Saturday, May 14, 2011

Palestinians Drop America-Israel, For Now

By Rami G. Khouri
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 13/05/2011 

Much of the American-Israeli reaction to the reconciliation agreement the leading Palestinian movements Fateh and Hamas signed last week has focused on what this means for the peace process with Israel.

Not surprisingly, much of this same American-Israeli reaction to Palestinian issues once again misses the point. This is mainly because there is no peace process with Israel, and Palestinian leaders are signalling that they have essentially stopped playing the game of Middle East diplomacy according to the American-Israeli rules and, instead, wish to focus on the internal development and national unity needs of the Palestinian people they serve.

Whether or not the reconciliation impacts positively or negatively on the diplomatic front with Israel will be determined in about 18 months from now, after the year-long Palestinian interim technocratic government paves the way for new elections in the occupied territories and a newly elected and relegitimised Palestinian Authority leadership takes office. Equally significantly, the coming year will see moves to reactivate and also relegitimise the organs of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which will allow the reemergence of a coherent, integrated and credible voice that speaks for all Palestinians around the world.

A unified Palestinian national leadership with robust democratic pluralism will chart out a diplomatic position that will reflect nothing new because the existing common ground among the Palestinians is already manifested in both internal Palestinian documents and in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that remains on the table. This position demands full Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967 (with agreed land swaps), establishing a sovereign Palestinian state in those areas, resolving the refugee issue on the basis of agreed options for refugees anchored in existing international law and UN resolutions, and normal, peaceful bilateral relations in all spheres.

This is what the Palestinians will reaffirm yet again - but this is not what the Cairo-brokered reconciliation agreement is all about.

Those fuzzy-headed analysts and commentators in the United States and Israel who merely parrot Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s instant reaction to the reconciliation should really make an effort to be more mature and factual in their analysis. They are making the same mistake that America-Israel have made for decades: dealing with the Palestinians solely through the lens of Israeli security concerns and American domestic political fears of the pro-Israeli zealots in Washington who will end the careers of American politicians who stray far from the prevalent Zionist worldview.

Thus, almost every American-Israeli reaction to the accord has included a demand that Hamas recognise Israel and renounce violence before anyone in the political world can take another breath or step. If there is a world prize for “missing the point”, it should be awarded to every politicians, analyst and commentator who makes such demands.

Netanyahu said just hours after the accord was announced that “the Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas” and he actually pinpointed a critical aspect of this reconciliation. The Palestinians have chosen peace within Palestine as their current national priority, because peace with Israel seems impossible now, for two reasons: Israel refuses to address seriously the core Palestinian demand of redressing Palestinian refugeehood (which is the heart of the conflict for Palestinians), and the United States continues to mediate in a manner that favours Israeli over Palestinian strategic concerns.

The Palestinians, consequently, have essentially given up for now - though not forever - on Israel as a negotiating partner and the United States as a credible mediator. If you are not convinced, consider this evidence: the four principal Palestinian dynamics of recent years have all represented a drift away from American-mediated diplomatic negotiations with the Israelis, and instead have affirmed a new strategy that seeks a different route to national rights and statehood one day.

The four are the Fateh- and Salam Fayyad-driven two-year plan to develop the foundational institutions for a West Bank-anchored Palestinian state by this autumn; Hamas’ strategy of promoting the development of Gaza while forcing a long-term truce with Israel; the Fateh-driven strategy of going to the UN General Assembly this September to ask for formal international recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state; and, the Hamas-Fateh reconciliation that seeks to reconstitute a single national leadership, political strategy and state-building process.

I am not sure what more the Israelis and Americans need in terms of evidence that the Palestinians have given up on America-Israel as a meaningful political interlocutor for the moment and are forging ahead in other directions - until conditions are more promising for diplomatic progress. Such conditions include truly impartial American mediation, a more sincere and flexible Israeli leadership, and a united Palestinian people and nation that can bolster its leadership in any future negotiations.

For now, though, only naïve dreamers, delusional fools and political miscreants would react to the Hamas-Fateh reconciliation by asking what it means for peace with Israel or demanding that Hamas recognise Israel before anything else happens.

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