Azmi Bishara: Rebuilding the PLO could thwart Israel's "day after" plans

Azmi Bishara: Rebuilding the PLO could thwart Israel's "day after" plans
Dr Azmi Bishara, said rebuilding the PLO to incorporate all the Palestinian factions - including Hamas - was an urgent necessity now to thwart Israel's plans.
9 min read
13 February, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara stressed the urgent need to rebuild the PLO and include all factions within it [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

Reviving and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to incorporate all the Palestinian factions - including Hamas and Islamic Jihad – is an essential step to thwarting Israel's plans for the "day after" its genocidal war ends in Gaza, Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Dr Azmi Bishara, said in a new interview.

Appearing on Alaraby TV on Sunday, Bishara didn't rule out that an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah could start before Ramadan begins (around 10 March), or that Israel would choose to accept a short-term truce during Ramadan.

He explained that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to block the truce agreement drafted by Israeli and American representatives in Paris.

On Israeli threats to start a ground invasion against Rafah, where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, Bishara said Egypt must issue a public, official warning to Israel, that such an act would spell the end of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement if it wanted to prevent the onslaught.

Egypt should also send military forces to the border – as it is not enough to simply reject expulsion of the Palestinians, as that sends a signal that "anything else is permissible".

Regarding ongoing tensions on the Lebanese border, Bishara believes Israel will continue to escalate its military operations as it realises Hezbollah isn't interested in war, and nor is Iran, which had seen its credibility decline in the Arab world since 7 October.

Rebuilding the PLO

In the interview, Bishara focused on the need to rebuild the PLO. He described this as an essential step to thwarting "the next day" as Israel (or Netanyahu) envisions it – warning that if Israel succeeded with its "day after" plans this would simply lead to another thirty lost years similar to the three decades after Oslo.

Beyond that, Bishara pointed out that if this "day after" succeeded - that is, that the current Palestinian Authority (PA) would be prepared to take control of Gaza without either Hamas or Islamic Jihad having any involvement - "this would mean a new civil war and a new resistance". At the same time, Bishara cautioned that after the war "it won't be possible for Hamas to rule Gaza alone, even if Israel doesn't win a decisive military victory".

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If the resistance factions wanted to win a political achievement for the Palestinian people, Bishara argued that the framework which would allow them to do this was the PLO. He stressed that both the resistance factions and the PA needed the PLO "if they want the Palestinians to remain a people and not rival factions fighting over an authority devoid of sovereignty - which was the trap of Oslo".

He also reminded listeners that within the PLO there had always been parties which had rejected Oslo, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – so the excuse that Hamas and Islamic Jihad couldn't join the PLO because they rejected Oslo, was invalid.

Bishara pointed out that the vast majority of Fatah members, including its power base and leaders, were not happy with the official silence on Gaza.

Stressing the importance of preserving the PLO, he reviewed how it started as an entity created by the Arab League governments in 1964 and was recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinian people in 1974 after the Palestinian resistance movement back then took over its leadership.

He explained how the PLO had transformed gradually from an official organ which represented the Palestinian people into a real entity and theoretical state for the Palestinian people. It gained so much recognition as the representative of the Palestinians, to the extent in the start of the 80s, the number of countries that recognised the PLO was larger than those which recognised the state of Israel.

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Beyond that, the PLO set an example for national liberation movements across the world, according to Bishara. Then he spoke about how after Oslo, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established, and the duality between the PLO and the PA was born, and what happened was that the PA attempted to make the PLO a part of it - rather than the opposite being the case.

Then, Bishara spoke about the 2005 elections, Hamas' win in the legislative council, and how the PA had manipulated the PLO to exclude Hamas, which showed it had become a tool in the hands of the PA.

He concluded: "If we want to revive the PLO, all sides must be included - this is now necessary". In the same context, Bishara confirmed that although Hamas and Islamic Jihad had been against the PLO since the start, "there has been a development in the Hamas movement's mode of thinking, and in parallel to that its legitimacy has grown because of the armed struggle after Fatah abandoned that struggle, which naturally increases the level of popular legitimacy [Hamas has]".

Following 7 October, according to Bishara, Hamas’s legitimacy has become "overwhelming, and their discourse has altered and they now describe themselves as a liberation organisation, and they are now ready to become part of the PLO".

Here he expressed regret at the fact that those who in control of the PA wanted to monopolise the PLO, and don't see it as in their interests to allow the entry of other forces, because that would mean entering into a partnership - as entering the PLO doesn't necessarily mean backing its current leadership, in Bishara's words.

Netanyahu obstructs ceasefire agreement

Regarding negotiations on a ceasefire, in light of the response from Hamas on the Paris agreement, and Netanyahu having overturned the draft framework agreement, Bishara believes positive results in the near future are unlikely.

This was because Netanyahu "is trying to hinder an agreement of the kind that was agreed on at Paris, which Israel was represented in as was America".

Bishara highlighted the fact that Egypt, Qatar and Hamas had all agreed to amend Hamas' response to the framework agreement, and had taken the remarks of the Americans into consideration and had sent the amended response to Israel.

The Tel Aviv government had then discussed it before issuing its negative response. Bishara revealed that Israel's refusal had struck down most of the clauses in the agreement, with nothing remaining except the first stage. Even regarding this stage, Netanyahu had rejected its proposed duration (45 days), and had said it could only last 35 days, and that it would also be the only stage, instead of the three stages stipulated in the Paris agreement.

On this point, Bishara clarified that Hamas had no incentive to make concessions if there were no ceasefire, which a 35-day truce didn't entail.

He added that Israel had also rejected all conditions related to ending incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque; prisoners in the West Bank; distribution of aid to all parts of the Strip; the return of the inhabitants to northern and central Gaza, or for Hamas to [be able to] specify the identities of 500 prisoners from the 1,000 who were supposed to be freed in exchange for the Israeli hostages.

Bishara summarised the current situation by saying Netanyahu doesn't want an agreement which will lead to a ceasefire, therefore he is refusing any stage beyond the first, and he is renouncing proposals Israeli government representatives agreed to at Paris.

War objectives: What has been achieved, and what hasn't 

Regarding the war objectives and whether any change to these had occurred on the Israeli side, Bishara believes Israel will continue its assault on Gaza "to the end", because that was the foundation of unity [in the country] and the [war] cabinet, "and all the strategies put down are based on continuing the war to the end and until its objectives [are achieved], therefore, it will be hard to abandon that unless there is a significant change" externally or domestically.

He added that there were no real Arab or American obstacles to the plans of Netanyahu and his team, and "the most we hear is occasional criticism from the US, and though this is new, it's just views, akin to advice, and doesn't translate into a warning to Netanyahu".

In Bishara's opinion, the Americans might have been convinced that they had been dragged into supporting Netanyahu all the way, then they realised that he is not loyal [to their interests]. However despite all that, that has not translated politically in the US position on the war.

In a related context, Bishara added that the US was now in trouble, as after its blind support for Israel, whatever US president Biden did would be damaging - because continuing to offer absolute support would increasingly lose him votes among wide ranging parts of the Democratic party, whereas a real shift [in stance] would cause him to lose the support of Israel's supporters in the same party.

About the war objectives, Bishara explained that eliminating Hamas as a faction was not achievable, therefore, "they are now […] speaking about eliminating the military wing of Hamas, and its capacity to rule Gaza, and this is a realistic goal, therefore, they are talking about months, or even a year, and this issue needs to be engaged with seriously".

Bishara repeated that Israel and its plans could be stopped if there was the will - in the Arab world or in the West.

Bishara added that making Gaza uninhabitable, which had been a fundamental goal of theirs, had been achieved to a great extent, "which inevitably leads towards annihilation".

Rafah invasion

Regarding his assessment of Israel's intentions when it came to invading Rafah, Bishara believed this would depend on whether Egypt issued an official and public warning indicating that invading Rafah would spell the end of the peace agreement. It should also send its military forces to the border, instead of being content with simply rejecting expulsion, as though everything else were permissible.

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In this context, Bishara didn't rule out that Tel Aviv is planning to invade Rafah before the month of Ramadan, and therefore they may work to ensure that the truce takes place during Ramadan. Meanwhile, Bishara sarcastically noted that "the American advice to Israel is to enter Rafah, but with a plan".

Commenting on Biden's comment that he had convinced Egyptian President Sisi to open the crossing, Bishara believes everything related to the Rafah Crossing is being used by Egypt to leverage pressure. Evidence of this was that Cairo had chosen not to implement the decisions of the Riyadh summit (Arab-Islamic summit) and those of The Hague, which had stated the necessity the crossing be opened.

Iran's credibility has been damaged

Regarding developments on the Israeli-Lebanese front, Bishara thought it likely Israel would escalate militarily due to its realisation that Hezbollah and Iran aren't interested in war.

Bishara was confident Israel would put pressure for the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1701 (which ended the war of 2006 and stipulates the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters to north of the Litani river) and for the Israel-Lebanon border to be demarcated. Here there would be space for concessions - like Israel's withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms in exchange for the application of 1701.

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As to how realistic this scenario is, Bishara repeated that anything is possible, with the evidence being that Hezbollah had agreed to the demarcation of maritime boundaries nearly 2 years ago with US mediation.

Bishara added that Iran's credibility in the Arab world had declined, as a result of Tehran's behaviour since 7 October.