Responding to popular pressure from Palestinian civil society, including a growing youth movement, the two main rival Palestinian factions, Fateh and Hamas, have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal after years of failed attempts at ending their divisions. Although details of the agreement have yet to be made public, it reportedly calls for an interim unity government and elections within a year. Join us as we examine the significance of this development, and the ramifications it might have on the overall political situation just a month before Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress.
Ali Abunimah is an analyst & media commentator, as well as the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
Lina Al-Sharif lives in Gaza where she is a senior English Literature student at the Islamic University in Gaza as well as an active blogger and writer.
Fadi Quran lives in the West Bank and is a coordinator within various youth movements as well as the founder of an alternative energy startup. A graduate of Standford University, Quran is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
Yousef Munayyer (Guest Moderator) is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center in Washington D.C.
Unity is an illusion unless it is representative of the call of Palestinian civil society themselves, as Ali says, for the end of occupation and apartheid, for equal rights for Palestinians in Israel and recognition of right of Palestinians to return to their lands. The unity the unelected ‘leaders’ can offer is worthless if it isn’t steadfast to the people’s vision.
The agreement signed last night between Fatah and Hamas does not represent unity. The reconciliation agreement represents a move to appease growing popular movements on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank which are demanding real unity, one that might not even involve the PA and Hamas, in order to combat Israeli occupation.
The drive for recognition is led by Salam Fayyad, the appointed Prime Minister of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA). It is based on the decision made during the 1970s by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to adopt the more flexible program of a “two-state solution.” This program maintains that the Palestinian question, the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, can be resolved with the establishment of an “independent state” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In this program Palestinian refugees would return to the state of “Palestine” but not to their homes in Israel, which defines itself as “the state of Jews.” Yet “independence” does not deal with this issue, neither does it heed calls made by the 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel to transform the struggle into an anti-apartheid movement since they are treated as third-class citizens.
Khaleda Jarrar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Al Jazeera that the latest development represented an opportunity for Palestinians.
“I think it is a good opportunity for reconciliation, especially with the Arab revolutions around and the Palestinian youth movement which has started to pressure both Fatah and Hamas to really put an end to the divisions.
“This time we hope that it will be a real reconciliation, it will work because of the changes [in the region] and the internal pressure from the Palestinian people,” she said.
But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, stressed he would retain control over foreign policy.
He added that he remained ready to talk peace with Netanyahu if Israel halted its settlement construction on occupied lands and said the caretaker government would not include Hamas activists.
“The people will be independents, technocrats, not affiliated with any factions,” Abbas told a group of Israeli businessmen and retired security chiefs.
He said the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which he heads and to which Hamas does not belong, would still be responsible for “handling politics, negotiations”.
“Dislike, agree or disagree (with Hamas) — they’re our people. You, Mr Netanyahu (are) our partner,” Abbas, speaking in English, told his Israeli audience.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted swiftly and furiously to reports of Palestinian reconciliation by reiterating what he had said a month ago: that Abbas could not have peace with both Israel and Hamas.
If Bibi meant this as a threat, it seems an odd one, since he has steadfastly refused all moves toward peace. His tactic has been to ensure that settlement construction continues, thus making it politically impossible for Abbas, in the wake of Obama’s determination to obtain a freeze on settlements, to return to talks and then shedding crocodile tears for the Palestinians “refusal” to come and talk to him.
This tactic has killed a peace process that, after twenty years of settlement expansion and massive tightening of the occupation, was already on life support. So, Bibi essentially gave Abbas a choice between peace with Hamas and no peace at all. Abbas, then, made the only call he could.
“I have met Netanyahu in Washington and in Jerusalem, and it led to nothing,” Abbas said. “All he wants to talk about is security. I understand the Israeli concern, but I won’t have Israeli forces in the Palestinian state. Netanyahu wanted an Israeli army in the West Bank for another forty years. That means the occupation continues.”
Among other Palestinian officials present were former head of security Jibril Rajoub, who was rarely seen together with Abu Mazen in recent years, and former chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who added his own comment to questions from the Israeli media regarding the reconciliation agreement. “This is about peace, but also about democracy,” he said. “We respect the democratic choices of the Israeli people. We ask Israel to respect ours.”
Among those present on the Israeli side were former head of Mossad, Danny Yatom, former Labor Minister Moshe Shahal, buisness tycon Idan Ofer and Adina Bar Shalom daughter of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
“I’m glad I came to Ramallah today,” said Bar Shalom. “I feel that we have a partner.”
If a Palestinian state threatens to undermine Zionism in these ways, it is not surprising that it is not on offer. It is simply implausible to expect it come about through Palestinians negotiating with no bargaining power — because to create a sovereign and legitimate state would require that the Palestinians force Israel to give something which many see not to be in their interest to concede: The abandonment of Zionism. Any concession in this area (of Zionism) inevitably opens a can of worms and the risk of igniting civil war between the various strands of Zionism. It suits Israel better to have a Palestinian “state” without borders, so they can keep negotiating about borders and count on the induced uncertainty to maintain Palestinian and international quiescence.
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