#45: The Palestinian Referendum
(July 20, 2006)
Mahmoud Abbas called for a July 26, 2006, referendum on a proposal drafted by jailed terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti and Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners held by Israel. The document, or “prisoners peace plan,” has been portrayed in the media as a historic step in the peace process because it reputedly recognizes Israel, drops Palestinian territorial claims beyond the 1967 borders and renounces violence and terrorism against Israeli citizens. A closer look at the actual document indicates the proposal’s contents are very different than the media descriptions.
The “prisoners peace plan” is really not about peace with Israel at all; it is aimed at ending the civil war between Palestinian factions. The plan actually represents a giant step backward by the Palestinians and reduces the prospects for peace because it undercuts positions taken by Abbas and his associates in the Fatah leadership that suggested a willingness to accept compromises — such as exchanges of territory, adjustments to the border in Jerusalem, and concessions on the refugee issue.
Reading the text of this “peace plan,” it is striking that the language is confrontational rather than compromising. The document calls on the people to “confront the Israeli enterprise,” to form a “united resistance,” and to “liberate” their land and prisoners. Nowhere in the document is there any mention of a Palestinian state coexisting with a Jewish State or any explicit recognition of Israel. The only reference to peace in this “peace plan” is in the context of protests against the policies of the Palestinian Authority. The referendum does not call for an end to terror against Israelis, only an end to violence among Palestinians. It does, however, endorse continued attacks on Israelis.
The first point of the plan states, “The Palestinian people... seek to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Shareef (Jerusalem) as its capital on all territories occupied in 1967 and to secure the right of return for the refugees and to liberate all prisoners and detainees....” The demand for all territories Israel captured in 1967 directly contradicts the agreed framework for negotiations, namely, UN Resolution 242. That resolution calls for Israel to withdraw from territory (not all the territory), but also requires the termination of all claims and the right of all states to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force
Nothing in this section or the rest of the document indicates the Palestinians will drop their claims to Israeli territory should they establish a state in the pre-1967 borders. The document, for example, does not recognize any Israeli claim to Jerusalem. The document also explicitly calls for continuing acts of violence, noting in point three the “Palestinian people’s right to resistance...and continuing popular resistance against the occupation in all its forms, places and policies....”
By advocating the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, but not specifying that they should return to the future state of Palestine, the signers of the document are inferring that the refugees should return to Israel, the equivalent of advocating a one-state solution to the conflict.
The current Israeli population is approximately 7 million, 5.3 million are Jews. If every Palestinian was allowed to move to Israel, the population would exceed 11 million and the Jewish proportion would shrink from 76% to 48%. The Jews would be a minority in their own country, the very situation they fought to avoid in 1948, and which the UN expressly ruled out in deciding on a partition of Palestine. Furthermore, most Palestinians now live in historic Palestine, which is an area including the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. When Palestinians speak of the right to return, however, they don’t mean just to Palestine, but to the exact houses they lived in prior to 1948. These homes are either gone or inhabited now.
Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh has noted that if the refugees are not resettled in a future Palestinian state, “what does a two-state solution mean?” This is exactly why Hamas views this provision as crucial. Aziz Dweik, Hamas’ parliament speaker, said that approval of the referendum “would kill all other past initiatives and understandings excluding the right of return. It would push others, not us, to the corner, since others, not us, have shown a willingness to compromise on the right of return.”
The referendum also misrepresents UN resolution 194, which was a nonbinding resolution that all Arab states voted against in 1948. That resolution called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission. It also recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands.
The Christian Science Monitor (May 31, 2006) described the prisoners who wrote and signed the proposed plan as a “moderate and influential force.” These prisoners, however, are among the most dangerous terrorists serving sentences in Israeli jails:
According to Palestinian polls, the referendum has overwhelming support. Even if the referendum were adopted, however, it is unclear that it would have any meaning given that the elected representatives of the Palestinian Authority from Hamas have rejected the document and the idea of a national referendum. In fact, Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners who helped author the document have withdrawn their names from the plan and, on June 11, 2006, Hamas announced its intent to block the referendum and accused Abbas of trying to undermine its authority with the referendum. Meanwhile, as of the end of June 2006, Abbas had not signed the document either.