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Fatah tells Abbas to play it tough

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abbasby Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank

With Israel carrying ramping up its all-out settlement expansion drive across the occupied Palestinian territories, and with the Obama administration trying to appease rather than pressure Israel to freeze settlement construction, if only for a limited period of time, Fatah has urged Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from giving any more concessions to Israel.

The latest warning came at the end of a convention held by Fatah's Revolutionary Council in Ramallah over the weekend. The council voiced its utmost indignation at Israel's disregard for international law, urging the Abbas leadership to foil a new Israeli law requiring a referendum before any withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, including East Jerusalem.

Taking a stiff stand, which may cause Abbas some political discomfort, especially in dealing with the Obama administration, the council reaffirmed Fatah's total rejection of recognising Israel as a "Jewish state". "The council also renews its refusal, in accordance with international law and human rights conventions, of the establishment of any racist state based on religion."

The Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu has been insistent that any peace settlement with the Palestinian must necessarily include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has consistently rejected the Israeli demand. However, cracks began appearing in the Palestinian stance in this regard when PLO secretary and chief spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo was quoted as saying, "If this is what impedes ending the occupation, then we could recognise Israel as a Chinese state if Israel so wished."

The Fatah council also emphasised it was categorically opposed to proposals for a land swap between Israel and the Palestinians, saying: "illegal settler gangs couldn't be put on an equal footing with the legitimate owners of the land." The land swap concept has been part and parcel of all the understandings reached between Israel and the PLO ever since the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.

However, many Palestinians have come to question Israeli intentions in this regard as successive Israeli governments have insisted on swapping the bulk of occupied East Jerusalem, especially those parts of the occupied town upon which huge Jewish colonies have been built since 1967, for rugged swaths of desert land in the Negev.

Finally, the Fatah council has strongly urged Abbas not to resume US-mediated peace talks with the Israeli government unless Israel agree to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Israel expressed dismay at the Fatah council's radicalised stance, especially with regards to the Jewish state issue. "I would ask the Palestinians the following question: If the Jewish state is fundamentally illegitimate in your eyes, what sort of peace are you offering us?" one Israeli official was quoted as saying.

To this a Palestinian official retorted: "A Jewish state that treats non-Jews as undesirables or even disposables, is not only unacceptable, it is actually racist and criminal." The same official urged the Israelis to first come up with a definition of who is a Jew before soliciting Palestinian recognition of Israeli racism.

Al-Ahram Weekly asked veteran Fatah leader Nabil Amr if he thought that the Fatah council's decisions were binding on PA leader Abbas. He said: "Yes and no. Yes, because the decisions reflect the views of Fatah, which obviously can't be ignored. And no, because talks with Israel are the responsibility of the PLO not Fatah, so the president doesn't have to literally adopt every recommendation adopted by Fatah."

Amr, who described the peace process as "dying", suggested that there was a lot of consternation and indignation among Fatah and the rest of the Palestinian people about the manner in which the "so-called peace process" is managed, especially as Israel keeps up devouring Palestinian land.

Abbas told Fatah delegates during the three-day meeting that he wouldn't return to talks with Israel without a full cessation of settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Abbas said the PA leadership rejected the idea of a state with temporary borders, adding: "We insist that the issue of borders and security be the first to be discussed when negotiations resume."

Abbas's insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze prior to the resumption of talks may have created a rare disagreement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, during a visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain earlier in the week, urged the Palestinian leadership to resume the peace process with Israel regardless of the freeze issue.
"Israel is building settlements anyway, and if the Palestinians don't return to the peace process, Israel will continue to build settlements all over the land until there will be no more land to establish a state."

Mubarak added Egypt was not imposing anything on the Palestinians. "We are only discussing with them and advising them. We examine their demands and we adopt them in cooperation with our brothers in the Arabian Gulf states."

Finally, the Palestinian leadership, marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, has urged the UN to bring a final end to "this vicious Israeli settlement campaign". Abbas described the settlements as a time bomb, saying the continued building of Israeli colonies could explode the entire region.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government approved the building of 130 settler units in the colony of Gilo, near Bethlehem. One PA negotiator lambasted the new Israeli provocation, saying "it seems that Israel has begun its annual tradition of 'Christmas gifts' to the people of Bethlehem." He added that "last year's gift was the expansion of Har Homa, also on Bethlehem's land. Apparently every December Israel pushes on its agenda to further isolate Bethlehem from occupied East Jerusalem."

He also refuted Israeli claims that Gilo was not a colony. "Under international law there is no difference between Jerusalem, Tulkarem and Gaza City; all of them are parts of the occupied Palestinian territories."


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