The Palestinian prisoners’ document


In late May, a document drawn up by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails became the subject of fierce controversy between President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas government.  This document, dated 11 May 2006, was signed by representatives of the 4 largest Palestinian factions: Marwan Barghouti of Fatah, Sheikh Abdel Khaliq al-Natsche of Hamas, Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi of Islamic Jihad and Abdel Rahim Malouh of the PFLP.


It was drawn up with the intention of establishing a common position between the factions, to form the platform for a government of national unity (which Hamas proposed after it won the elections in January 2006, but Fatah rejected).  Thus, point 6 of the document states the aim:


“To work on forming a national unity government that secures the participation of parliamentary blocs and political forces interested in participating on the basis of this document and the joint program …”


For this reason, the document was called the National Conciliation Document of the Palestinian prisoners.


(The original document is available here [1], together with the amended version of it that was agreed by Fatah and Hamas in late June.  The amendments, which are highlighted, are small but significant.)


Reporting grossly misleading

Most of the British media’s reporting about the document has been grossly misleading.  It has been widely reported as supporting a two-state solution, recognising Israel and calling for an end to military action against Israel, in other words, broadly speaking, it was a Fatah document that Hamas would have difficulty supporting.  For example, the BBC website story dated 11 June 2006 [2] said of the document:


“It sets out formal Palestinian claims to an independent state on land occupied by Israel in 1967 – implicitly adopting a two-state solution, and thus recognising Israel's right to exist. It also calls for an end to attacks against Israel within those recognised borders, … .”


In reality, there is no mention in the document (in either its original or its final form) of “a two-state solution”, or of “the recognition of Israel”, or of “an end to attacks against Israel”, and the person who wrote the BBC story was either deliberately lying or s/he hadn’t read the document, which was readily available on websites at the time.


Insofar as there is any mention of a Palestinian state in the document, it is in point 1, which says (in the original):


“The Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora seek to liberate their land and to achieve their right in freedom, return and independence and to exercise their right in self determination, including the right 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 based on the historical right of our people on the land of the fathers and grandfathers and based on the UN Charter and the international law and international legitimacy.”


But, this doesn’t limit the proposed independent Palestinian state to the land captured by Israel in 1967 – an initial objective of a state in the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 does not rule out a state in the whole of Palestine eventually.  Nor does anything in point 1 recognise the right of an Israeli state to exist in the rest of Palestine. 


Furthermore, the assertion of “the right of return for the refugees” is incompatible with Israel continuing to exist as a state with a Jewish majority.  The final version of the document asserts “the right of return for refugees to their homes and properties from which they were evicted and to compensate them”, which makes it crystal clear that the right of return to pre-1967 Israel is being claimed, and not just to the occupied territories.


As for the document calling “for an end to attacks against Israel within those recognised [1967] borders”, as reported by the BBC, this is simply untrue.  Point 3 asserts


“The right of the Palestinian people to resist and to uphold the option of resistance of occupation by various means and focusing resistance in territories occupied in 1967 in tandem with political action, negotiations and diplomacy whereby there is broad participation from all sectors in the popular resistance.”


This does talk about concentrating resistance in the territories captured by Israel in 1967, but it certainly does not “call for an end to attacks on Israel within those recognised [1967] borders”.  The BBC has yet to report that by signing up to this document, President Abbas, has become a supporter of military action against Israel, albeit concentrated in the territories captured by Israel in 1967, but not ruling out military action within Israel itself.


When an agreement was eventually reached between Fatah and Hamas in late June on a slightly amended version of the document, it was generally reported in Britain as a climb down on the part of Hamas.  See, for example, the BBC story of 27 June 2006, entitled Hamas ‘implicitly accepts Israel [3].  However, by then, the BBC was having doubts that it was a Fatah document and this story equivocated:


Hamas has, up until now, always rejected any recognition of Israel, which it regards as having been founded on stolen Palestinian land.


“It is not yet clear what movement Hamas may have made on this crucial issue, our correspondent says.


“When the agreement is made public, the wording and the details will need to be scrutinised to see if there has been any really significant shift in Hamas’ position, our correspondent says.


The US held back on praising the agreement saying that it lacked substance.


Hamas surrender?

Chris McGreal, writing in The Guardian, entertained no such doubts.  In an article on 28 June 2006, entitled Victory for Abbas as Hamas gives in on peace talks [4], he faithfully repeated the Fatah line as fact, stating that Hamas had:


“… surrendered the pretence of one day conquering Israel for the reality of keeping some political power by endorsing a document, drawn up by Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails, that requires the installation of a national unity government committed to a negotiated two-state solution.”


McGreal’s report also quoted Abdullah Abdullah, a Fatah MP and “chairman of the parliamentary political committee”, as saying that “the agreement was necessary not only to end sanctions but to prevent Israel from unilaterally redrawing its borders to annex the big Jewish settlement blocks on the grounds that there was no partner for negotiations”.  He went on:


“We’re not about to surrender our rights but we want to form a front to stop the policies of the Israeli government to impose a policy that is not a solution.  The Hamas government was an excuse for Israel to do what it wanted. A national unity government, with Hamas but also others, will win support so we can stop Israel from simply doing what it wants.”


For five years prior to Hamas being elected, when Fatah held the presidency and controlled the legislature – and was unequivocal about its recognition of Israel and its commitment to a two-state solution – Israel refused to negotiate with Fatah.  In the light of this experience, it is difficult to believe that any Fatah MP, let alone an apparently senior one, is naďve enough to believe that Israel will negotiate with Palestinians committed to a document that doesn’t mention either recognition of Israel or a commitment to a two-state solution.


It is equally difficult to believe that any Fatah MP is naďve enough to believe that, in the unlikely event of Israel agreeing to negotiate with Palestinians, it is going to sign up to a final settlement that does not annex the big Jewish settlement blocks, when the US has given its blessing to their annexation.  Are Fatah MPs not familiar with President Bush’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon on 14 April 2004 [5], which stated:


“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”


The letter also ruled out a right of return for Palestinian refugees to the expanded Israeli state.


It is a triumph of hope over experience that Fatah apparently still believes that Israel is ever going to enter into negotiations with Palestinians.  Today, there is only one circumstance in which such negotiations are possible, and that is if every member of the Palestinian delegation signs up in advance, and without reservation, to a Palestinian “state” consisting of Gaza and a piece of territory on the West Bank, excluding the settlement blocks, completely surrounded by Israeli territory and under Israeli control – and with a capital somewhere other than Jerusalem.


Israel on prisoners’ document

One doesn’t have to read the original prisoners’ document very carefully to realise that it expresses a position that is closer to Hamas than Fatah.  And the amended version that was finally agreed is marginally closer still.


It is no surprise that the Israeli government has noticed this and declared that the document doesn’t measure up to the conditions for negotiation in the Roadmap.  This is set out in The Palestinian “Prisoners’ Document”: Stepping away from peace (dated 29 June 2006) on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [6].  Here, are a few extracts from it:


“The announcement by representatives of Hamas and Fatah that agreement had been reached on this document has been perceived by some as being ‘a step in the right direction’ in terms of efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel. In reality, it constitutes a step in the wrong direction. …


“The document fails to meet the requirements of the Roadmap and the three basic conditions of the Quartet: recognition of Israel’s right to exist, ending terrorism, and adherence to all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


“‘Explicitly supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state within all the territories ‘occupied since 1967’ does not mean recognition of Israel.


        The document makes no mention of explicitly recognizing Israel and Israel's right to exist, and also no mention is made of ending the conflict with Israel.


        The document further insists on full implementation of the Palestinian demands regarding the ‘right of return’ of all Palestinian refugees to their homes [inside Israel]. This in itself constitutes a formula for the ultimate destruction of Israel and stands in contradiction to the two-state solution, whereby the Palestinian state would become the home for Palestinian refugees.


        The formula used by the document goes hand-in-hand with the Hamas declarations that after a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories ‘occupied since 1967’, Hamas would be prepared at most for a lengthy ceasefire, but not for recognition of Israel. …


“The document expresses a clear-cut support for continued terrorism.


        Not only does it not talk about ending terrorism, but it stresses the ‘right of resistance by all means’.


        The document talks about ‘concentrating’ such ‘resistance’ within the territories. In other words, while the majority of terrorist attacks would take place within the West Bank and Gaza, at least some terrorist attacks could and would take place within Israel itself. …


“If the intention of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah faction was to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas, this document does the opposite.


        It distances itself from Abbas’ position regarding recognition of Israel, an end to terrorism and adherence to existing Palestinian Authority Agreements with Israel, by in effect adopting the Hamas line on these issues.”


This is an objective analysis of the prisoners’ document by the Israeli government.  It has yet to be mentioned by either the BBC or The Guardian.


“Disengagement” from West Bank?

A major plank in Ehud Olmert’s election platform last March was “disengagement” from parts of the West Bank (and annexation of the rest), following on from the “disengagement” from Gaza initiated by Ariel Sharon in August 2005.  Whether further “disengagement” has been compromised by Israeli ground troops re-entering Gaza remains to be seen.


The term “disengagement” was a clever piece of spin by Ariel Sharon, which earned him the mantle of peacemaker in the West in the final year of his active life.  It gave the impression to the world that Israel was intent upon relinquishing control over the lives of the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza, and was therefore a first step on the road to an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.


In reality, Israel had no intention of relinquishing control over the Palestinians in Gaza.  True, it withdrew its ground troops but, once the 8,500 Jewish settlers had been persuaded to leave (by giving them generous compensation and other benefits), there was less need for ground troops.  But, there was never any question but that Israel would maintain absolute control over the airspace above Gaza and the sea off its shores, and over every person and thing going in or out of Gaza.  Gaza has experienced a different form of occupation since August 2005, but it was still occupation.


If a similar “disengagement” takes place on the West Bank, then the Palestinian entity left will be under similar Israeli control.  A number of isolated settlements will be dismantled, allowing Israeli ground troops to be pulled back.  But, as Olmert has made clear, it is his intention to annex the three main settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley, leaving the remaining Palestinian entity surrounded by the newly expanded Israel and completely under Israel’s control like Gaza (see, for example, Israel unveils plan to encircle Palestinian state in The Guardian on 8 February 2006 [7]). 


It is plain as a pikestaff that Israel has no intention of allowing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state worthy of the name.



David Morrison

14 July 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review










[6]  Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website