PALESTINIAN president Mahmoud Abbas has the authority, and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has completed ‘administrative preparations’ for holding a referendum on a two-state solution of the conflict with Israel, despite Hamas’ opposition, member of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, announced on Wednesday.
The President is determined to go ahead with this referendum which essentially would recognise the state of Israel despite the fact that Hamas, which does not recognise Israel, won the recent general election by a landslide on that policy.
Abbas, as the elected president has the jurisdiction and is fully competent to consult the people on issues of fateful and national dimensions, Abed Rabbo told reporters.
Abbas met with the head of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) last Friday to discuss the referendum, said chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat.
Abed Rabbo, a former cabinet minister of culture and information, said the referendum would be held even if Hamas continues to oppose it.
‘The referendum is a duty whether we reach an agreement with Hamas or the dispute continues,’ Abed Rabbo said, adding that the results of the referendum would be seen as a vote of confidence or non-confidence in Abbas’s policies.
A legal team had been set up to prepare for the referendum, the chairman of the Palestinian Peace Coalition (PPC) and co-author of the Geneva Initiative told reporters.
There were protests that the Palestinian Diaspora should not be excluded from a referendum that decides a national strategy.
Leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Ahmad Jibril, said recently that Palestinian refugees in exile should have a say in deciding such a strategy.
Abed Rabbo said that Abbas was not opposed to the idea of including Palestinians living abroad in the proposed referendum. ‘Our only condition is that the referendum abroad be held under the supervision of the Palestinian CEC,’ he said. ‘The host countries also have to agree to such a move because we don’t want to infringe on their sovereignty.’
Abed Rabbo represents the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the ongoing ‘national dialogue’ talks, which concluded a two-day session last Friday.
The first two days of the dialogue have produced no agreement. On Tuesday, the parties decided, upon Hamas’ insistence, to move the talks from the West Bank city of Ramallah to Gaza when Abbas returns from a three-day visit to Tunisia on Friday.
Hamas cited the Israeli occupation’s restrictions on the movement of its cabinet ministers and leaders as the reason for requesting the dialogue to be held in Gaza.
‘Holding the national dialogue in the West Bank or in Gaza makes no difference to us,’ said Abed Rabbo.
He said Fatah was ready to join a Hamas-led government on condition that the Islamic Resistance Movement accepted the prisoners’ document. ‘We are ready to go to a national unity government to break the siege imposed on our people, to destroy Ehud Olmert’s plan for unilateral measures and to show the world that there is a Palestinian partner that is prepared to negotiate,’ the veteran peace advocate indicated.
However, Abed Rabbo said that Hamas has informed the Palestinian leadership that they are preparing a formula to deal with all the items of the national dialogue agenda, but, ‘We are still waiting for the proposed formula from our brothers in Hamas.’
He warned against not reaching a national accord and highlighted the importance of the referendum in light of the grave risks facing the national programme.
‘The Palestinian people face big questions that should be answered. . . Either we head for an independent state or for the second Nakba (catastrophe),’ he added.
Hamas reacted angrily to Abed Rabbo’s statements, saying he was trying to impose his policies on the Palestinians.
Abu Zuhri said that making the referendum meant that the dialogue was not intended as a means towards national understanding.
‘These remarks are very dangerous,’ said Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri. ‘They refer to the referendum as a fait accompli, regardless of whether the national dialogue fails or succeeds. This means that the dialogue is not aimed at reaching understandings, but imposing political concessions on the Palestinians.’
The Hamas spokesman criticized Abed Rabbo personally and expressed ‘astonishment’ at the fact that Abbas had chosen Abed Rabbo to represent him at the discussions with Hamas.
‘He’s threatening a government that won the majority of 60 per cent of the people that the president will dismantle it if it does not accept the prisoners’ document.’
He added, in a press release distributed to reporters, that Abed Rabbo’s statements revealed that the PNA was not concerned with success of the dialogue but rather was interested in bypassing the Hamas-led government.
Referring to Abbas’ 10-day deadline on Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said: ‘Time should not be a sword directed at the participants. Enough time should be given to reach the expected results from this dialogue.’
Abbas and Palestinian faction leaders have agreed to 10 days of intensive talks aimed at resolving critical differences and avoiding a national referendum on a two-state solution.
Similarly, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar on Monday issued the strongest rejection yet by a senior Hamas official. ‘Nobody will recognize Israel, there is no need for a referendum. It’s a waste of time and money,’ he said during a visit to Malaysia.
The Palestinian government has been internationally isolated and suffering a crippling economic boycott since Hamas won January 25 legislative elections. The United States and European Union demand the Islamic group renounce violence, commit to signed Palestinian-Israeli agreements and recognize Israel if it wants aid restored. Hamas has refused.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak, meeting in the Red Sea Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday, called on Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative adopted by the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2000.
‘Egypt and Saudi Arabia call on Hamas to recognize the Beirut Arab initiative,’ Egyptian presidential spokesman Soliman Awad told reporters after the meeting between the two leaders.
Urging Palestinian unity, Awad added: ‘Egypt sees that the coming critical phase requires the cessation of any escalation among the Palestinian factions.’
There is an urgent need now for all the heads of the Palestinian factions to be aware of the higher interests of the Palestinian people and their desire for an independent state,’ he said.
The Arab Initiative was based on a Saudi calling for a ‘land for peace’ formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory the Jewish state occupied in 1967, all the Arab states will normalise their relations with Israel.