In his efforts to co-opt rather than fight terrorist groups, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sought to get Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which he is the leader. This week, he appeared on the verge of success — but at the expense of Israel.
Michael Widlanski, a Hebrew University professor writing for the Israel Resource News Agency, pointed out that the Voice of Palestine radio trumpeted in its headlines Tuesday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had “agreed in principle to join the PLO.” And it said that all three have agreed to recognize the PLO’s 1974 “Strategy of Stages,” which Widlanski said calls for the eventual destruction of Israel.
Although Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials were scheduled to attend an executive committee meeting of the PLO Tuesday, only Islamic Jihad sent a representative. Hamas officials explained that they planned to attend another PLO meeting next month. Widlanski, in his article, quoted a Hamas spokesman Mushir Masri as saying later in the day: “The Hamas movement has made a strategic choice for continuing jihad (holy war) and resistance until we achieve liberation, and the middle name of the Palestinian Liberation Organization is ‘liberation,’ and it has not stopped moving to liberation.”
In an interview, Widlanski said Israel’s destruction is “not a new policy [of the PLO], it just has been covered up for years. It has never disavowed the Strategy of Stages.” He said that Abbas “has been depicted as somebody who has turned over a whole new leaf for the PLO and made it non-violent. Now he has made a deal with Hamas … and [they] think in the same terms.”
But a former adviser to the PLO, Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, said the 1974 document was actually “the first acceptance of a political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that even though it speaks of the PLO waging an armed struggle to “liberate Palestinian land,” it was referring only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein, however, cites a study by Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University who found that the comments of Abbas have changed in the days since his election to reflect more of the hard-line attitude of Hamas. For instance, in his inaugural speech, Abbas said he would “strive to arrive at a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.” But after meeting Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Cairo in March, the Palestinian statement summing up the meeting said the “participants are sticking to the promise of the right of return and the return of the refugees to their homes and their property.” Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, pointed out that in 1999, Nasser al-Kidwa, then the PLO observer to the UN, circulated a letter “saying that the international community deserves an explanation of how Israel took territory beyond the 1947 partition plan.”
The 1947 partition plan gave large sections of the Galilee and the Negev, plus the Jerusalem corridor, to the Palestinians. The Arabs rejected the partition plan and attacked Israel, and the 1949 armistice lines became what is now known as Israel’s 1967 borders. By his letter, Gold pointed out, Kidwa “was saying that the 1967 borders are not sacrosanct. … It shows that the PLO representative was not satisfied with the 1967 lines, and now he is the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority.”
“The Strategy of Stages was never dropped from the Palestinians’ political thinking,” Gold added. But Steven Spiegel, a professor of political science at UCLA and a national scholar with the Israel Peace Forum, said he believes that Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, and the PLO are committed to an “accommodation with Israel and to non-violence.”
“If they are now saying that they are for the destruction of Israel, it would represent a diametrically different approach and it would invite a break with Washington and Israel,” Spiegel said. “It would be such a stark change for Abu Mazen and would represent a 180-degree change in policy. … I’m not prepared to accept it. He should be judged on his actions.”