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Palestine in 2013 without Abbas or Mashaal?

Oct. 4, 2012 10:31 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 22, 2012 12:58 P.M.)
By: Daoud Kuttab
The Palestinian leadership seems to be on the verge of change. It is very likely that this will be the last year that Palestine will be led by the PLO's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khalid Mashaal.

Abbas announced over a year ago that he does not plan to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority once such elections take place. All efforts to organize national reconciliation with Hamas and to resolve the West Bank-Gaza dispute through elections have failed.

Two weeks ago, in a heated meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas suggested West Bank only presidential elections so that he can be relieved of his position in an orderly manner.

His suggestion for November elections was turned down and, according to a Gulf-based publication, he asked the Palestinian leadership to nominate someone to replace him within 10 days of his return from New York.

The Jewish Forward published a similar statement. Jewish leaders who met Abbas were told by the Palestinian leader that he expects to exit the political scene within a few months.

Friends and colleagues also state that the 77-year-old grandfather wants to spend time with his family. He has Qatari and Jordanian passports in case he chooses to live outside Palestine.

Mashaal also indicated, publicly and privately, his desire to transfer power to others within the Islamic movement. Mashaal, 56, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, has seen the weakening of the organization's external financial and political support, as well as the loss of Hamas's headquarters in Syria.

Being forced to choose between Shiite Iran and Sunni Gulf countries, Mashaal went with the latter.

As a result of Mashaal's closeness to Saudi and Gulf leaders, the issue of reconciliation with Abbas became paramount. But it is on this issue that Mashaal found the ground under his feet shaking.

The Gaza-based Hamas leadership clutching to power in Palestinian areas rejected various reconciliation proposals, leaving Mashaal in an unenviable position, unable to deliver on agreements with Fatah, including the Doha agreement signed in the past year.

Mashaal has made his position clear and the struggle for leadership now seems to be focused on two individuals.

Ismail Haniyeh, whose list won the highest number of votes in the 2006 elections, has been Hamas's de facto prime minister in Gaza. Haniyeh will be competing with Mashaal's current deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk.

Unlike Mashaal, Abu Marzouk's origins are from Gaza, which removes the contentious Gaza-West Bank divide in the upcoming struggle for the leadership of Hamas.

Both Haniyeh and Zahar traveled to a number of Arab countries and Iran and are said to have ensured the continuation of financial support from Iran, much to the displeasure of Sunni Gulf leaders.

Whatever the backgrounds, motives and circumstances, it is very likely that Palestine in 2013 will witness the absence of two major leaders that have shaped the Palestinian struggle for the past decades. Gone will be the PLO's current leader and architect and signatory of the Oslo Accords.

Although Mashaal has recently adopted the slogan of nonviolent "popular struggle," his expected absence from the political scene will constitute the departure of one of the most charismatic and vocal proponent and defender of the Palestinian/Islamic armed resistance movement.

Palestine without Abbas and Mashaal will need to forge ahead a totally new strategy for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of a truly independent sovereign state.

The details of any permanent agreement are roughly known: a contiguous independent state within the 1967 borders, shared Jerusalem and a symbolic resolution for the refugee problem. What any new strategy will have to focus on is how to reach such a solution.

Some will argue that the struggle should shift from the two-state solution to the one-state formula. While some see this as a strategic solution, many concede that this might work out as a more practical tactic to force the Israelis to understand that if they do not concede to the two-state solution, the nature of their own state, namely a Jewish state, will be severely compromised if the outcome is a democratic state for all the people between the river and the sea.

More important than the nature of the state, strategic thinking and unification of purpose is how to arrive at such state.

With the political and violent processes having proved useless, it is incumbent on any new leadership to come up with a strategy that could have better results than the disaster we have seen both through the Oslo process (more settlements) and the armed struggle (more death, hate and settlements).

Some will argue that a mix of local nonviolent activities coupled with an international boycott and divestment movement can produce, as in South Africa, the desired results.

Others will continue to try used and failed slogan and methodologies. Palestine will need to produce new leaders as well as new strategies for liberation. This will not be easy.

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