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Did Palestine’s ‘missed opportunity’ ever exist?

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

Last Thursday, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur published a statement by Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza, taken from the Palestinian SamaNews website, which said: “Gaza was included in the Camp David [Accord] and there was then an opportunity to liberate Gaza with Sinai,” and added his regret at the missed opportunity, according to the news agency. He went on: “If that had happened, Gaza would now have been liberated and under Egyptian administration, as it used to be.”

The Palestinian file has a special and unique nature, particularly when we look at how those involved with this deal with the issue, let alone with each other.

Bakir Oweida

This is an important statement in many aspects. First, saying that the Camp David Accord contained an article stipulating the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, allowing Egypt to return to administer it as was the case until June 5, 1967 war, is a statement that needs to be checked. This prompted me to go back to the text of the agreement, but I did not find the evidence for Abu Marzouk’s claims- apart from that the preamble which referred to Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

The framework of the agreement, which was signed by Israel and Egypt at Camp David on Sept. 17, 1978, was intended to be a basis for peace, not only between Egypt and Israel, but also between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

However, the articles regarding the two states included a single explicit reference to Gaza: “The permanent boundary between Egypt and Israel is the recognized international boundary between Egypt and former mandated territory of Palestine, as shown on the map at Annex II, without prejudice to the issue of the status of the Gaza Strip.”

The Camp David Accord

So, could the phrase “without prejudice to the issue of the status of the Gaza Strip” be linked to what came in the second clause of Article 1 of the Camp David Accord, which says: “Israel will withdraw all of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai behind the international boundary between Egypt and mandated Palestine, as provided in the annexed protocol (Annex I), and Egypt will resume the exercise of its full sovereignty over the Sinai,” and be used to deduce that Gaza was linked to the Israeli withdrawal?

I am not an expert in legal texts, but I think the answer is clear: the resumption of “full Egyptian sovereignty” means Sinai, and does not include Gaza. Where then, was the opportunity for Gaza to return to Egyptian administration made possible by the Camp David Accords?

While I doubt the likelihood of Abu Marzouk’s claims, it must be said that the protocols and appendices of the accord may include something that supports him. Anyway, the Hamas official’s comments reminded me that talk about missed opportunities is older than Camp David itself, and that there are differing views about how we should define the term “opportunity.”

Opportunities

For example, from the point of view of a sympathizer of the Arab–Palestinian position in dealing with Israeli intransigence, late British writer Peter Mansfield seemed very regretful about the “missed opportunities.” This prompted me to attempt to comfort him, although he was not easily persuaded, saying: “My friends, you never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

But why is that? The answer, and this is a view that was not just held by my friend Mansfield, is simply because the basis of political work is maneuvering, which means the freedom of movement. This is the opposite of stagnation, particularly in terms of rejecting initiatives that breach firm principles and beliefs. There are countless examples in this context, particularly in the case of the Palestinian file, including the manner in which prophets and messengers dealt with their adversaries, pointing to the possibility of retreat or withdrawal in one moment in order to achieve progress at a later time.

Even taking this into account, the Palestinian file has a special and unique nature, particularly when we look at how those involved with this deal with the issue, let alone with each other. Therefore, the uniqueness is also adapted to the issue of opportunities, whether they were available or whether they were missed, or if the issue was much more complicated than distant observers may think.

Borders

In the context of giving examples, it has become easy to say after the defeat of June 1967: Why did Arabs not listen to Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba when he called for the acceptance of the U.N. General Assembly’s decision to divide Palestine on November 22, 1947? This kind of question was often repeated, and still is, stating a fact without any evidence, that the suggestion represented another missed opportunity.

In fact, there is a huge difference between a speech, a statement made to gauge the reaction on the streets and a strategic idea which actually aims to be a shrewd and flexible political action, making it difficult for any good opportunity to be missed, as was the case with the Palestinian issue. We can ask whether the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization wasted time, not to say opportunities, just to insist on what it saw as the independence of the Palestinian decision.

Of course, the establishment of the organization in itself was akin to announcing the independence of the Palestinian people, who are dispersed in refugee camps. But the reality of being dispersed reflected, as it continues to do so today, negatively on that independence. This has resulted in a Palestinian role that has intermingled with a number of Arab issues, which in turn has resulted in another Palestinian crisis with more than one Arab party and in a more damaging way.

The PLO

There is a theory that says that the haste of the organization in acquiring the role of the sole representative of the Palestinian people at the Rabat summit in October 1974 wasted an opportunity for Jordan and Egypt to force the return of the West Bank and Gaza to the pre-1967 borders. This theory holds considerable weight in many arenas, but that should not reduce the importance of what the PLO achieved because of that summit’s decision: international recognition of its political entity which provided it with political presence, which in turn strengthened its fighting stature.

All that is part of a past that is long gone, but maybe the idea behind what Abu Marzouk said about the “missed opportunity” would be beneficial to another party, to stop it wasting an opportunity to end the prevailing state of suspicion with which Egypt regards Gaza, and for which people pay a heavy price.

Of course, this will not come without taking every opportunity available to restoring the Palestinian situation to normality. So, is that possible? The answer is with the leaders of Hamas and Fatah and is certain to affect their ability to face up to the influences of their alliances on their decisions, in a way that does not waste an opportunity for a Palestinian reconciliation for the benefit of outsiders.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 5, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and wrote for several Arab publications based in London. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.