The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is now trying to exploit that inconsistency to force Hamas to endorse the mainstream Palestinian position and thereby make it possible to restart peace talks and renew international aid. If necessary, he is prepared to call for a referendum next month to rally popular support behind his efforts. We hope Abbas can succeed, despite some very serious problems with the specifics of the plan he is now promoting.
The vehicle Abbas has seized upon to try and leverage Hamas is a proposal put together by Palestinian prisoners now in Israel jails. Many of these come from Abbas’s own movement, Fatah. But others come from Hamas. The proposal’s appeal to Palestinians comes from the popularity of its authorship and the ambivalence of some of its provisions. Its weaknesses as an actual peace plan come from some of those same ambivalences.
For example, unlike the unfulfilled Oslo agreements of the 1990s and the Arab League peace plan of 2002, the prisoners’ proposal offers only implicit, not explicit, recognition to Israel. Even worse, it appears to legitimize Palestinian violence against Israelis in the West Bank. And in contradiction to the spirit of a two-state solution, it asserts the right of Palestinian refugees to return to pre-1967 Israel. For these and other reasons, the prisoners’ proposal is unacceptable even to dovish Israelis, and, in its present form, can represent no more than an initial bargaining position.
Five years ago, such a plan would have represented a step backward. But that was then. Today’s climate is considerably bleaker. No real peace talks have taken place for more than five years. Current Israeli proposals talk mostly of unilaterally imposed boundaries. Palestinians have saddled themselves with a government that endorses terrorism, refuses to recognize Israel and shuns any talk of a two-state solution. In this dark picture, Abbas’s embrace of the prisoners’ proposal, with all of its obvious problems, can only be greeted as a welcome step in the right direction.