Palestinians should end their divisions, hold elections, ex-Arab ministers say

Bassem Aly , Thursday 3 Jun 2021

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During the webinar. Al-Ahram

Following the end of Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip and crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Palestinian factions should finalise the reconciliation process and vote for a new president and parliament, said ex-Arab ministers on Thursday.

In a webinar organised by the Boutros Ghali Foundation for Peace and Knowledge (KEMET), the ministers discussed the future of the Palestinian cause amid such developments and the likelihood of reaching a settlement to the seven-decade conflict.

Amr Moussa, Egypt’s ex-foreign minister and Arab League chief, said the recent events has “put the Palestinian cause back on top” of the regional agenda. He believes that the Palestinians should make initiatives and address the international public opinion to keep this gain.

“There is no doubt that the Palestinians have politically won, and Israel and Israeli politics have lost,” Moussa argued. He added that very few states around the world are convinced by the “ridiculous” Israeli positions.

Moussa pointed out that Israel made a lot of gains during the Trump administration, although warning that the Palestinians still have to take on their responsibilities. This mainly includes their political divisions, which Egypt has continuously mediated in a bid to resolve them.

Donald Trump, the predecessor of current US President Joe Biden, recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital”, moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, closed the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) office in Washington DC as well as the US consulate that serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem and cut funding for the UN Palestinian refugees’ agency (UNRWA).

“Intra-Palestinian tensions are clearly there, and all parties should be told that they are losing the conflict because of their divisions,” Moussa stressed. He wants the Palestinians to “actively work on” the issue of holding legislative and presidential elections.

“Postponing the [Palestinian] election was a huge mistake. How can they speak to the world about their cause more strongly than by having legislative and presidential elections?,” Moussa stated.

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On 30 April, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed parliamentary and presidential elections that were scheduled by 22 May. Abbas said he is not sure whether Israel would allow the elections to take place in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ismail Haniya – chief of Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza – called Abbas to challenge Israel and proceed with the voting process. “In Hamas, we don’t want to turn the situation into an internal Palestinian struggle. We want the language of dialogue, communication and dialogue to prevail among all Palestinians,” Haniyeh noted.

Egypt’s former top diplomat wants the Palestinians to “take advantage of the timing” amid Israel’s “turbulent” political environment and concerns over whether the new coalition will collapse amid ideological dissimilarities between its parties.

“Parties to the coalition might disagree in the long run. They agreed to work together because they wanted to kick Netanyahu out. But this objective will be met during their first minute in office,” Moussa explained.

“The Palestinians need to take advantage of this. An Israeli election should be faced with Palestinian one, and Israeli divisions should be met with Palestinian unity.” He believes that this is the “moment that the Palestinians can benefit from”, especially if Israel arranges polls within the next few months.

Nabil Fahmy, also Egypt’s ex-foreign minister, argued that the Palestinians will not succeed in meeting their objectives if they continue to have divisions. He stressed that Israel’s recent crackdown on Jerusalem and the West Bank and offensive on Gaza have shown to the world that it is “treating the Palestinians unfairly”.

“The international public opinion rejects how the Israelis are dealing with the Palestinians, and the international community as a whole says the situation is unacceptable. I have seen protests in the US that Jews participated in,” Fahmy explained.

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As it includes political parties that are both rightist and leftist, he thinks that the new Israeli coalition is “weird”. Fahmy stated that Israel’s new coalition will reduce tensions in the US-Israeli relations, believing they may make a “strategic decision” about Palestinian statehood.

The reason, according to Fahmy, is that Naftali Bennett – the new extreme, rightist premier – and other politicians are concerned about their careers.

“The Arabs and Palestinians should highlight Israel’s humanitarian crimes. It will attract the attention of the international community, and humanitarian agencies can help in this. The peace process can hardly succeed in the short run, but – in the long run – we should protect its foundations for the future,” Fahmy said.

Fahmy wants the Palestinian Authority to be “more active” in joining international institutions and getting new resolutions by the UN Security Council and General Assembly that recognises their rights in a state on the pre-1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Lebanon’s former foreign minister Nassif Hitti said Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza – the fourth in recent years – led to “the rise of new rules of engagement” and unity among the Palestinian people in all occupied territories and Gaza.

Noting that the right-wing continues to dominate Israel’s politics, Hitti said the Palestinians need to form a unity government and hold elections. He also urged the need for reviving the Arab peace initiative, pointing out that the Arab foreign ministers will meet in the Qatari capital Doha by mid-June.

“What Israel is doing against the Palestinians should be described as apartheid. It’s not enough to say that we are sympathising with the Palestinians, thinking about reconstructing Gaza or fulfilling their humanitarian needs. We should not only try to handle the occupation, but also work on settling the conflict,” Hitti said.

Nabil Amr, former Palestinian information and culture minister, argued that “Israel’s political elites are not leading the crisis, but the crisis is leading them.”

“But unfortunately, we cannot take advantage of the situation unless we end the Palestinian divisions,” the ex-advisor of Abbas and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat noted.

“Egypt – which the Palestinians love and know doesn’t have an agenda – can play a role in encouraging the Palestinians to create a new political system and a new elected parliament on the basis of proportional representation that will eventually lead to a ruling coalition, “ Amr said.

Emphasising that “each of the factions now speak on behalf of the Palestinians”, Amr pointed out that this matter prevents the Palestinians from benefiting from the gains of Israel’s offensive on Gaza.

Amr stated that Egypt is “almost authorised” by the international community – including the United States – to manage the situation in Gaza and its surroundings.

“Egypt did great work in terms of the Gaza ceasefire, being almost the only state that the Palestinians do not question the reasons behind its involvement because it has an interest in reaching it,” said Amr.

“The 11-day [Gaza] war changed a lot. Imagine if it would have happened while the Palestinians are politically united. It’s time for new political Palestinian cadres to rise. We don’t only need new faces, but people with new qualifications. This is why we need elections,” concluded the veteran Palestinian politician.

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