Friday, May 26, 2006

Abbas Throws Down the Gauntlet

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called upon Hamas to formally accept the 2-state solution, and has declared that if Hamas does not, then he will call for a referendum to gauge Palestinian public opinion on the question. Abbas has given Hamas 10 days to comply, a referendum will be called with 40 days.

This is a bold and meaningful move by Abbas. Chastened by his party defeat at the polls, likely terrified at the state of affairs brought about by the finanical cut-off imposed by the US, the EU, and many other banks and donors in response to Hamas' parliamentary victory, and fearful of the unilateral moves being made by Israel to finalize national borders, Abbas has brought the issue to where it needs to be: the people. Are the Palestinians willing to continue their struggle, risking their economy, political future, and everything else? Or would they prefer to end the intifada, and begin serious negotiations towards a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza? Did they elect Hamas for its "no recognition or negotiations" plank, or for its social services? A referendum will let their voices be heard on these issues. As one advisor to Abbas put it,"we're escalating the tension a little bit to try to corner [Hamas] and show [Hamas] as rejectionists. The idea is to bring Hamas back inside the national dialogue or to go to the people for a reminder of what the national consensus is."

The platform is based on the "prisoners' plan," a document drafted by members of Hamas and Fatah currently in Israeli prisons who make up a significant portion of the leadership of both groups. The document, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, was initially rejected by Hamas, but has enjoyed strong public support. Getting Hamas to accept the plan, or calling a referendum, is one way to get the peace process back on track. This, combined with the news that Hamas will be pulling its militia off of the streets of Gaza, continues to provide evidence that Hamas is being forced to rethink its strategy and tactics.

UPDATE: Word just in...Hamas will discuss whether to adopt the prisoners' plan tomorrow. The discussion will take place in a committee involving members of Hamas and Fatah.

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