David Eden immigrated to Israel as a teenager, after a childhood spent in the US and Peru. He joined a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz after service in an IDF combat unit. Active in Mapam (the socialist-Zionist party that was a founding component of Meretz), he was former party chair Elazar Granot’s bureau chief in the late ‘80s. A graduate of the Ruppin Institute’s course in public administration, he later served as treasurer of his kibbutz. Married to a Princeton, New Jersey resident since the late ‘90s, he currently works for a social policy research firm in the US.
It may seem ironic that despite all the effort that Israel, the US, and most of the EU countries put into trying to pressure the Hamas government — to recognize Israel, declare their opposition to the use of violence and to accept the legitimacy of previously signed accords between Israel and the PLO — it is apparent that it is going to be internal Palestinian pressure that will force this decision. Ironic, but not surprising.
One of the most respected groups within Palestinian society, the Palestinian prisoners are important participants in Palestinian political life. Forcibly isolated from the daily struggle, organized into groups based on party affiliation, the Palestinian prisoners have not only forged bonds with each other across party lines, but have also become some of the most savvy observers of Israeli politics and society. They study Hebrew and avidly read the Israeli press.
One of the surprising results of their incarceration, is that many of the prisoners become more politically sophisticated and lose some of their extremism. In fact, many come to see that a compromise based on a two-state solution is the only possible resolution of the conflict.
So it is no surprise that their 18-point document, including the most popular Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, includes the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza in June 1967. Implicitly, this means the acceptance of the existence of Israel, within the pre-67 borders. While most Israelis would not find these borders acceptable, this proposal would certainly be acceptable as the basis of negotiations. Over the years, many other Palestinians, both individuals and groups, have held similar positions. But the credibility carried by the Palestinian prisoners is unique, and their statements have an influence that reaches all sectors of Palestinian society.
This document has served Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas as a tool to force Hamas to confront its positions regarding the future of negotiations with Israel. In declaring that if Hamas rejects the plan, he will declare a referendum, Abbas is essentially forcing Hamas to choose its future: either it adopts the plan and accepts participating in negotiations with Israel; or it rejects the plan and is seen by Palestinians as being responsible for the worsening conditions in the PA.
But the most significant thing about the proposed referendum, is that the Palestinian population would be involved in deciding on which approach they want their leaders to take in regards to the future: either the path of negotiations represented by Abbas, and implicitly endorsed by the prisoners, or continued conflict. And they are probably as tired of the unending conflict as we are.