Wind of change brings a first result in Palestine
THE announcement that the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, have reached an agreement on sharing government and working together is excellent news for the Palestinian people, and for anyone who supports their cause, and for anyone who seriously wants to see a just peace in Israel-Palestine.
While there is understandable discussion in the Palestinian Diaspora and among supporters about just what the deal contains, and what it will bring, a contributor to the Electronic Intifada blog comments answered the doubters simply: "If Israel does not like this deal, it is an indication that it is a good one for our side. The goal of those who wanted to control the Middle East was always to keep the Arabs divided, fragmented and fighting each other".
lndeed, not only the Israeli government, but US and British agencies too, wanted nothing less than civil war between the Palestinian parties, and when neither their blockades nor Fatah actions could dislodge the elected Hamas government from Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas tacitly supported the Israeli 'Cast Lead' operation.
(Ironically, as those with memories know, the Israeli state had at one time encouraged the Islamicists in order to weaken and divide secular Palestinian nationalism and counter left-wing influences. And the CIA at times backed Hamas' parent body in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, to check Nasserism. Nor should we rule out the possibility of strange backing for the extremist Salafi thugs that have cropped up on Hamas' right flank).
But we have Abbas heading a 'Palestine Authority' in a divided and still largely occupied West Bank, unable to interfere with the expanding settlers, but detaining large numbers of Palestinian dissidents. Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas retains a monopoly of power, and privilege, and represses those it dislikes, while sporadic missile attacks on Israel have only brought further Israeli aggression and Palestinian suffering, with neither the prospect of military success or peace talks.
People have been fed up with both sets of leaders. The initial reaction of the authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza was to suppress demonstrations in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Mass democratic movements are catching. But one result of the wind of change blowing through the Arab world was that people took to the streets demanding that Hamas and Fatah put and end to their differences and unite for the common cause of Palestinian freedom. (If for some there was an underlying tone of "plague on both your houses" that is by the way, for now). So this agreement, satisfactory or not, was a response to popular feeling. That is a result, if only a first one.
Netanyahu, ignoring indications from Hamas even before this that it would like to negotiate, and be prepared to accept a 'permanent ceasefire' , and state within 1967 borders if that is the will of the people, has said he cannot talk to "terrorists". But that is what previous Israeli governments used to say about the PLO and Fatah, and the same label the British once applied to those who became the governments of Israel.
A different response has come from Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avnery, himself in his youth a member of the terrorist Irgun:
"IN ONE word: Bravo!
The news about the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is good for peace. If the final difficulties are ironed out and a full agreement is signed by the two leaders, it will be a huge step forward for the Palestinians – and for us.
There is no sense in making peace with half a people. Making peace with the entire Palestinian people may be more difficult, but will be infinitely more fruitful.
Binyamin Netanyahu also says Bravo. Since the government of Israel has declared Hamas a terrorist organization with whom there will be no dealings whatsoever, Netanyahu can now put an end to any talk about peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. What, peace with a Palestinian government that includes terrorists? Never! End of discussion.
Two bravos, but such a difference.
THE ISRAELI debate about Arab unity goes back a long way. It already started in the early fifties, when the idea of pan-Arab unity raised its head. Gamal Abd-al-Nasser hoisted this banner in Egypt, and the pan-Arab Baath movement became a force in several countries (long before it degenerated into local Mafias in Iraq and Syria).
Nahum Goldman, President of the World Zionist Organization, argued that pan-Arab unity was good for Israel. He believed that peace was necessary for the existence of Israel, and that it would take all the Arab countries together to have the courage to make it.
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Prime Minister, thought that peace was bad for Israel, at least until Zionism had achieved all its (publicly undefined) goals. In a state of war, unity among Arabs was a danger that had to be prevented at all costs."
"Netanyahu and his band of peace saboteurs want to prevent Palestinian unity at all costs. They do not want peace, because peace would prevent Israel from achieving the Zionist goals, as they conceive them: a Jewish state in all of historical Palestine, from the sea to the Jordan River (at least). The conflict is going to last for a long, long time to come, and the more divided the enemy, the better.
"As a matter of fact, the very emergence of Hamas was influenced by this calculation. The Israeli occupation authorities deliberately encouraged the Islamic movement, which later became Hamas, as a counterweight to the secular nationalist Fatah, which was then conceived as the main enemy.
"Later, the Israeli government deliberately fostered the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by violating the Oslo agreement and refusing to open the four “safe passages” between the two territories provided for in the agreement. Not one was open for a single day. The geographical separation brought about the political one.
"When Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, surprising everybody including itself, the Israeli government declared that it would have no dealings with any Palestinian government in which Hamas was represented. It ordered – there is no other word - the US and EU governments to follow suit. Thus the Palestinian Unity Government was brought down.
"The next step was an Israeli-American effort to install a strongman of their choosing as dictator of the Gaza Strip, the bulwark of Hamas. The chosen hero was Muhammad Dahlan, a local chieftain. It was not a very good choice – the Israeli security chief recently disclosed that Dahlan had collapsed sobbing into his arms. After a short battle, Hamas took direct control of the Gaza Strip.
"The Palestinian people, with all the odds against them, can hardly afford such a disaster. The split has generated intense mutual hatred between comrades who spent time in Israeli prison together. Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority – with some justification – of cooperating with the Israeli government against them, urging the Israelis and the Egyptians to tighten the brutal blockade against the Gaza Strip, even preventing a deal for the release of the Israeli prisoner-of-war, Gilad Shalit, in order to block the release of Hamas activists and their return to the West Bank. Many Hamas activists suffer in Palestinian prisons, and the lot of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip is no more joyous.
"Yet both Fatah and Hamas are minorities in Palestine. The great mass of the Palestinian people desperately want unity and a joint struggle to end the occupation. If the final reconciliation agreement is signed by Mahmoud Abbas and Khalid Meshaal, Palestinians everywhere will be jubilant".
Avnery observes that Netanyahu may feel relieved. "He has been invited by the new Republican masters to address the US Congress next month and had nothing to say. Nor had he anything to offer the UN, which is about to recognize the State of Palestine this coming September. Now he has: peace is impossible, all Palestinians are terrorists who want to throw us into the sea. Ergo: no peace, no negotiations, no nothing".
But Avnery says this short-sightedness is stupid.
"IF ONE really wants peace, the message should of course be quite different".
Having ignored Obama's plea to curb settlements, and now benefiting by bigger than ever US military aid, Netanyahu may feel confident that he does not need peace, and does not even need to pretend that he wants peace - so long as America is happy, why worry about what the Palestinians or other Arabs think?
(on US military funding - a record estimated $3 billion - see Arming Israel on http://electronicintifada.net/)
But while Netanyahu may only be happy that he does not come under fire from Congress, or from his crazy far-right allies in the Knesset, some of those Israelis who do come under fire on the Gaza border have recently spoken with a different voice. (Voices from Sderot that deserve to be heard - http://randompottins.blogspot.com/search?q=Sderot)
So have some of those Israeli military and security professionals whose job it is to try and understand what is happening in the Arab world, and to anticipate possible changes from Israel's allies".
The Fatah-Hamas agreement is only a first result, like a piece of paper blown on a wind that has not finished blowing. Avnery is optimistic:
"What made both sides more flexible? Both have lost their patrons – Fatah its Egyptian protector, Hosny Mubarak, and Hamas its Syrian protector, Bashar al-Assad, who cannot be relied upon anymore. That has brought both sides to face reality: Palestinians stand alone, so they had better unite.
"For peace-oriented Israelis, it will be a great relief to deal with a united Palestinian people and with a united Palestinian territory. Israel can do a lot to help this along: open at long last an exterritorial free passage between the West Bank and Gaza, put an end to the stupid and cruel blockade of the Gaza Strip (which has become even more idiotic with the elimination of the Egyptian collaborator), let the Gazans open their port, airport and borders. Israel must accept the fact that religious elements are now a part of the political scene all over the Arab world. They will become institutionalized and, probably, far more “moderate”. That is part of the new reality in the Arab world.
"The emergence of Palestinian unity should be welcomed by Israel, as well as by the European nations and the United States. They should get ready to recognize the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders. They should encourage the holding of free and democratic Palestinian elections and accept their results, whatever they may be.
The wind of the Arab Spring is blowing in Palestine too. Bravo!"
To which we can add that the Palestinian people, while welcoming the agreement, and wanting to see meaningful negotiations, are not depending on either, or on a declaration of statehood. Something new is awakening. Friends should neither ignore it nor let superficial symptoms detract us from strengthening our own efforts.