Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan Opinion: Whither Palestine's Sole Right of Representation?
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Former NHK commentator

April 11, 2006
"The PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinian people"---this is what the PLO led by the late Chairman Yasser Arafat had strongly demanded the international community to acknowledge throughout the mid-1970s, when the whole world was thrown into turmoil by the "oil shock." They advanced this argument, aware of the contention of the Kingdom of Jordan that wanted the sovereignty of the occupied territories to be recovered. After many twists and turns, the PLO's assertion was accepted by the international community, including Jordan and Israel, and became the basis of the subsequent peace process in the Middle East. However, the overwhelming victory of Hamas, an Islamic resistance organization, in the Palestinian Parliamentary elections held on January 25, 2006, actually overturned this premise. While denying Israel the right of existence and refusing to revise their charter that reserves their right of "Jihad," or armed struggle, Hamas is about to take the reins of government as the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas appealed to Fatah to join them in a coalition government, the latter being the political force directly led by the late Chairman Arafat who had been at the helm of the Palestinian Authority. It may well be that Hamas expected Fatah to play the role of a buffer in dealing with the international community including Israel. However, Fatah declined the offer. While the pressures exerted directly by the US government on Fatah may be one of the reasons for Fatah's refusal, what Fatah states as the official reason for their denegation was the Hamas' refusal of accepting PLO's supremacy. Fatah failed to make sure among the Palestinian people that the PLO is "the sole representative," a position they had finally obtained from the international community after a hard and long struggle. For the Palestinian Parliamentary elections, no restrictions were imposed regarding the qualification of candidates with respect to political parties and individuals. It must be pointed out that a total lack of imagination on the part of Fatah who had little thought of the possibility of a defeat and the United States that had continually urged the holding of early "democratic elections", with little thought of this basic premise, might have been to blame.

Mr. Abbas, Fatah's leader and the PLO Chairman, still has three more years as the President of the Palestinian Authority and is a politician far stronger than a mere ceremonial figure, as he directly controls half of the armed police forces (among whom Fatah-affiliated people occupy an overwhelming majority). He even has the authority to dismiss the prime minister, though he has no prerogative to dissolve the parliament. He has also made it clear that he has no intention of handing over power to the incoming Hamas regime, but will personally manage all overseas assets amounting to $1-billion, which the PLO has controlled since the Arafat days. Furthermore, President Abbas, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, referred to the possibility of secret negotiations with Israel with the United States acting as an intermediary. The Israeli authorities, however, have already stated that Mr. Abbas no longer possesses negotiating competence. The U.S. government has been silent on this matter. Under such circumstances, it seems difficult for the time being to break the deadlock by achieving political "cohabitation" between Abbas (or the PLO) and Hamas.

It appears that Israel views the predicament of the Palestinians as an opportunity to its advantage. The idea of unilaterally removing settlements in the occupied areas on the West Bank that Ehud Olmert, the acting Prime Minister, announced just before the Israeli general election is an indication of such an Israeli view. The successive Israeli regimes, including the one under former Prime Minister Sharon, have advocated the annexation of Ariel, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, and the old city of Jerusalem and its environs. They intended to include these so-called "settlements blocks" within the separation walls presently under construction and unilaterally to make these walls as the permanent boundaries with Palestine, while removing in principle all the settlements outside of these walls, within four years. Israel has avoided negotiations on the grounds that there is nobody to negotiate with on the Palestinian side. The launch of a Hamas regime is evidently seen as an opportunity to have the international community as well as the United States recognize the "legitimacy" of the above-mentioned unilateral actions. The settlements from which Mr. Olmert promised to withdraw include Shilo, the area north of Jerusalem and connected with the Old Testament. The extent of the withdrawal appears close to Ehud Barak's proposal made at the Camp David talks, which failed to materialize. There is no doubt, however, that for Israel the re-division plan of the old city of Jerusalem, which then mediator President Clinton had in mind at the time, is out of the question. Together with the items concerning Israeli armed forces that will remain in "evacuated" area and their freedom of action, the Israeli position will continue to stir up hatred and hostility among the Palestinian people.

It is hard to predict whether a lull continues on both sides of the wall, with each side disregarding the other, or the worsening situation brings about "Lebanization" of the whole West Bank area turning it into a "free-fire zone." Whether and in what manner international help is forthcoming to the Palestinians will certainly influence the outcome. In my view there seems no other way than to keep pressure on Hamas to revise their course of action while hoping for Fatah's self-purification and rebirth. At the same time the international community had better avoid official endorsement of the measures unilaterally taken by Israel.

The writer is a former NHK commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山健太郎 / 元NHK解説委員

2006年 4月 11日





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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Opinion: Whither Palestine's Sole Right of Representation?