Internal Palestinian politics and the peace process

Egypt has delivered invitations to Palestinian officials to a summit meeting of all the Palestinian factions for a “comprehensive national dialogue” in Cairo on 9 November. Egypt also sent along a draft plan, called The Palestinian National Project, for ending the political crisis caused by the fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

Details continue to emerge.

The Egyptian draft calls for the creation of a new Palestinian unity government. The Egyptian proposal also says that democracy is the only option for the principle of rotation of authority while respecting law and order and legitimacy, and it says that support for democracy requires political participation of all parties without quotas. Hamas has been asking for a share of seats in the Palestinian National Council that is proportional to the votes that it won in the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, when it beat Fatah in the balloting. The Egyptian proposal suggests a compromise on when to hold national elections, calling for simultaneous elections, but leaving the date open. It also proposes that the election law should be reviewed in accordance with the needs of the interest of the homeland. Fatah apparently wants both presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously in 2010 – with President Abbas apparently continuing in office until then. But Hamas says that Abbas’s term ends in January 2009, and has repeatedly said that it believes the present Palestinian Legislative Council must continue until the end of its term in January 2010. The Egyptian draft says the security apparatuses should be rebuilt on a professional and national basis away from factionalism, and that only the security apparatuses would be authorized to defend the homeland and the citizens, with “the required Arab assistance that is necessary to fulfill the process of building and reform”. And the Egyptian plan calls for the formation of committees to begin work immediately on all the proposals, saying that there is no restriction on an Arab participation in any of the committees upon the request of the organizations. The plan says the Palestine Liberation Organization should be re-activated according to a March 2005 Cairo agreement, to include all forces and factions. The Egyptian plan also calls for the election of a new Palestinian National Council “in the homeland and abroad, wherever it is possible”.

According to the proposed draft plan, the Palestinian political factions would agree that the management of the political negotiations is a prerogative of the PLO and the president of the PA. The plan says that any agreement resulting from these negotiations has to be presented before the Palestinian National Council for approval — or a referendum should be conducted “anywhere possible”.

This draft agreement seems to leave a lot of loopholes open – and seems to steer the reconciliation talks in the direction of having all the Palestinian parties conform with the Road Map and the desires of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators. Hamas has apparently expressed reservations on a number of items of the draft conciliation proposal. Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP that Hamas would request some changes, but that it would “agree to the draft of the agreement and will not reject it, but there needs to be guarantees that what is agreed upon will be implemented,” Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP. Some points need to be modified and some points need clarification, Barhoum said.

While the Egyptian plan proposes a reform of the Palestinian security forces, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported that Hamas has demanded the banishment of four security leaders who, Hamas says, are acting on a factional basis and who are the executors of a policy of arrests against Hamas leaders in the West Bank. By coincidence, YNet said, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also wants to replace two of them — Tawfik Tirawi, head of the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, who would actually be promoted, and appointed Abbas’ special advisor on security affairs with the rank of minister, and Diab al-Ali, commander of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. However, YNet added, the PA is concerned the changes would be perceived as capitulation to Hamas.

Ma’an News Agency reported that Tirawi was in fact dismissed on Tuesday. Ramattan says that he was removed due to professional rivalries. But, Ma’an quoted its sources as denying what was published by local and international news websites about Abbas intention to appoint a new chief of national security in West Bank to replace Diab Al-Ali (Abu Al-Fatah).

Then, on Thursday, JPOST correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that “Fatah officials on Wednesday criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to dismiss Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, commander of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, noting that the timing was particularly ‘problematic’. Abbas summoned Tirawi late Tuesday night to a meeting in the Mukata ‘presidential’ compound and informed him of the decision to fire him. Abbas offered to appoint Tirawi as his ‘adviser’ on security affairs and to promote him to the status of minister. However, Tirawi said shortly after the meeting that he was not interested in the new job and that he plans to travel to the United Kingdom to study English”.

Khaled Abu Toameh also wrote that “Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi is believed to be linked to the PA president’s desire to patch up his differences with Hamas. On the eve of the decision, Hamas officials said they had requested that Abbas get rid of Palestinian security commanders responsible for the massive crackdown on the movement’s members and institutions in the West Bank. Tirawi, along with several top PA security officials, had been entrusted by the PA leadership in Ramallah with taking precautionary measures to prevent Hamas from extending its control to the West Bank…A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that his movement had indeed demanded that Abbas replace Tirawi and other PA security commanders in the West Bank to pave the way for ending the crisis with Fatah. ‘We welcome Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi, who was responsible for security coordination with the Israelis and who was behind the brutal measures against Hamas [in the West Bank’, the official said. ‘We hope Abbas will take similar measures against all those security chiefs who chose to work with Israel and the Americans against our people’.” The official said his movement was now expecting Abbas to remove Diab al-Ali, commander of the PA’s National ecurity Force in the West Bank, who is also known as a sworn enemy of Hamas. Last month al-Ali raised eyebrows when he threatened that his forces would not hesitate to use force to overthrow the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah is very unhappy, according to Khaled Abu Toameh: ” ‘The timing of the decision to fire Tirawi was very bad’, a Fatah official in Ramallah told the Post. ‘It appears as if President Abbas took the decision to appease Hamas’. Another Fatah operative condemned Abbas’s decision as ‘dangerous’, claiming it would deepen divisions inside Fatah. ‘Many people in Fatah are unhappy with the decision’, he said. ‘They believe that Abbas made a huge mistake’. The Fatah official said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas’s decision was linked to his desire to extend his term in office beyond January 2009. ‘Some are talking about a secret deal between Abbas and Hamas that allows him to remain in power after his term expires next January’, he said. ‘Hamas wants the heads of the security commanders in the West Bank in return for agreeing to the extension of Abbas’s term. This doesn’t look good’. A senior PA official denied the charges, saying the decision had nothing to do with Hamas’s demand for the dismissal of Tirawi and other commanders. The official said that the decision was taken because Tirawi had refused to report to the PA government of Salaam Fayad in the West Bank.
According to the official, the decision was taken in the context of the US-backed efforts to reform the PA security forces by reducing their number. He added that the proposed reforms call for merging Tirawi’s General Intelligence Service with the rival Preventative Security Force and turning them into a single force that reports directly to Fayad’s government”.
This analysis can be read in full in the Jerusalem Post