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As Palestinian divisions deepen, Arab actors seek two-state alternative

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is worried that ‘regional peace’ would prompt normalization between Arab states and Israel, while sidelining the two-state solution. Yet increasingly, Palestinian and Arab actors are pursuing a number of alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By Ella Aphek

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for the new unity government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for the new unity government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

During Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last visit to Washington, President Trump introduced a new formula for peace: “One state or two states, whatever both sides like.” Since then, Arab and Palestinian media coverage has acknowledged that not only Israeli policy, but also the failures of Palestinian leadership and ongoing conflicts between Fatah and Hamas, are to blame for the failure to realize peace. Moreover, a number of Arab and Palestinian journalists argue that the two-state solution doesn’t reflect the reality or public opinion of Palestinians.

The Egyptian intellectual Mustafa El-Fiki (a former establishment official) carefully articulates this shift in an article in the widely-read Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, arguing that the split in opinion among Palestinians is no longer between various factions, but within each faction itself, focusing in particular on the Fatah movement. El-Fiki hints that in light of the tough situation in the Arab world, the ambiguous policy of the Trump administration, and Abbas’s lack of charisma, the Palestinian president should align with former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who enjoys Arab, Western, and Israeli support.

El-Fiki’s colleague, Wahid Abd El-Magid, also a former member of the Egyptian establishment, made similar claims in an article in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. The two were joined by Palestinian poet and journalist Rassem al-Madhoun, and the Lebanese journalist Ahmad Jabar, who lamented the limited influence of the Left in Palestinian society in comparison to Iran, the latter of which has been successful in strengthening jihadist forces in Palestine.

Over the last few years, the Egyptian government has been fighting terrorist organizations in Sinai. Among other things, Egypt is seeking to sever the connection between these organizations and extremist elements in Gaza, while simultaneously moderating religious discourse amongst Gazan youth, and training youth with potential to take the reins of leadership in the future.

For the last four years, Egypt has hosted delegations of Gazan youth at the al-Ein al-Sukhna resort. One of these meetings was held at the beginning of the month, with lawyers, journalists, educators and other young professionals from Gaza invited to attend. The session was titled: “Renewing Religious Discourse in Service of the Palestinian Problem.”

Senior Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk attends a national meeting between his movement and the Islamic Jihad movement in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 7, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Senior Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk attends a national meeting between his movement and the Islamic Jihad movement in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 7, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Well-known educators from Al-Azhar and secular intellectuals facilitated the workshop, bolstering the message of reconciliation and co-existence. Experts from Al-Azhar presented the issue from the angle of Islamic law, while others insisted on the need to obtain the support and trust of the international community. Observing the interactions between the Egyptian hosts and their Gazan visitors, it was evident that the Egyptians were far more optimistic about the Gazan political climate than about that in Ramallah, where the leadership is paralyzed by internal conflicts.

The political dynamics in Gaza are also reflected in the recent ‘bomb’ dropped by Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau and Hamas’s representative in the reconciliation talks with Fatah, which occasionally take place in Egypt. Last December, Marzouk proposed a federation between Gaza and the West Bank. Fearing that Hamas was abandoning the idea of forming a Palestinian state, Fatah’s leadership accused Marzouk of encouraging Israeli Minister Ayoub Kara to call for the establishment of a “Greater Gazan State,” one which would include northern Sinai.

The Palestinian Authority is extremely concerned with this suggestion, and Egypt’s strong disapproval has failed to reassure the PA leadership. Journalists close to Fatah also claim that Gulf States — such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which is preparing to open an embassy in Gaza — support the idea.

It’s no coincidence that the book “Manufacturing Palestinian Division,” by former Palestinian Minister of Culture Ibrahim Abrash, is experiencing a resurgence in the public and intellectual eye three years after its publication. In the book, Abrash claims that the nine-year division in Palestinian society created by Hamas’s takeover of Gaza has undone decades of political, social, and economic progress. The takeover led to the intensification of the siege on Gaza, and has weakened both political and armed struggles. It was, according to Abrash, a second Nakba, which “destroyed the dream and hope.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spends most of his energy these days defending Palestinian interests ahead of the Arab summit scheduled for the end of the month. He greatly fears that “regional peace” will only encourage normalization between Israel and Arab states, while sidelining the two-state solution. Yet all this occurs at a moment in which internal divisions in Palestine are deepening, and whispers of alternative solutions are growing ever louder.

Ella Aphek is a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking. She retired from the Foreign Ministry after 42 years researching the Middle East and served in Cairo, Paris, Ankara, and Brussels. This article was first published in Hebrew by The Forum for Regional Thinking.

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    1. Mark

      “whispers of alternative solutions are growing ever louder”

      I can’t hear them, nor do I particularly want to. It is the leadership negotiate with Israel that need to hear them.

      Cui bono? Palestinian leadership who apparently don’t care a jot for the Palestinian people. So long as they refuse to lead the occupation drags on and on and on.

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