Bantustan Days, Part 3: Sadness of a peace negotiator

I’m now continuing with my download of some of the notes
I took during my recent time in Palestine/Israel.  Actually, I need to find a new heading for this feature. I
was thinking of “Notes from Bantustine”, which has
certain ring to it. But some of my more interesting notes are from within 1948
Israel where the situation is not that of apartheid/Bantustans as much as of a
fairly settled colonial-settler society– even though it is one that still has major
issues from its colonizing era unresolved.

we were writing our 2004 Quaker book on the Palestine-Israel conflict we made a
point of referring to the whole area of Mandate Palestine as either
“Palestine/Israel” or “Israel/Palestine”, alternating between the two forms.
That is one slightly clunky way to proceed. Personally I think the way that
post-1994 South Africa has dealt with some geographic naming issues– by
inventing completely new, culturally neutral or “inclusive” names for places to
replace the sometimes exquisitely culturally specific names used before– has
considerable merit. “The Holy Land” is another way to proceed, though it’s a
little pious-sounding. Also, as a Quaker I totally believe that all portions of
the earth are equally “holy”; and I think that the singling-out of the area of
Mandate Palestine as “the Holy Land” by many parties, including Western
Christians, has led to a world of competitive claims, jealousy, divisiveness,
and general trouble.

… So
anyway, since my note download starts with the week I spent in Ramallah, for now I can still use the “Bantustan days”
rubric. Okay, even recognizing, as I did here already, that Ramallah and other PA enclaves in the West Bank are “Not
exactly Bantustans.”

On February 18, I conducted a good, though short, interview
with Ghassan Khatib.
Khatib is one of the leaders of the Palestinian
People’s Party (PPP), formerly the Palestinian Communist Party, one of
the smaller Palestinian organizations that has been
affiliated with the Fateh-dominated PLO for many
years. Historically, the communists were the earliest supporters within the
Palestinian national movement of the twin ideas of recognizing Israel and
creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel—i.e., the two-state
solution.  I think this was linked
to the PCP’s historic relationship with both the Soviet Union (back in the
day), given the USSR’s strong support for the creation of Israel; and also its
relationship with the Israeli Communist Party, especially since after the creation of the
Jewish state in 1948 the ICP became one of the main vehicles within which the
Palestinians who remained inside 1948 Israel had some ability to
organize their communities and to participate in Israeli politics.

Khatib was born in Nablus in 1954.
He was held in Israel’s system of “administrative” (i.e. no-trial) detention
from 1974 through 1977, a period when the PCP and other pro-PLO organizations
were doing a lot of effective organizing of Palestinian communities on the West
Bank.  Later he went to the UK and got an
economics degree from Manchester University in the UK. I first met him in 1989
when he had just recently emerged from yet another spell of administrative
detention. The PCP/PPP had thrown its considerable organizing and intellectual
skills into the First Intifada, which started in December 1987. In the late 1980s,
the head of the PPP was Bashir al-Barghouthi, an
extremely smart and thoughtful man who suffered a severe stroke in 1997 and
died in 2000.

Khatib was a member of the
Jordanian-Palestinian delegation at the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and of
the Palestinian team that participated in follow-up negotiations with Israel.
In 2002 he was appointed Minister of Labor in the PA, then in 2005-6 he was
Minister of Planning. These days he is a Vice-President at Bir
Zeit University, a little north of Ramallah. He came by to talk to me at the end of one of his
workdays there.

He was pretty pessimistic when we talked about the prospects
of any rapid reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas.
(And I see that in the
of his regular contributions to the “Bitter Lemons” discussion
forum, he still seems pessimistic. Go to that link to read his view of  “the five obstacles” that still stand
in the way of the reconciliation.)

When I talked with Khatib
he—like the always well-informed Ziad Abu Amr, whom I’d talked with earlier in the day—noted
that one other significant problem could well arise from the fact that the head
of the team whom Fateh leader (and the PA’s hanging-on-by-one-thread president) Mahmoud Abbas sent to negotiate
with Hamas in Cairo was none other than the ever-controversial Ahmed Qurei, Abu ‘Ala.

Abbas and Qurei
are at this point the two surviving dinosaurs of Fateh’s
historic leadership. All the other members of Fateh’s
founding “band of brothers” have now passed from the scene, leaving only these
two, both of whom are now well into their seventies. The rivalry between them
has been legendary over the years. So why, one might ask, would Abbas actually want Qurei to
“succeed” at an important political task at this (legacy-establishing) point in
both men’s lives? Not a stupid question.

In the brief survey he gave me of the sad state of Fateh’s political leadership, Khatib
said he thought Mohammed Dahlan, once hailed in
western quarters as a Fateh “rising star” and
possible heir to Abbas’s throne, had been “quite
finished” in Palestinian politics by the debacle of the failed coup he
tried to organize against the Hamas government in Gaza in June 2007. (The exact
language of the “failure of the coup” there is mine, not Khatib’s.
I can’t remember exactly how he referred to the events of that month.) Dahlan, who had worked closely with the US trainers and
organizers to plan the coup, sat out the whole confrontation in Cairo once it
developed. He is probably still there. Khatib said he
thought all the top- and second-level leaders whom Fateh
had had in Gaza prior to the June events had left the Strip: “The top-level
ones went to Cairo, and the second-level ones came to Ramallah.”

In fall 2005, Khatib headed the PA team that negotiated an “Agreement on Movement and Access” with the Sharon government, in the context of Israel’s otherwise
completely unilateral withdrawal of its troops and settlers from Gaza.  Those negotiations were mediated
primarily by James Wolfensohn, acting as the
Quartet’s special envoy, though Condi Rice came into the last round of the
negotiations to make it look as if she had actually achieved something in the
realm of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. 

Reading the text of the November 2005 ”Agreement
on Movement and Access”
that resulted gives one
only the hollowest form of pleasure these days. For
example, regarding the freight-crossing points between
Israel and Gaza it states:

The passages will operate
continuously…  [B]y
December 31 [2005]… the number of export trucks per day to be processed through
Karni will reach 150, and 400 by end-2006…

In addition to the number of trucks
above, Israel will permit export of agricultural produce from Gaza and will
facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement so that quality and freshness
can be maintained. Israel will ensure the continued opportunity to export.

The AMA also recorded the agreements reached by both sides
(that is, including Israel) on opening passages between
Gaza and the West Bank for the regular movement of both people and goods; the
reduction “to the maximum extent possible,” and by the end of 2005, of the
numbers of road-blocks within the West Bank; the reconstruction of Gaza’s port,

We could only wish.

Khatib noted that the chief
Israeli negotiator there was Amos Gilad, who
more recently was Olmert’s chief envoy to the
negotiations in Egypt over the Gaza ceasefire and the big prisoner exchange,
but who was replaced after he publicly chided Olmert
for switching his negotiation position when agreement looked very close.
Regarding the performance of Gilad and the other
Israeli negotiators during the AMA negotiators, Khatib
told me, “They were ever serious about this agreement working. They wanted to
push Gaza and the West Bank down separate paths.”

When I talked with Khatib, the
think-tank he had helped to found, the Jerusalem Media and Communications
Center, had recently published the results (English PDF here) of
the first opinion poll to be conducted in the West Bank and Gaza after the Gaza
war. That poll, conducted during the last three days of January with 1,198
respondents, had found the following:

the majority
of respondents (46.7%) believes that Hamas came out of the war victorious
compared with only 9.8% who said that Israel won the war. Over one-third, 37.4%,
said that neither side achieved victory in this war. 

A striking finding in this field
poll is the disparity between opinions in the West Bank and opinions in the
Gaza Strip on most of the issues tackled in the poll.
For example, 53.3% of
respondents in the West Bank believe that Hamas won in the recent war, while
35.2% of respondents in Gaza Strip felt the same. 

The poll… found a rise in the
popularity of the Hamas movement – especially in the West Bank –
and the popularity of its leaders and government in Gaza Strip alongside a
decline in the popularity of the Fatah movement and
its leaders and government in the West Bank. 

When asked if PLC elections were
held today, the percentage of those who would vote for Hamas rose to 28.6% in
this poll compared with 19.3% last April. On the other hand, the popularity of Fatah Movement declined from 34% last April to 27.9% in
this poll. 

This change was also reflected in
the level of public trust in the two movements. Trust in Hamas rose from 16.6%
last Novembeto 27.7% in this poll. With regards to Fatah, popular trust in the movement declined from 31.3% to
26% in the same period. It is clear from the poll that the rise
in Hamas’
popularity is due to an increase in its popularity in the West Bank – it
rose from 12.8% last November to 26.5% in this poll. 

This same trend applies to public
trust in leading figures. The percentage of those who trust discharged PM
Ismail Hanieh went up from 12.8% last October to
21.1% in this poll; this is due to a rise in his popularity in the West Bank
from 9.2% to 18.5%. Trust in President Mahmoud Abbas went down from 15.5% last October to 13.4% in this

We discussed some of the findings of this poll.  He said he thought the “Gaza
effect”—the increase in Hamas support in the West Bank and its decrease
in Gaza—was probably only a temporary blip.  The divergence of reactions between the two territories
probably, he said, stemmed from the fact that

the people in the two areas were looking at the war through different
lenses. Inside Gaza they didn’t have television—for the most part they
had no electricity at all. They only had their horrible daiy
experiences. Whereas outside Gaza, including
here, people had only—or mainly—Al-Jazeera,
which was cleary presenting a pro-Hamas point of

(“What ‘victory’ were they talking about there on Al-Jazeera?” he asked in an

He voiced some fairly strong criticism of Hamas for provoking the
war, but said Mahmoud Abbas
was “quite stupid” to blame Hamas publicly. “Salam Fayyad was much smarter: He
said almost nothing publicly during the war, at all.”

He also commented on the continuing decline the latest JMCC poll had
showed in the support the OPT Palestinians revealed there for peace
negotiations with Israel. 57.2% of respondents had said they either strongly or
somewhat  “agreed” with peace
negotiations, while 40.9% said they strongly or somewhat disagreed. Strong
disagreement was higher than strong agreement.

Khatib spent a few nostalgic minutes
remembering “the euphoria, the enthusiasm, and the sense of triumph” that had
swept through the West Bank at the time of the Madrid Conference and the
post-Madrid negotiations in Washington. “Indeed, right through to the
announcement of the 1993 Oslo Agreement…”

He recalled that when Palestinian negotiator Hanan
Ashrawi was driving back through the West Bank after
returning from one of the early rounds of negotiations, “her car was lifted
completely off the ground by the enthusiastic crowd.”

That was then.

“Since then,” he said,

support for peace has declined almost steadily.
And the main reason for that has been the continued growth of the
. If they could stop the settlements now, perhaps they could
still salvage a two-state solution. But if they can’t, it’s finished, and we
would have to work slowly toward whatever the alternative is.

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