Editorial Israel Does Have a Palestinian Partner

Fatah's approach to the peace process refutes the argument that 'there is no Palestinian peace partner.'

Fatah's sixth convention in Bethlehem has attracted considerable attention, due to internal battles among its factions and members of the movement's leadership. But these battles have focused on taking control of key positions within the movement and on constitutional issues. They skipped almost completely over Fatah's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fatah's new platform, and chairman Mahmoud Abbas' speech, won sweeping support from the more than 2,200 delegates who came from throughout the Palestinian Diaspora. From Bethlehem, they sent Jerusalem an unequivocal message: The Palestinian national movement's strategic choice is still two states for two peoples.

Although Fatah's first convention in 20 years was held in the shadow of the Israeli occupation and an impasse in the peace process, the movement committed itself to the diplomatic option and the principles of the Arab peace initiative. Fatah formally distinguished itself from Hamas and joined the Arab and international consensus on a political solution - namely, the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugee problem by agreement with Israel, on the basis of UN Resolution 194.

The convention rejected the demand to recognize Israel as the "state of the Jewish people," as well as the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. It is a pity that its call for stronger ties with the Israeli peace camp was stained by the ugly hint that Israel had murdered Yasser Arafat.

Both Fatah's platform and its chairman's speech made it clear that in the absence of real progress toward a two-state solution, the movement would switch to a struggle to establish a single binational state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, or else unilaterally declare an independent state in the 1967 borders. Moreover, if negotiations fail to lead to an end to the occupation within the foreseeable future, Fatah reserves the right to fight for the Palestinian people's liberty in legitimate ways, including fighting the settlers and the forces that protect them and engaging in unarmed civil disobedience. Both points demonstrate the dangers Israel will face if the partition solution hits a deadlock again.

The Palestinian public's avid interest in the convention, and the delegates' impressive attendance, testify that despite the numerous crises Fatah has undergone, it is still the leading popular political movement in the West Bank. The Israeli public and Israeli decision makers would do well to study the Bethlehem meeting's resolutions seriously.

It is only natural for Israel not to accept Fatah's platform, just as the Palestinian leadership objects to Likud's platform. But Fatah's approach to the peace process refutes the right-wing argument that "there is no Palestinian peace partner."

The fate of the pragmatic national movement on the Palestinian side will depend largely on Israel's policy regarding the terms for resuming peace talks. This includes the issue of freezing the settlements, the gaps between the parties' positions on a final-status arrangement and the extent of the international community's resolve to bridge these gaps.