Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Unified explanation of the American scheme for Palestine, c February 2007

Sometime after the February 2007 Mecca agreement, which set up the framework for a Hamas-Fatah government of national unity, there was drawn up an Action Plan aimed at rolling back the idea of a Palestinian national-unity government, sidelining Hamas, and "building up Abbas' political stock" in a short period of time not to exceed nine months, with the idea that Abbas would call new parliamentary elections in fall 2007, which Fatah would win. The document refers to the February Mecca agreement, and looks forward to the March Rice-Abbas-Olmert summit, so it was written during that interval, making this in effect a last-gasp attempt to keep alive the divide-and-conquer scheme for Palestine promoted by Elliot Abrams at the National Security Council.

The promotion of Fatah and sidelining of Hamas was to involve not only financing and training of security forces connected with the office of the Presidency and loyal to Abbas; but also economic projects to be designed together with the World Bank and the European Union that would have short-term popular effects attributable to Abbas; and creation of an atmosphere of optimism with the initial announcement of negotiations with Israel, to be followed by subsequent negotiations in secret. To kick the thing off, the Action plan called for a positive response from Israel at the March 24-5 summit with Rice and Abbas, to be followed by a positive statement at the Riyadh summit, and formation of an Arab-states council to draw up a final version of the Plan, which council Israel would be able to join. Various elements of this scheme have been highlighted from to time, including the theme of using Palestinian negotiations to insert Israel into the group of Arab US allies, shattering the Hamas-Fatah unity government, and most notably US financial support for training of Palestinian forces loyal to Abbas, detailed in the Conflicts Forum article in January called "Elliot Abrams Uncivil War". What this document does first and foremost is to give us a unified explanation of how all of these parts were supposed to fit together.

The full text of this Action Plan document was sent out for printing by a Jordanian weekly publication called Al-Majd, only to have its printing banned by the Jordanian government. The text, however, remained available on their website. Al-Majd said the high-level source who provided this said it was drawn up by "Arab and American parties", and "presented to Palestinian president Abbas by the head of an Arab intelligence agency". The following is a summary of the first part of the document, with brief translations of certain parts, in order to offer an initial overall view of the document and the plan. It is filled with expressions that translate only too smoothly into English ("Action Plan"; "strong and effective steps"; "decline in credibility", "moving forward with political negotiations" and on and on) indicating to me at least that this is a document whose mother tongue is English. Persons more familiar than I am with State Dept jargon might recognize the style.

The unifying theme in this is the following: Everything that was to be done was for the ultimate purpose of enabling Abbas to call, and then to win, new parliamentary elections in fall 2007, so as to definitively and legally sideline Hamas. The document spells out the idea that World Bank financing was to be considered from that perspective; wage-payments were to be arranged with that in mind; even the idea of negotiating with Israel was to set up an atmosphere of optimism that would similarly help Abbas; strengthening of law and order were also for the purpose of enhancing the position of Abbas. What this document shows is that not only was the US still intent, after the Mecca agreement, on dislodging the elected government of Hamas, but that all of the component parts of the scheme, political, financial and economic, were all subordinated to that.

Here's how the document begins:

Action plan for the Presidency of Palestine, year 2007

I. The task

The president of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas has suffered a decline in credibility outside of Palestine following the signing of the Mecca agreement, and the failure of the government of national unity to respond to the requirements of the Quartet, or Abbas' basic conditions. In the absense of strong efforts by Abbas to protect the position of the presidency as the center of gravity of the Palestinian leadership, it can be expected that international support for him will diminish and there won't be enthusiastic coooperation with him (in light of the fact his effectiveness has been in continual decline). And a growing number of countries, including the European Union and the G-8, will start to look for Palestinian partners that are more acceptable and more credible, and more able to make advances in security and governance. And this would strengthen the position of Hamas within Palestinian society, and would further weaken Fatah and the Palestinian presidency. And it would also diminish the chances for early elections.

For this reason Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas needs to take strong and effective steps based on the Action Plan to make himself more acceptable and more credible, ahead of the talks with the Israelis and the Americans on the occasion of the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, expected in March 2007. Moreover, this Plan will remain the center of attention of the international community and the United States, to provide the necessary support for moving ahead with the political operations in their appropriate channels.

It is necessary to see the parts of this Plan as necessary components in the operation of building a Palestinian state (governance, sound economic measures, institution-building, establishment of the rule of law).

II. Objectives

This section starts by repeating the idea of putting Abbas back as the center of gravity in the eyes of foreign governments. In addition, there is a need to define what each of the parties has to do to implement this Plan, and the document adds: "And this means avoiding the wasting of valuable time trying to alter the ideology of Hamas, or turning back the clock to pre-Madrid times. Wasting valuable time in a political effort to get Hamas to join the parade will only weaken the basis for a peaceful agreement".

Then there is this: Abbas should be given the financial and political support necessary to "enable him to move forward with the political negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to build up his political capital, so as to enable him to move to part B of the Plan (early Palestinian parliamentary elections).

And there is the corollary objective: "Delivering a strong political blow to Hamas by supplying the Palestinian people with their immediate economic needs through the Presidency and Fatah", in addition to the strengthening of government institutions within the Palestinian Authority.

The next objective is this: Providing the Presidency with the necessary wherewithal to establish its control over the security apparatus, which "will deter Hamas or any other faction from any attempt at escalation, as long as the security control of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah is on a firm basis".

Finally there is the idea of strict timetables for each of the components of the Plan (from three to nine months depending on the component), so as to focus the efforts of all the parties; and a reminder of the need for affirmation of full support for this Plan from Israel and the United States.

III. Components of the Plan

(1) Political

Getting into negotiations with Israel about the establishment of a Palestinian state, including discussions about final status, along with the necessary steps to change the reality on the ground in the short term--this is going to be a necessary element in building up the political capital of Abbas and of Fatah.

"From another angle", says the document, "the public launching of these negotiations, and then their continuation in secret, will guarantee the necessary optimism in this respect, while at the same time protecting the participants in this from political pressure. Likewise, the setting of a schedule for withdrawals, along with confidence connected with progress in the security plan will also aid the political process (programmed withdrawals, elimination of barriers and checkpoints, rrelease of prisoners, halting construction of new colonies, stopping excavation work in Jerusalem). And it is also important that the Palestinian Authority commit to the following: (and there is a discussion about internal commitments to end violence, recognize prior international agreements and so on).

(2) Governance

It will be necessary to supply Abbas with the means, both material and legal, to govern and to strengthen his credibility and legitimacy, so as to make him comfortably capable of calling parliamentary elections by the beginning of autumn 2007. This includes the need for internal reforms in Fatah, including election of a new Fatah Central Committee with more representation from the New Guard, ensuring a single unified slate in the elections, and getting control over the Al-Aqsa Matryrs Bridade.

(3) Security

Following introductory remarks about the need to control groups that violate the truce, and so on, there is this: "The security component of this Plan is in accordance with the security obligations that were earlier agreed upon between the Palestinians and the Israelis (Dayton -- Dahlan), and the agreements that were arrived at with the "Arab quartet" and the United States. Strict targets and timetables and so on respecting the security commitments will be necessary "to ensure the support of Israel and the other parties".

(4) Economic

This section starts off by saying there is a need for a mechanism for paying wages via the office of the Presidency, as long as Hamas refuses to comply with the requirements of the Quartet, and this is necessary in order to ensure payment "to those who are in agreement with it (apparently meaning in agreement with the Presidency)", and to make sure that the money doesn't fall into the hands of "any faction or organization". This would be another factor building up Abbas' credibility, the report says.

The first sub-head under "Economic" goes like this:
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas should propose, in consultation with the World Bank and the European Union, a plan that defines specific sectors and projects that are in need of financing, and that will show useful and tangible results on the ground in the space of six to nine months, centering on the alleviation of poverty and unemployment. And since some projects will take more than nine months, there should be a guarantee of adequate results within the nine months. This is so as to guarantee the usefulness of these projects before the elections.

There is a section with brief mention of measures for easing the flow of goods.

IV. Implementation of the Plan

The Plan should be presented to the Palestinians as something for them to support and to obtain the agreement of the United States and the Arab quartet, as a first step. And this would give Israel and the Europeans assurance that Abbas has a concrete plan. Followed by this:
The United States and/or Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia could form a joint council (with representation of all parties) that could draw up the plan in final form, and it would be possible for Israel to participate in this.

What Israel needs to do: Israel should undertake parallel commitments, in connection with the presentation and agreement to this Plan at the coming summit, as indicated in the proposed draft joint communique for Rice, Abbas and Olmert, at the end of their March summit, and this in turn will motivate the Arab summit in Riyadh to issue a positive statement in support of the political efforts, and to reaffirm the Arab peace proposal. Just as the Palestinians can be expected to take a step forward, so too the Israelis need to demonstrate their commitment and seriousness in moving forward. And this is a necessity for them, if they hope to see the Arab inclusion that they have been hoping for for so long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great analysis. How would you rate the chances of success. Will the Saudis abandon the unity government deal they sponsored and play ball with the Cheney crowd? How confident should they be that Fatah would win any fall election? If Hamas insists on a presidential election along with parliamentary, how would Abbas react?

I know, a lot of questions. But it seems the abrams plan could backfire even worse than last year's Hamas election.


11:37 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I think the plan itself is already a thing of the past, because by now, according to this, Abbas was supposed to be riding a wave of popularity backed by improved security, quick-fix economic assistance and euphoria over negotiations with Israel. In fact as an overall plan it seems it was kind of divorced from reality in the first place. I haven't seen this document discussed anywhere, which I find a little strange: to me it has the smell of authenticity, maybe others could disagree, but to not see it discussed at all...

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