April 7, 2008
22 March 2008
The insanity of the bitter and bloody inter-Palestinian rivalry remains unresolved despite the best efforts of the Yemeni government who has just sought to bring Hamas and Fatah together for talks in Sanaa.
The entire Arab world is urging the Palestinians to heal their divisions, because it is clear that the reward for newly found unity will be the creation of the best chance since 1947 to build an independent Palestinian state. The majority of Palestinians, in both the West Bank and Gaza, longs for peace and freedom from Israeli tyranny. Palestinians have had their fill of violence and poverty. They want their hole-in-the-wall, hand-to-mouth existences to end.
Both Hamas and Fatah say this is their goal. It is, however, the sole point of agreement. Hamas still believes that it can be victorious by confronting Israel and bargaining from a position of strength. The Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas is convinced that only negotiations that will inevitably include some compromises will bring an end to the agony. The Hamas seizure of Gaza gave physical form to these policy divisions. It also effectively stymied the path of negotiation because in reality the Palestinian Authority can no longer speak for part of Palestine. And since Washington led the proscription of Hamas, even after it had won free and fair elections, Hamas is excluded from talks. The exasperation felt in both Ramallah and Gaza is understandable. What is incomprehensible is the willful refusal to recognize that without unity Israel holds all the cards. It can continue to build illegal settlements. It can continue to treat Gaza as a murderous shooting gallery. It can continue to avoid being forced to give up territory and make any concessions at all.
The Palestinians need to overcome what looks like an historic talent for division. In the 1930s, rivalry between the important Al-Husseini and Nashashibi families was repeatedly exploited by Zionists who were busy organizing waves of Eastern European immigrants, with or without the permission of the British mandate authorities. Before and after its creation, Israel’s leaders stuck firmly to the old Roman policy of divide and conquer. And with an adroit mix of flattery, bribery, coercion, violence and deceit, they have managed to keep Palestinians from uniting in their common interest. They are doing so still. Every rocket Hamas fires into Israel is a blessing for Zionist policy. Every time Hamas and Fatah fail to agree on anything, the Israelis smile.
Indeed the current Palestinian disunity is so convenient for Israel that some might suspect that somewhere in Hamas there is an Israeli agent provocateur egging on his unsuspecting colleagues to ever greater enormities. Repellent though this idea is, in some ways it would be more digestible than the two other alternative explanations. The first is that Hamas, encouraged by outsiders, really is blind to the genuine opportunity for peace. The second is that they simply do not care but are wedded to violence, blinded by the anger born of 61 years of Israeli oppression.