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Saturday, May 7, 2011
In Praise Of Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation
Stuart Reigeluth writes: Supporting the new Palestinian government would set a precedent for co-existence across the Middle East This commentary was published in The Gulf Times on 07/05/2011
Image Credit: Reuters
Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas during a rally in Gaza City on Wednesday.
This is it for Palestine. The next months will determine if Palestine joins the family of modern nation-states or remains an amputated and neglected by-product of European colonialism. This is the month for US President Barack Obama to endorse Palestine by supporting the Fatah-Hamas national unity government.
Unlike anywhere else in the Arab-Muslim world, opposing national political movements hammered out an agreement that would effectually create a power-sharing formula for the benefit of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank — and eventually in Occupied Jerusalem.
This should not be seen as a great victory for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) — as most foreign observers would conclude — but rather as a necessity amongst the rival Palestinian factions that have been pitted against each other for years.
The inter-Palestinian rivalry has proven detrimental for the Palestinian people who have suffered the long occupation in the West Bank and medieval seclusion in the Gaza Strip, while also playing into the divide-and-rule game imposed by the Israelis — and the US.
Establishing a national coalition agenda that western-influenced or religious-oriented parties agree upon is simply the biggest paradox in the Middle East: subjected to military occupation and without a sovereign state to speak of, the Palestinians are at the avant-garde of Arab nation-building.
This has happened before. In February 2007, Saudi Arabia hosted and promoted the Makkah Accord between Fatah and Hamas. However, the national unity government was short-lived. As usual, other foreign power played a role in scuttling the agreement.
The US was training pro-Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas outside of Amman and sent them back to the West Bank to prepare their take-over of the Gaza Strip. This all happened with the complicity of Israel that permitted the Palestinian forces to deploy. Fatah's Mohammad Dahlan helped orchestrate the failed deployment to the Gaza borders. Hamas responded by repelling the advancing Presidential Guards but also by annulling any dissent from Fatah forces within the Strip in June 2007. Hamas was brutal.
Fatah learned its lesson and has been quite ever since in Gaza. In the West Bank, however, Fatah has been actively assisted by Israel in detaining Hamas officials and supporters in their homes and streets, but this almost seems normal now in the pathetic state of affairs in Palestine. The Europeans were not helpful in suspending their civilian border management mission at the Rafah border in response to the Hamas ‘take-over'. Since June 2007, the Egyptian side was only forced open with the exploding of the Israeli-built wall in January 2008.
The Egyptians play a pivotal role in the inter-Palestinian negotiations. The conniving former Egypt spy chief Omar Sulaiman was instrumental in helping to reach different agreements in the past and Egypt is now moving to open its Sinai border with Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood connection is clear and present.
The Fatah-Hamas accord is about who controls the internal Palestinian security apparatus. If the Palestinians can present a moderate Fatah front to Israel and the United States, then the accord will take effect. An EU presence is no longer necessary; Egyptian participation is crucial.
Opening its borders with Gaza will demonstrate that the movement of people and goods can occur without endorsing an Islamist agenda. Cairo can show that bilateral and transnational relations can go into effect in a positive and non-belligerent manner. Eventually Israel will have to do the same. Hamas has not come this far simply to release full control of Gaza. Hamas will share Gaza, but Hamas will control the streets and security system. Fatah knows this and is willing to deploy its western-trained police forces to patrol the borders of Gaza. They will buffer Israel and Hamas.
For Hamas, this buffer can last for as long as the parties like. Hamas has time on its side. With the changing tides in the Middle East, the Islamist penchant will become only more pronounced and parties prone to endorse western initiatives will become less relevant.
Regional dynamics are changing so quickly that the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) for the Middle East Peace Process will become meaningless — unless Obama can make a historical pronouncement this month to encourage Netanyahu to recognise a Palestinian state.
Obama can say that the US will endorse Palestinian independence within the 1967 borders led by a national coalition government comprising of Fatah and Hamas without harming Israel's security — Fatah can negotiate with Israel as usual and coordinate security with Hamas. Obama's words to Netanyahu should be in praise of Palestinian reconciliation. Supporting the Fatah-Hamas government would set a precedent for coexistence across the Middle East. This is good for Israel too and good for peace.
Stuart Reigeluth is managing editor of REVOLVE magazine.