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Fatah-Hamas reconciliation key for Palestinian strategy to end the occupation

The Arab revolutions have been a key reason for the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. This was apparent in the change of tone by both sides following the uprising in Egypt. President Abbas and Prime Minster Fayyad surprised everyone with the their proposals for unity. Abbas offered to visit Gaza to reconcile with Hamas and Fayyad went even further suggesting a joint government without Hamas having to relinquish its control over Gaza. These two offers were considered red lines for Fatah just few months ago.

Hamas has also been following the changes in the Middle East with growing interest and anxiety.  The centers of power are changing and some of their allies in the region are facing internal challenges and uprisings, which they might not survive.

Hamas’ ambition goes beyond ruling an internationally isolated Gaza. They understand their limited ability to govern or to generate economic growth. Hamas learned from watching the Arab revolutions that there is the potential for unrest in Gaza.  The consequence of the siege, in addition to the high level of unemployment, poverty and the continued regular bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military is a recipe for failure. Hamas found itself on the same course tha made Fatah unpopular in 2005. At one point Gazans will ask Hamas’ leaders what are they doing to make a difference. The people will not be satisfied with just blaming Israel. They want to see a difference in their lives and they expect their leaders to have a strategy that would lead them to freedom, dignity and security.

The new Palestinian strategy is the key

Accused  of being a weak president when first taking office, Abbas has recently proved to be a visionary leader.  His decision to outline a Palestinian vision for securing recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders by September is a change from the former approach of waiting for what Israel “benevolently” has to offer. His decision to refuse negotiating with Israel until a settlement freeze is applied won him respect from the Palestinian people.

After two years of patiently waiting on President Obama, Abbas seemed to have lost hope in the great power intervention. The Palestinian leadership decided that they must choose a different avenue if they want to shake the political stalemate. This new path includes the internationalization of the Palestinian case and putting Israel under pressure by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

photo: United States Government Work

Hamas has nothing to disagree with Fatah on this strategy. Its decision to reconcile with Fatah indicates their support of the PLO’s new approach. Hamas has no better ideas to offer the Palestinian people on how to end the occupation. It had to make a choice between the status quo or actively working with Fatah and the other Palestinian factions on creating a Palestinian state.

A unity government will legitimize Hamas especially in the Arab world. In addition this agreement will also promote stability in Gaza and strengthen Hamas against the new established extremist groups that are challenging its governance.

Israeli hypocrisy

When I lecture to Israeli or American Jews, I am asked about the Palestinian division and President Abbas’ inability to lead a unified Palestinian people. This question outlined the Israeli government’s justification for its own inability to reach a deal with the Palestinian Authority. They argue that there is no single viable partner who could deliver peace and security on the Palestinian side.  Now, that President Abbas is unifying the Palestinian people, Israel is demanding that he reinstate division before any negotiations restart.

The Israeli government ignored that Hamas had been giving clear signs of its willingness to accept to the two-state solution. Both Khaled Mashal and Ismail Hanniyeh have spoken publicly about accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 border. Many believe that Hamas was waiting for President Abbas to negotiate an agreement before jumping on board.

Israel itself had been negotiating with Hamas indirectly through a German mediator in an effort for a prisoner exchange.  This raises an important question: Why is it okay to negotiate with Hamas on prisoners but not on other issues?

The Palestinian people celebrate the reconciliation

It might be too early to celebrate the new agreement between Hamas and Fatah considering that some important details are not yet finalized. However signs of celebration are apparent in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab states.  Palestinians are hopeful this agreement will survive despite the fact that Hamas and Fatah have history of reconciliation celebrations that proved to be premature. Both parties understand that the failure of this agreement will cost them a heavy price and potentially an Egyptian-like revolution.

If this agreement does survive and holds water, the Palestinians are changing the rules of the game. They are two steps ahead of Netanyahu and Obama in their strategic planning. The Palestinian strategy has been for too long emotional, filled with reactionary responses to Israeli actions, and consequently unproductive. It is a breath of fresh air for Palestinians to see their leaders making a giant shift in their behavior. The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and the clear strategy for achieving independence is inspiring Palestinians to believe once again in their leaders.

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    1. aristeides

      I have to say that I’m surprised to see Abbas taking this step. I’ve always seen his deep personal animosity towards the Hamas leaders as one of the main obstacles to reconciliation. If this works out, he’ll deserve considerable credit.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Anthony

      I think it’s too soon for optimism, though I would love to see the Palestinians put up a government united in desire for peace and commitment to non-violent means.
      However the signs that Hamas have been putting across to indicate it might consider an agreement with Israel are too subtle – they may not be smart enough to see that only through non-violent protest and a willingness to recognise Israel is the only way the Palestinians will force Israel to dismantle its Occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      Anthony, Palestinians have been engaging in nonviolent protest against the segregation fence for years now, and the Occupation has only reacted more violently. Let’s see Israel be the one to renounce violence.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sylvia

      If you think Hamas will be content with a Palestinian State to the 1967 borders – or any state for that matter that doesn’t include what they call “Palestine” (aka Israel) then you are naive.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Corey Gil-Shuster

      While I am fine with Fatah negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people (including Hamas) because any agreement that ends the violence is better than no agreement with violence however the author and many supporters of peace continue to ignore that for a large portion of the Palestinian people (both in the occupied territories and in the Palestinian diaspora), any negotiated settlement is temporary. The idea being that the balance of power may turn in the future and Palestinians will be able to regain all of historic Palestine under Arab control. For the majority of Palestinians, Israeli or Jewish control of what is today Israel is a temporary foreign colonial experience that (in their view) will end. To me, real change is recognizing that Jews are just as indigenous to this region as Palestinians and understanding that Jewish self-determination is as important as Palestinian self-determination.

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    6. Leonid Levin

      @Sylvia, if you think that the settlers and Likud will be content with a Jewish state to the 1948 or 1967 borders or any state for that matter that doesn’t include what they call “Yehuda & Shomron” (aka Palestine), then you’re naive.

      So what? Your agrument leads people away from the real issue at hand, which is giving the Palestinian people their freedom, dignity and equal rights and equal say in their land. If Palestinians feel respected, can live a good life and can participate equally and fully in the affairs of the state along with the Jews, there will be no popular base for the extremist groups, which will become increasingly marginalized.

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    7. Leonid Levin

      @Corey, you say: “For the majority of Palestinians, Israeli or Jewish control of what is today Israel is a temporary foreign colonial experience that (in their view) will end.” May I ask you: how would you feel if you were them? If this happened to your people, wouldn’t you want it to end? Do you blame them for feeling what they feel? And now you want them to recognize that people coming from as far as Europe, North and South America are as indigenous as they are? It’s absurd. Give the Palestinians equal rights and equal say, give them a right to come back to their towns and villages. Let’s first cure the injustice, and then talk about self-determination.

      To me the REAL CHANGE is recongizing that all the people of the world are indigenous to this planet, and no people has a right to humiliate, harass and rob another people.

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    8. Jorge

      How is it that non-Palestinians speak confidently about palestinians beliefs and stands as if they are spokespeople for them. I bet most of those making the claim have never talked to palestinian

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    9. Ben Israel

      Leonid-You have fallen into the trap so many Jewish “progressives” like those here at 972 have made for themselves. On the one hand, you point out that the Arabs view Jews who made aliyah and built Israel as alien invaders and that we should “understand” that, and then you turn around and say we should give PART of Palestine back to them and “let them return to their villages”, neither of which will solve their problems.
      If you believe that, then why should they ever make peace with Israel? You yourself say Israel’s existence within ANY borders is an injustice as they see it. Abbas himself said that the creation of Israel is the greatest crime ever committed in human history. YOU want “peace”, THEY want “Justice” and that means struggle to the death. You can’t expect them to acquiesce to the “greatest crime in history” (don’t forget that it was a supposed “moderate” that made that statement).
      That is why no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be possible, at least as long as radical, political Islam is viewed as being in the ascendancy as it is now, in the Middle East.

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    10. Leonid Levin

      Ben, thanks for your response. This is my response to you. I don’t turn around, I just say that we should do justice unto the Palestinian people. No, it won’t solve all their problems, so what? Nothing will solve anybody’s problems except themselves. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our part in solving problems.
      “You yourself say Israel’s existence within ANY borders is an injustice as they see it.” This is not what I said. I said that they perceive their treatment, expulsion, harassment as injustice. They want JUSTICE AND PEACE, and I want PEACE AND JUSTICE for ALL. Give them justice and there is no reason for war. In fact, all people in the world want justice and peace. It’s that simple. When they get justice, it’s possible to talk about how Israel can be a beautiful, flourishing, democratic society for ALL people living there. If they get an equal share in governing the state, they’ll take the responsibility for the state and won’t have any interest in destroying it.
      “That is why no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be possible, at least as long as radical, political Islam is viewed as being in the ascendancy as it is now, in the Middle East.” I’m afraid you forget the other part of the equation. One can equally say that no peace will be possible, as long as radical, political Judaism and Jewish nationalism is in ascendance in Israel. Why don’t you talk about that?
      Now I responded to you and expect an honest response from you.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      I agree with one thing you say and disagree with one thing.
      I disagree with your assertion that “all the people in the world want justice and peace”. How do you know that? I suggest, for a start, you read the beginning of Barbara Tuchman’s classic book on the beginning of World War I “The Guns of Augusut”. She quotes at length numerous German thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century who claimed that warfare was man’s natural state, that wars were beneficial and that the Germans were the master race and had the right to rule the world. Note that this was LONG before Hitler and the Nazis came around.
      At the same time the French and British people felt they had a right to conquer and colonize people all over the world and they did so (so did the Spanish, Portuguese, Russians, Dutch and Belgians as well, for that matter).
      Today, there are significant elements within the Muslim world (I am not saying whether they are actually a majority or not, that is not really relevant if they have significant influence as is the case in many countries of the Middle East) that says Islam has the right to dominate the world and that non-Muslims should be subordinate to them. This view automatically rejects any long-term peace with Israel.

      The thing where I agree with you is where you state that no peace is possible “as long as radical political Judaism and Jewish nationalism are in ascendancy in Israel”. I am not sure whether you consider Labor Zionism to be in this list, or just modern religious, pro-settler right-wing Zionism, but both insist on supporting Jewish settlement, immigration and a “Jewish State” with Jewish symbols. True, Labor Zionism claims it will accept a partition of the country, but this still leaves the “Nakba” (which the Zionist Left, not the religious nor secular Right carried out) and the problem of the Israeli Arabs.
      You are positing a moral equivalence between “radical Jewish nationalism” and “radical Islamism” but there is no parallel. There are 20+ Arab states existing in the Middle East and Islam is the state religion of all of them, even of supposedly secular states like Syria. Thus, the existence of a right-wing Zionist Jewish state does not affect the vast bulk of the Arab/Muslim world. However, if the radical Islamists have their way, that is the end of Israel. You must remember that Jews are a very small minority and we have been taught by the world that our culture and sometimes our very lives are on the line and and not going to be guaranteed by the rest of the world. Thus, if some Arabs are going to live in a Jewish state with Jewish symbols, I am not going to lose any sleep over it, as long as they have the right to make a respectable living and the right to run their own religion and culture in an autonomous way.
      In spite of the spirit of Oslo which attempted to negate Jewish nationalism, it is doing fine. Anti-Zionist parties like HADASH do not draw more than 1 or 2 seats from Jewish voters. Avrum Burg is attempting to set up an all-Jewish anti-Zionist party, it has not registered in public opinion polls, so the Arabs are just going to have to get used to the fact that Israel is going to remain a Zionist state. If they can not reconcile themselves to it, there won’t be a peace agreement.

      Reply to Comment
    12. aristeides

      I notice that Ben Israel ignores the issue of justice. Like all Zionists, he is perfectly content to live on a foundation of injustice, on land wronly confiscated from its owners by force. This doesn’t bother him a bit, and that is the fundamental problem. Justice can not exist where the guilty party does not acknowledge its guilt and realize it must atone.

      Israel’s problem is not “the Arabs.” It is the Palestinians, the people who were unjustly shoved aside to make room for Ben Israel. Israel doesn’t owe “the Arabs” anything, but it owes reparations to the Palestinians who have been the objects of 60 years of oppression on behalf of Ben Israel.

      Now if the Palestinians are willing to relinquish their claim on more than half of what should be rightly theirs, Ben Israel is still unwilling to accept their offer and make peace. He still wants it all.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      Aristeide-The Palestinians have repeatedly turned down offers of peace and partition. They brought the Nakba on themselves, Israel has no responsiblity for it whatsoever. “Justice” means Arabs recognizing Jewish rights to self-determination in Eretz Israel. The Palestinians were NOT “unjustly pushed aside”, they lost their land because they initiated a genocidal war of agression against which they fortunately lost. The Palestinians are NOT ‘oppressed’. Israel is prepared to give the Palestinians far more if they will give up terrorism and agree to live in peace with Israel.

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    14. aristeides

      Ben Israel clearly describes how he is the problem, clinging to self-exculpating falsehoods.

      But the most false statement, the one his own words contradict, is the claim that Israel is prepared to “give” the Palestinians anything “if they will give up terrorism and agree to live in peace with Israel.”

      Because Ben Israel denies at the same time that this is possible. According to Ben Israel, “the Arabs” will NEVER “give up terrorism” and “agree to live in peace.” Even when they do. So Israel will conveniently never have to give up anything it has taken. The very last thing he wants is peace.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Leonid Levin

      Ben Israel,

      You’ve raised so many points that I can only hope to answer them all:
      1. About all people of the world wanting justice and peace. How do I know that? Because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t. The spirit of animosity and war in Europe is long gone. Some members of the elites still use war as an instrument to achieve their goals and use propaganda to fool their populations. But to ordinary people, there are no gains to be had out of war. Yet they are the ones who pay heavily in terms of human lives, taxes, moral corruption or bad conscience.
      2. Most Muslims that I’ve met want to get on with their lives and have basically the same hopes and aspirations for their future as we do. True that some fanatics take their religion literally (just as any other fanatics, including Jewish ones), but as I said earlier, if Muslims are treated justly and with respect, if they are allowed opportunities and responsibilities for their own lives, there won’t be any feeding ground for extremism, which it will be marginalized, as it is in the West now. So I think a long-term peace is possible, as it is possible in between Germany, Britain, France and Russia (once sworn enemies), between the British and the Americans, between India and Pakistan, between the Chinese and Japanese, etc.
      3. I don’t mean any particular strand of Zionism. I mean what I said: Jewish fanaticism and nationalism, no matter left or right or in the middle. I am in favor of one secular state with Jews, Palestinians, Russians and others living together, having equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities for the affairs of their communities and their country. In fact, I’m in favor of our planet as one big country, with all the people of the world as its citizens. The notion of a state dominated by a single ethnic or religious group is becoming increasingly outdated and will probably vanish as the people of the world grow increasingly secularized and intermarry. But that’s a bit too far in the future.
      4. I’m afraid you’re not talking about the moral equivalence of Jewish and Islamic extremism, but about quantitative equivalence. Morally, both are equally reprehensible, just as Christian or Hindu fanaticism. If the radical extremists have their way, it’s not only the end of Israel, but the end of Christianity, Islam and the rest of the world. Yes, Jews are a small minority, but so are the Palestinians, the Baltic nations, the Portuguese, the Swiss, the Roma, the Georgians, the Chechens, etc. Lives of many of these people have been put on the line. This doesn’t mean they need to go ahead and occupy the lands that have been assigned to them according to some ancient texts and subjugate the people living on those lands, in order to preserve their culture and their lives.
      5. Yeah, I agree that Jewish nationalism is in ascendancy. You say that Israel is going to remain a Zionist state. My question is: for how much longer? Things change, balances of power shift, empires crash, states disappear. What happened to the Jewish nationalists throughout history? The Maccabees, the Zealots, the Bar Kochbeans? They died and have almost taken with them to the grave all the Jewish people. The consequences of their nationalism were disastrous: the Jewish state was lost for two thousand years, Jewish people killed on a massive scale, sold to slavery, scattered. We survived not because of these heroes, but in spite of them, and thanks to some wise people who chose to devote themselves to study and learning and not to war. So if these heroes are seen as role models for the present-day Israel and if lessons of history are to be taken seriously, the Jewish nationalism may become a recipe for self-destruction.
      6. You say: “Palestinians have repeatedly turned down offers of peace and partition. They brought the Nakba on themselves, Israel has no responsiblity for it whatsoever.” Palestinians were not consulted, but asked to give up great parts of their lands. According to the plan, the Jews were to win land and international recognition, but the Palestinians were only to lose land. If descendants of ancient Canaanites come to you in Israel and say: “You know, according to our book, we are entitled to this land, so we are going to establish our state here with our laws and traditions. You can either stay and submit to us, or move somewhere else.” I’m sure, Ben, you’ll gladly accept their terms.
      7. “Justice” means Arabs recognizing Jewish rights to self-determination in Eretz Israel.” Well, that’s a kind of one-sided justice, which in itself is injustice.
      8. “they lost their land because they initiated a genocidal war of agression” Yes it was a war, abhorrent as any war is, but it was a war against perceived injustice, a war for the lands of their towns and villages. Israel’s response was at least as genocidal and aggressive.
      9. “Israel is prepared to give the Palestinians far more if they will give up terrorism and agree to live in peace with Israel.” Well, the PA has given up terrorism long ago, but I’m not quite sure what they’ve got in exchange. The position of the Israeli negotiators and Tzipi Livni, as revealed in the “Palestinian Papers” indicates quite the opposite: the Israeli side was prepared to give up nothing in return for major concessions.

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    16. Michael W.

      Leonid, (regarding no. 5) have you ever heard of the Jerusalem syndrome?
      When it comes to Israel, everyone is a prophet, both left and right.

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    17. Leonid Levin

      @Michael W.: I’m not quite sure what you mean. Will you elaborate?

      Reply to Comment