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Groups Slam Palestinian Document
Ori Nir
Forward
23 June 2006

http://forward.com/articles/8005

WASHINGTON -- American Jewish organizations are strongly
criticizing the document guiding national unity talks
between Hamas and Fatah officials.

Echoing Israel`s position, Jewish organizations say that
the `document of national reconciliation` stakes out a
series of positions that could end up undermining
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Known as the `prisoners`
document,` the proposed agreement was drafted last month
by Palestinian faction leaders who were being held in
Israeli jails.

For Palestinians, observers said, the purpose of hammering
out a unified platform is not to trigger talks with
Israel. Instead, the negotiations surrounding the document
appear aimed at preventing an internal civil war and
breaking the financial siege that the international
community has imposed on the Palestinian Authority since
Hamas, an Islamic terrorist organization, won the general
elections in January and formed a Cabinet made up of
loyalists.

`This is not a platform for negotiations with Israel, but
for negotiations between Palestinians,` Haim Malka said.
Malka is a Middle East expert with the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think
tank.

What the head of Fatah, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas officials are negotiating is an
option `which will end the financial and political
isolation of the Palestinian Authority while preserving
the domestic authority of both,` said Samar Assad,
executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington.

Abbas has vowed to hold a national referendum on the issue
July 26 if Hamas fails to join the secular-nationalist
Fatah movement in endorsing the document.

This week, negotiators from both sides were reportedly on
the verge of agreeing on a power-sharing formula.

Several Jewish groups -- including the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the
52-member umbrella group widely seen as the Jewish
community`s main united voice on Middle Eastern affairs --
are complaining that the Palestinian document driving the
Hamas-Fatah talks has wrongly been described in the media
as a `peace plan.`

Many observers say that the document offers an implicit
endorsement of a two-state solution along the 1967
borders. This would mark a major shift for Hamas, which
has refused to join Fatah in recognizing Israel. But
Jewish groups counter by pointing out that the document
does not call for negotiations with Israel, recognition of
Israel or an end to terrorism against Israel.

`Not only is this not a peace plan, but it expresses
positions that are much more hard line than the ones
believed to be Fatah`s position on issues such as the
right of return [of Palestinian refugees] and what they
call the right of resistance` to Israel, said Malcolm
Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents
Conference.

The document, Hoenlein told the Forward, could only hinder
future negotiations with Palestinian moderates, because it
would blur distinctions between them and militants tied to
Hamas and to other terrorist groups. `What this would say
is that Hamas and Fatah of Abbas have now become the same
thing,` Hoenlein said.

According to Palestinian media reports, as Hamas and Fatah
representatives were negotiating the wording of what may
become the platform for their future political
cooperation, their leaders were discussing the practical
makeup of such a partnership.

Leaders of the two factions are considering two main
options. One is a unity government, which would include
representatives of all the major Palestinian factions.
Such a government could be headed by an independent, whose
personal views could line up with the three conditions
that the international community has posed for engagement
with a Palestinian government: recognition of Israel,
renunciation of violence, and endorsement of past
agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian
leadership.

The other option, which Palestinians say has a better
chance of garnering international recognition and support,
is that of a `technocrat government,` composed only of
professional experts in various fields of life. Hamas
minister Atef Adwan, who holds the Cabinet`s refugees
portfolio, told the French News Agency this week that he
and his fellow Cabinet members are examining the
possibility of a collective resignation to facilitate the
formation of a government of technocrats. `That could be
the way to solve the problems of the Palestinian people,`
he said.

Hamas is not speaking with one voice on this issue. While
the Damascus-based director of the movement`s political
bureau, Khaled Mashal, called this week for the formation
of a national unity government, the Hamas-linked
Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyyah, told
reporters in Gaza that his government has no intention of
resigning. Haniyyah described any talk of a new government
as `premature.`

Palestinian politicians are negotiating under pressure,
with the specter of a civil war casting a shadow over the
talks. In addition, frustration is mounting among the
increasingly impoverished Palestinian population of Gaza
and the West Bank, which has been cut off from its
financial lifeline: foreign aid that has in recent years
financed the salaries of the 140,000 employees on the
P.A.`s payroll.

An agreement on the national-unity document and the
possible subsequent formation of a new government may open
the door for the international community to engage
diplomatically with the P.A., Western diplomats in
Washington said. It would not, however, be enough for
Israel to resume substantial negotiations with the P.A.,
according to Henry Siegman, an Israeli-Palestinian
relations expert at New York`s Council on Foreign
Relations.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert`s preconditions for beginning
negotiations with a Palestinian partner -- namely,
dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism -- are so far
beyond the reach of any Palestinian government, Siegman
said, that even a new Palestinian government not staffed
by Hamas and not comprising people affiliated with Hamas
would be a `nonstarter.`

RH
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