gaza: who benefits from a unified Palestinian delegation?

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on as he meets with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on July 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after he prayed for the Palestinians who were killed during the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: AFP-Abbas Momani)

By: Maaz Karaja

Published Friday, August 8, 2014

It is now urgent to pose a series of questions that were postponed by the war. However, there is a need to look at the situation in Cairo and identify the beneficiary of the change in Egypt's position that lead it to abandon its initiative and adopt a unified Palestinian proposal.

Ramallah – It is also time to question Egypt's insistence on a unified Palestinian negotiating team, including the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the PLO, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, regardless of whether or not the [political] left decides to join the delegation.

The third question is who will benefit from the outcome of successful negotiations and will the presence of a united Palestinian delegation have a particular effect on the desired results?

It is well known that the Egyptian initiative proposed in the first few days of the aggression, in an arrogant and patronizing manner, favored Israel’s interests. The leadership of the Resistance was not officially informed of the initiative and only found out about it through the media. Egypt also insisted that the proposal could not be modified.

In return, Gaza rejected the proposal, but PNA President Mahmoud Abbas accepted it without hesitation and adopted Egypt’s rhetoric. He flew to Cairo and contacted the Qatari-Turkish axis to pressure Hamas to accept it.

Israel, on the other hand, remained silent, knowing that Gaza would reject the initiative, which would buy it more time to continue bombarding the Strip and weaken the Resistance as much as possible. All those positions were expressed in the first 10 days of the war.

By the end of the second week, all sides (Egypt, Israel, and Abbas) realized that the capabilities of the Resistance had changed since 2012. The new equation will not be destruction, desolation, and the killing of civilians countered by a few limited range missiles and small defense operations on the ground. The rockets reached the farthest point in occupied Palestine and the Resistance launched unprecedented operations against Israeli army positions, resulting in significant losses in its ranks. Even after two weeks of heavy bombardment, the Resistance also preserved its ability to launch rockets, quantitatively and qualitatively.

So what happened? To begin with, Tel Aviv realized it was in trouble while its image became marred due to its stubbornness as Cairo understood that its initiative was dead. Abbas, on the other hand, disappeared from the political scene and faced an unprecedented level of criticism since his ascent to power in 2005. Each public statement he made was met with ridicule, sometimes from Fatah itself, until he stopped talking and remained silent for days.

On the popular level, Palestinians stood by the Resistance and Gaza. Although the West Bank did not mobilize they way it should have due to the anesthesia of economic peace, it declared its faith in the Resistance.

The other side had to change its position before everything collapses. The tripartite alliance between Egypt, Israel, and Ramallah feared that the culture of rejection and resistance will win over people’s minds and hearts once again, particularly in the West Bank.

Even within Hamas, the existence of a conciliatory and compromising current is no longer a secret (represented in Khaled Meshaal, who is in the thick of regional politics). However, there exists also a solid current represented by al-Qassam Brigades and some Hamas leaders, who currently have great leeway.

This could mean that Meshaal might be gone once the dust of the battle has settled, to be replaced by a new leadership, which rejects compromises and leans more towards the Iranian axis. In this situation and in the presence of Islamic Jihad, which has always stuck to its principles, what is the future of Palestinian politics?

In this case, in the face of a Resistance discourse with sweeping popularity that has proved its credibility, the biggest loser without a doubt would be Abbas and his political project exemplified in Oslo.

Based on the above, the events of the third week of the aggression become more coherent. Positions and stances began to change very quickly. Egypt accepted the presence of Resistance leaders [at the negotiating table] and their demands – as opposed to its "non-debatable" first initiative.

The discourse of Abbas and various PNA officials became more noble, conveying a hail of fiery statements, which brought back memories of the PLO's good days. However, this repositioning, although an outcome of the Gaza battle, does not mean that they lost all the initiative and are now answering to the Resistance. It is an attempt by these officials to circumvent expected [political] losses.

This lies behind Egypt's emphasis on a unified Palestinian delegation, ensuring the representation of the PLO and the PNA (unlike the 2012 agreement) and that the Resistance does not reap all the benefits. There would be nothing funnier than seeing [left -wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine] MP [and head of al-Badil bloc] Qais [Abdul-Karim] "Abu Laila" and [head of the Palestinian People's Party (former CP)] Bassam al-Salehi in the delegation.

Israel could accept to lift the siege on Gaza, as part of a set of terms, which is the main demand of the Resistance, in addition to other details, since it has no other choice. However, the significance of Abbas' participation will come later on, when he takes over the political scene, having disappeared in the third week. All other measures and treaties would then be under the PNA and the unity government, which had been completely absent and almost irrelevant throughout the aggression.

Such measures should naturally be undertaken by specific institutions. Politically, however, this would mean that the Cairo Agreement could resuscitate the Oslo Accords, which were in their last throes. After being cornered from all sides and his agenda weakened due to the achievements on the ground in Gaza, Abbas will be back in the pivotal role, from which everything must pass through.

The Resistance will undoubtedly achieve most of its demands. The siege on Gaza will be lifted in one way or another. However, the PNA will be back at the forefront and there are concerns that the Resistance will remain limited to Gaza, while the "Oslo Project" expands throughout the West Bank and the Strip.

There is a risk that the Resistance could have achieved a brief gain by breaking the siege. However, Abbas could have achieved something strategic, by safeguarding his project and the Oslo ceiling.

This is why Egypt insisted on one Palestinian delegation and refused to speak with the representatives of the Resistance alone. It revived Mahmoud Abbas’ role and might have saved Khaled Meshaal from future decline.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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