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Ziad Abu Zayyad
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Ziad Abu Zayyad: A Fading Voice of Palestinian Moderation

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

Ziad Abu Zayyad is former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (1996-2006),  and served as Minister of State in the Palestinian Authority (1998-2002) and coordinator of the Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem.

I met him in the Notre Dame Hotel in  East Jerusalem in the summer of 2008, at an event sponsored by  the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture , a quarterly English  journal . Abu Zayyad co-founded the journal in 1994 with a prominent Israeli journalist, Victor Cygielman.  Currently, Abu Zayyad is also the publisher and co-editor of the journal with Hillel Schenker, an activist and co-founder of the Peace-Now movement in Israel. The journal aims to critically analyze the complex issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians.
Abu Zayyad, who has been a proponent of a two state solution, told me then, that he was worried about Hamas. „I don’t see any effort  [on the part of Palestinians in Gaza] to overthrow a Hamas government.  The problem is the Hamas is trying to build it’s  monopoly over Gaza."

When I asked him if he had been surprised that Hamas  won the 2006 elections in Gaza , against his Fatah faction, he answered candidly,“I was surprised by the majoirty that they had, but not that they won.“

In the Israel-Palestine Journal, Abu Zayayd, a 70 year old lawyer, who graduated at the  University of Damascas in 1965 has made statements not commonly said or written by other Palestinian leaders.

 For example, in an article he wrote in October 2007, titled The role of public opinion in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Abu Zayyad acknowledged that  the Palestinians will have to compromise on the right of return, and the “Palestinian street” was not yet ready for that. As he wrote,

“…Israel will not allow the return of Palestinian refugees, as its main concern is to ensure the Jewish character of the state and to preserve its Jewish majority. As a consequence, although the present Palestinian leadership is ready to reach a compromise on the right of return in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinian people have not caught up with the leadership and still believe in the attainability of the right of return. When the time comes — if ever — Palestinian public opinion will not have sufficiently matured to agree to a compromise, and the leadership will be faced with the task of having to convince its people to acquiesce to such a compromise. It will most certainly prove a difficult task, but not an impossible one.”

According to a report by the Middle East institute in Wahington, in a lecture Abu Zayyade gave on June 20, 2003, he  maintained that  the borders for a future Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 borders, although, there could be swaps of land that would allow Israel to maintain some big settlements along the border. 

When I spoke to Abu Zayyad in August 2008, he already sounded a note of despair. As he said of the split between Fatah and Hamas, ’I’m very worried.  I think it [ this Hamas-Fatah split] is against the  Palestinian national interest.  We should do our best to overcome this and have a united leadership.I think we should have dialogue beetween Hamas and Fatah." 
He added that he would welcome the involvement of Jordan’s King Abdullah or other  Arab leaders in facilitating a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.  “Any effort that helps to promote Palestinian unity is welcome and blessed.”

Abu Zayyad,  born near  East Jerusaelm, is no stranger to negotiations. He was an advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel following the 1991 Madrid Conference, and he was a member of the post-Oslo negotiating team that concluded the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Agreement that began implementing Oslo’s Declaration of Principles.
But so far, he and others like him, have not managed to secure any reconciliation  between Hamas and Fatah. Abu Zayyad, no doubt must be disappointed by the results of  that Israel’s Cast Lead operation,  which arguably, if anything, have left Hamas strengthened.  According to an article in the Jerusalem Post on March 12,2008 if elections were held then in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would defeat PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The poll also showed that Hamas’s popularity has increased in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.

But even if the reconciliation that Abu Zayyad  would welcome between Hamas and Fatah were ever to occur,  many political analysts  fear that  any reconciliation would result in Hamas  making Fatah more extreme, as opposed to Fatah successfully taming Hamas. And many analysts say that Fatah itself  has voices within it that are as extreme as Hamas.

In an article “Unforgiven”, in  May 2008’s Atlantic Monthly by Jeffrey Goldberg, Abu Zayyad, warned that “There are only two or three years left [for a two-state solution].”  He said “If this  [the two State solution] doesn’t work, then everyone will be arguing for a one-state solution.”

But, as Goldberg wrote, “… the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state would, of course, demand the agreement of Israel’s Jews, who, for manifold reasons, would not want to live in a state dominated by Arabs. “I’ll make a prediction that Israel will not commit suicide,” Yehezkel Dror, the head of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and a political scientist at Hebrew University, told me [Goldberg].”

It’s a prediction that I too, also would make. And so, while Abu Zayyad is a Palestinian moderate, if anything, his voice may be fading - although it is still one worth hearing and reading.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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