The Mecca Agreement


A setback for Israel and its supporters


The Mecca Agreement [1] between Fatah and Hamas to establish a National Unity Government is a setback for Israel and its supporters in the West.  It is a setback because Hamas has conceded little or no political ground to Fatah in the Agreement, which neither requires its signatories to “recognise” Israel, nor to renounce armed resistance against Israeli occupation, nor to accept previous agreements with Israel.


However, there is a reference to previous agreements in an accompanying letter [2] by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.  In the letter, in his capacity as President of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas invited Haniyeh to form a National Unity Government within five weeks and submit it to a vote of confidence by the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Abbas also “calls upon” Haniyeh “to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization”.  That cannot be said to represent an acceptance of previous agreements by Hamas.


So, if the Agreement bears fruit, and a National Unity Government is formed, it will be essentially on Hamas terms.  The US cannot be pleased that Saudi Arabia, its closest ally in the Middle East, has brokered this deal and promised the new Government a billion dollars in aid – and as a result eased the pressure that the US and its allies have been applying over the past year in an attempt to force Hamas into line.


In addition to the Prime Minister’s post in the new Government, Hamas is to have nine ministries and to nominate independents to two others; Fatah will have six ministries and nominate independents to two others; and one minister will be assigned to each of the other four political parties with representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council.


Another aspect of the Agreement is the restructuring of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation [PLO] to include Hamas.  The PLO, not the Palestinian Authority, is the body that has engaged in negotiation with, and made agreements with, Israel.  It is supposed to represent the Palestinian diaspora, as well as Palestinians resident in Palestine, to whom the Authority is democratically accountable.  At present, the PLO is dominated by Fatah – Mahmoud Abbas is Yasser Arafat’s successor as Chairman of its Executive Committee, as well as being the elected President of the Palestinian Authority.  Hamas is not represented in the PLO at the moment, but the Agreement calls for the ongoing negotiations to include Hamas to be accelerated.


Terms rejected a year ago

Mahmoud Abbas was elected in January 2005 as successor to Yasser Arafat as President of the Palestinian Authority.  A year later, Hamas contested elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council for the first time, and defeated Fatah, winning won 74 of the 132 seats to Fatah’s 45.


After its victory, Hamas offered to form a National Unity Government with Fatah, but Mahmoud Abbas refused - on the grounds that Hamas’ statement of principles for the formation of a government didn’t “recognise” Israel, or renounce armed resistance, or accept previous agreements with Israel.  See, for example, Guardian reports of 13 March 2006 [3], 25 March 2006 [4] and 29 March 2006 [5].


In Mecca, Mahmoud Abbas accepted a National Unity Government on essentially the same terms as he rejected it a year ago, and continued to reject throughout 2006 in a series of negotiations following the publication in May 2006 of a document drawn up by Palestinian prisoners.  This document was aimed at establishing a common position between Hamas and Fatah.


Mahmoud Abbas’ condition for forming a National Unity Government then was that Hamas abandon the platform on which it had defeated Fatah, and adopt Fatah’s platform.  He abandoned that condition in Mecca.


Collective punishment

After the Hamas victory, the US, the EU and Russia (which with the UN are referred to as the Quartet) agreed with Israel that Palestinians as a whole should be collectively punished because a substantial number (but less than 50%) of them had voted for Hamas.  The US and the EU cut off aid amounting to around $1 billion a year to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority.


Israel applied further collective punishment by refusing to hand over revenue it collects on behalf of the Authority, under the Paris Economic Protocols it signed in 1994, as an economic appendix to the Oslo Agreement.  This revenue amounts to around $60 million a month.  Unkind people might accuse Israel of failing to stick to an agreement it signed with Palestinians, or, more bluntly, of theft.


In addition to this collective punishment, Israel intensified its military campaign against Hamas, which had maintained a truce since February 2005 and ceased suicide bombings within Israel’s 1967 borders.  Israel’s response to the truce was to intensify its military action against Hamas.  This reached a crescendo when the new Olmert government took power in late March 2006, with Labour leader Amir Peretz as Defence Minister. 


Before the capture of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, on 25 June 2006, the Olmert/Peretz regime had killed upwards of a hundred Palestinians, many of them women and children, in its assault on Hamas.  During that time, there had been one suicide bombing in Israel on 17 April 2006 (not by Hamas) as a result of which 7 Israeli civilians died.  But, prior to the incident in which Gilad Shalit was captured, no other Israelis, civilian or military, were killed.  The Israeli assault in response to Gilad Shalit’s capture has killed over 500 more Palestinians.


(According to statistics compiled by B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group [6], 660 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during 2006; in the same period 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, of which 17 were civilians.  The equivalent figures since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 are 4,057 Palestinians killed and 1,030 Israelis, of which 704 were civilians.)


The purpose of all this pressure – the withdrawal of aid by the US and the EU, Israel’s theft of Palestinian revenue and its relentless military assault on Hamas –  was to destroy Hamas, as a political and military force capable of resisting Israeli plans for Palestine, and to make it as subservient to Israel as Fatah.  In this, Mahmoud Abbas has been a willing tool of the US/EU and Israel, echoing their demands that Hamas abandon the political platform on which it was elected, and accepting that, until it does, the US/EU are justified in refusing to deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian government.


No Hamas obstacle

In the past year, President Abbas has been the “good” Palestinian with whom the US/EU and Israel could deal, if only the Hamas obstacle could be removed.  It is instructive to recall that in the year after his election in January 2005, when there was no Hamas obstacle standing in the way of progress, no progress was made.


In that period, Fatah not only held the Presidency, but also controlled the government under Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.  The Fatah leadership had long since “recognised” Israel and renounced violence (and Hamas had called a truce in February 2005).  But, despite this favourable environment, there was no progress towards a Palestinian state in 2005 – Prime Minister Sharon had embarked on his plan for unilateral “withdrawal”, beginning with Gaza, and wasn’t interested in negotiating with Palestinians.


New Palestinian leadership

It is also interesting to recall that there was a time when the US and Israel refused to deal with a Palestinian President, even though he was democratically elected, and insisted that they could only deal with a Palestinian Prime Minister of their choice.  The President in question was Yasser Arafat and the Prime Minister of their choice was Mahmoud Abbas.  The time was April 2003, just after the US/UK invasion of Iraq.


A year earlier on 24 June 2002, in what was hailed as a landmark speech, President Bush committed the US to a two-state solution in Palestine for the first time [7].  However, there was a condition – Palestinians had to have “a new and different Palestinian leadership”, whether they wanted it or not.  Unable to get rid of Yasser Arafat altogether, the US settled for a plan to sideline him.  Some of his powers, for example, control of the various Palestinian security forces, would be transferred to a Prime Minister acceptable to the US and Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas was that Prime Minister.


Under this new leader, selected by the US and Israel, was there progress towards a Palestinian state?  Of course, not.  Abbas lasted about six months in the post, and was replaced in October 2003 by Ahmed Qureia, who was also acceptable to the US and Israel.  A little over a year later, the Palestinian leadership became even more acceptable to the US and Israel with the death of Yasser Arafat and his replacement as President by Mahmoud Abbas in January 2005.  But, as we have seen, a Palestinian state remained as far away as ever.


The lesson from all this is that accepting conditions laid down by the US and Israel is no guarantee of Israel being willing to negotiate about the formation of a Palestinian state, let alone be willing to see one established.


The Quartet

The US/EU and Russia met as the Quartet on 21 February 2007 after the Mecca Agreement was signed and in a statement afterwards [8]:


“reaffirmed its statements regarding its support for Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap, and encouraged progress in this direction.”


Why should these states from other continents be laying down the law for Palestinians?  It is true that the UN Secretary-General, or someone representing him, sits in on Quartet meetings, but he is a powerless functionary.  Presumably, the UN has been included in the Quartet in order to confer upon its pronouncements the veneer of international legitimacy.


On “recognising” Israel

As for the Quartet’s conditions on a Palestinian government, which Israel is a Palestinian government supposed to recognise and accept?  The history of Israel is one of territorial expansion and the expulsion of Arabs in order to maintain an effective Jewish majority within the expanded state.  The 55% of mandated Palestine awarded to Israel by resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly in November 1947 (in which nearly 50% of the population was Arab) was expanded to 78% of Palestine by Israeli military action in 1947/8 and large numbers of Arabs were driven out, in order to make the Arab minority manageable.


In 1967, the rest of Palestine was taken over, plus a large bit of Egypt (the Sinai) and a small bit of Syria (the Golan Heights). The Sinai wasn’t abandoned until the Camp David Accords over a decade later.  The Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were annexed, and are still annexed.


Are Palestinians supposed to recognise the 55% entity?  Or is it the 78% entity?  Or it is a future entity of as yet undetermined size, but certainly greater than 78%, in which the large settlement blocks on the West Bank are included, with Palestinians having to be content with perhaps 10% of historic Palestine, Israel having made the painful concession of giving up 10 % of the land it currently holds?


(An organisation called Near East Consulting conducts regular polls of opinion in the Occupied Territories.  In its February poll [9], people were asked: “Does Israel have the right to exist?”.  75% replied No and only 25% Yes, and Fatah supporters were almost as negative as those of Hamas.  In a further question, 70% of respondents supported a one-state solution, Fatah supporters being more favourably disposed to it than Hamas supporters.)


On renouncing armed force

As for renouncing armed force, there is a generally recognised right of resistance to occupation, by whatever means, including by armed force.  Or is the armed resistance to German occupation in Europe during World War II to be deplored today?  If not, should the Quartet not be supporting the Palestinian right of resistance to occupation, by force, if they so choose?


Another point: the conflict in Palestine is between a militarily powerful Israeli occupier, armed with modern weaponry, and a militarily weak occupied Palestinian people (though it’s difficult to deduce this from British media coverage).  The Israeli occupier has killed nearly 700 Palestinians in the past year, whereas Palestinians have killed 23 Israeli soldiers and civilians.  But you will search in vain in this or any other Quartet statements for any suggestion that the occupier should be “committed to non-violence”, or even that it should exercise a measure of restraint in the exercise of its massive armed force.


And another point: how do the US and the UK, states that are so uncommitted to non-violence that they have invaded Iraq, a state that was no threat to anybody, and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, have the brass neck to call upon Palestinians, labouring under Israeli occupation, to commit themselves to non-violence?


On accepting past agreements

As for accepting past agreements, why should anybody stick to past agreements when the entity with which the agreements were made has failed to stick to them?  The Oslo Agreement [10] signed in October 1993 aimed


“to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority … for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).” (Article 1)


Over 13 years later, the Palestinian Authority has not been established in the Occupied Territories as prescribed in the Agreement, with Israeli forces withdrawn, let alone a permanent settlement negotiated.  Israel resisted the implementation of the Agreement at every turn before Sharon came to power in January 2001, and Sharon ignored it.  So why should Palestinians be required to stick to it?


The Oslo Agreement accepted the principle that the occupier had a right to negotiate with the occupied about ending its occupation, instead of being forced to withdraw forthwith. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the West told it to leave and, when it didn’t, a half a million troops were assembled within a few months to make it leave.  When Israel invaded the West Bank and Gaza, the West did nothing for 25 years and then a process was established which allowed Israel to negotiate about how much of the territory it had occupied for over 25 years it had to leave, and when – and no force was assembled to make it negotiate about leaving, let alone leave.  It’s no surprise that the occupation is still ongoing.


It’s like allowing a thief to negotiate about how much of the goods he has stolen he has to give back, and when he refuses to return any, saying that’s OK: you don’t need to.


Speaking of theft, Israel is in breach of the Paris Economic Protocols – and is adding to the misery of Palestinians – by refusing to transfer to the Authority revenue it has collected on its behalf under the Protocols.  Does the Quartet demand that Israel stick to this agreement it signed in 1994?  Of course not.  Sticking to agreements previously made is a requirement demanded of Palestinians only.  Israel can breach them at will.


Security Council resolutions

The Quartet never mentions the countless Security Council resolutions that Israel in breach of, resolutions that if implemented would change the face of Palestine.  For example:


252 (21 May 1968) on the annexation of parts of Jerusalem [11]:

2. [The Security Council] Considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status;


3. [The Security Council]  Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem;


446 (22 March 1979) on the establishment of Jewish settlements [12]:

[The Security Council] Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories;


497 (17 December 1981) on the annexation of the Golan Heights [13]:

1. [The Security Council] Decides that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect;


2. [The Security Council] Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decision;


It is within Israel’s power undo the annexation of East Jerusalem and of the Golan Heights, and to evacuate the Jewish settlements on the West Bank.  But it hasn’t fulfilled any of these obligations placed on it by the Security Council.  Yet the Quartet doesn’t feel the need to draw them to Israel’s attention, let alone suggest that they must be fulfilled.  Apparently, only Palestinians are required to fulfill obligations.



David Morrison

4 March 2007

Labour & Trade Union Review