The first meeting in six years between PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Algeria this week saw these two protagonists for leadership of the Palestinian Arabs failing to take the opportunity to condemn a Saudi Arabian proposal to unify Jordan, Gaza and parts of the West Bank into one territorial entity.
The justification for this ground- breaking merger was eloquently expressed by its author – Ali Shihabi – a close confidante of Saudi Arabia's next King – Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – in a recent article headlined "The Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine" published in Al Arabiya News - owned by the Saudi Royal Family:
Jordanians and Palestinians are as similar as any people can be. They are Sunni Arabs from the same neighbourhood. Merging them will not create any long-term ethnic or sectarian fault lines.
The Saudi proposal made the following hard-hitting truths that would have previously attracted outright condemnation and rejection by both the PLO and Hamas:
- Israel is a reality firmly implanted on the ground that has to be accepted, however grudgingly, by the region around it
- Justice, however, does not make history; hard power does-and Palestinians must reconcile themselves to this painful reality and move forward with their lives without being held back by false hopes and illusions.
- [The] illusion of "return" has served some Arab regimes' interests by giving them a powerful excuse to avoid integrating Palestinian refugees as citizens, particularly in Lebanon and even Jordan, both of which have millions of disenfranchised Palestinians in their camps. These regimes feared that these refugees-cum-citizens would alter their demographics and threaten their ruling order. Consequently, the excuse given was that since the Palestinians would eventually return to Palestine, giving them citizenship would technically undermine their "right of return" and hence they should be denied citizenship. Palestinian leaders actively colluded in perpetuating this tragedy.
- The Palestinian problem can only be solved today if it is redefined. The issue in this day and age for people should be not so much the ownership of ancestral land but more the critical need to have a legal identity-a globally respected citizenship that allows a person to operate in the modern world. Labor in this day and age is mobile and having citizenship in a country that facilitates such mobility is critical to human development.
It seems truly amazing that such accusations pulling out the rug from under both the PLO and Hamas should have been allowed to pass unmentioned and unchallenged by both Abbas and Haniyeh in Algeria.
Their silence was indeed palpable and can - in the absence of any express denials - be construed as PLO and Hamas acceptance of the Saudi way forward - that could see any newly-created Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine:
- Being demilitarized west of the Jordan River and in Gaza – adopting similar parliamentary and governance systems there used by Jordan when it occupied the West Bank between 1950 and 1967.
- The PLO and Hamas Charters calling for Israel's destruction revoked and their organisations being disarmed under international supervision
- A new peace treaty with Israel replacing the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty
- The tunnels under Gaza leading into Israel being redirected to unite Gaza with other parts of the new State
- All citizens of the newly-created State enjoying common citizenship and freedom of movement within the State
- The refugee camps in Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and neighbouring Arab States being closed and their occupants offered citizenship in the new State or other host Arab states.
Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — was hand-drawn from his COVID sick bed by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades.
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