Category Archives: Fatah

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

Eclipsing Factionalism: The Missing Story from the Gaza Protests

The Gaza border protests must be understood in the context of the Israeli Occupation, the siege and the long-delayed ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees. However, they should also be appreciated in a parallel context: Palestine’s own factionalism and infighting.

Factionalism in Palestinian society is a deep-rooted ailment that has, for decades, thwarted any unified effort at ending the Israeli military Occupation and Apartheid.

The Fatah and Hamas political rivalry has been catastrophic, for it takes place at a time that the Israel colonial project and land theft in the West Bank are occurring at an accelerated rate.

In Gaza, the siege continues to be as suffocating and deadly. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with regional neglect and a prolonged feud between factions have all served to drive Gazans to the brink of starvation and political despair.

The mass protests in Gaza, which began on March 30 and are expected to end on May 15 are the people’s response to this despondent reality. It is not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The protests are also about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

Inexcusable actions become tolerable with the passing of time. So has been the case with Israel’s Occupation that, year after year, swallows up more Palestinian land. Today, the Occupation is, more or less, the status quo.

The Palestinian leadership suffers the same imprisonment as its people, and geographic and ideological differences have compromised the integrity of Fatah as much as Hamas, deeming them irrelevant at home and on the world stage.

But never before has this internal division been weaponized so effectively so as to delegitimize an entire people’s claim for basic human rights. ‘The Palestinians are divided, so they must stay imprisoned.’

The strong bond between US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is being accompanied by a political discourse that has no sympathy for Palestinians whatsoever. According to this narrative, even families protesting peacefully at the Gaza the border is termed as a ‘state of war’, as the Israeli army declared in a recent statement.

Commenting on the Israeli killing of scores and wounding of hundreds in Gaza, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, repeated a familiar mantra while on a visit to the region: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Thus, Palestinians are now trapped – West Bankers are under Occupation, surrounded by walls, checkpoints and Jewish settlements, while Gazans are under a hermetic siege that has lasted a decade. Yet, despite this painful reality, Fatah and Hamas seem to have their focus and priorities elsewhere.

Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah dominated Palestinian politics, marginalized its rivals and cracked down on any opposition. While it operated under the Israeli military Occupation in the West Bank, it still thrived financially as billions of dollars of aid money poured in.

More, the PA has used its financial leverage to maintain its control over Palestinians, thus compounding the oppressive Israeli Occupation and various forms of military control.

Since then, money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. ‘Donors’ money’, billions of dollars received by the PA in Ramallah has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive financial racket with many benefactors and beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment today is skyrocketing.

Throughout his conflict with Hamas, Abbas never hesitated to collectively punish Palestinians to score political points. Starting last year, he took a series of punitive financial measures against Gaza, including the suspicious PA payments to Israel for electricity supplies to Gaza, while cutting off salaries to tens of thousands of Gaza’s employees who had continued to receive their paycheck from the West Bank authority.

This tragic political theater has been taking place for over ten years without the parties finding common ground to move beyond their scuffles.

Various attempts at reconciliations were thwarted, if not by the parties themselves, then by external factors. The last of such agreements was signed in Cairo last October. Although initially promising, the agreement soon faltered.

Last March, an apparent assassination attempt to kill PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, had both parties accuse one another of responsibility. Hamas contends that the culprits are PA agents, bent on destroying the unity deal, while Abbas readily accused Hamas of trying to kill the head of his government.

Hamas is desperate for a lifeline to end the siege on Gaza and killing Hamdallah would have been political suicide. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure stands in ruins, thanks to successive Israeli wars that killed thousands. The tight siege is making it impossible for Gaza to be rebuilt, or for the ailing infrastructure to be repaired.

Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians protested at the Gaza border, both Fatah and Hamas offered their own narratives, trying to use the protests to underscore, or hype, their own popularity amongst Palestinians.

Frustrated by the attention the protests have provided Hamas, Fatah attempted to hold counter rallies in support of Abbas throughout the West Bank. The outcome was predictably embarrassing as only small crowds of Fatah loyalists gathered.

Later, Abbas chaired a meeting of the defunct Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah to tout his supposed achievements in the Palestinian national struggle.

The PNC is considered the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the PLO, it has been relegated for many years in favor of the Fatah-dominated PA. The PA leader handpicked new members to join the PNC, only to ensure the future of all political institutions conforms to his will.

In the backdrop of such dismaying reality, thousands more continue to flock to the Gaza border.

Palestinians, disenchanted with factional division, are laboring to create a new political space, independent from the whims of factions; because, for them, the real fight is that against Israeli Occupation, for Palestinian freedom and nothing else.

Why Israel Feels Threatened by Popular Resistance in Palestine

Why did Israel kill many unarmed Gaza protesters and wound over 2,000 on Friday, March 30 and on the following days, when they clearly posed no threat to Israeli soldiers?

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers, many of them snipers, were deployed to the deadly buffer zone that the Israeli army has created between besieged Gaza and Israel, as tens of thousands of Palestinian families held mass rallies at the border.

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” tweeted the Israeli army on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

The tweet, which was captured by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, was soon deleted. The Israeli army must have realized that killing children and bragging about it on social media is too cruel, even for them.

Palestinian popular mobilization deeply concerns Israel, partly because it is a PR nightmare. By killing and wounding this number of Palestinians, Israel had hoped that the masses would retreat, the protests would subside and, eventually, end. This was not the case, of course.

But there is more to Israeli fear. The power of the Palestinian people, when united beyond factional allegiances, is immense. It disrupts Israel’s political and military tactics entirely, and places Tel Aviv wholly on the defensive.

Israel killed those Palestinians precisely to avoid this nightmarish scenario. Since the cold-blooded murder of innocent people did not go unnoticed, it is important that we dig deeper into the social and political context that led tens of thousands of Palestinians to camp and rally at the border.

Gaza is being suffocated. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with Arab neglect and a prolonged feud between Palestinian factions, have all served to drive Palestinians to the brink of starvation and political despair. Something has to give.

Last week’s act of mass mobilization was not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees (as enshrined in international law), nor about commemorating Land Day, an event that has united all Palestinians since the bloody protests of 1976. The protest was about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

There are many historical similarities between this act of mobilization and the context that preceded the First Intifada (or ‘uprising’) of 1987. At the time, Arab governments in the region had relegated the Palestinian cause to the status of ‘someone else’s problem’. By the end of 1982, having already been exiled to Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) along with thousands of Palestinian fighters, were pushed even further away to Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. This geographic isolation left the traditional leadership of Palestine irrelevant to what was happening on the ground.

In that moment of utter hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987, people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets, in a largely non-violent mobilization that lasted over six years, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.

Today, the Palestinian leadership is in a similar state of increasing irrelevance. Isolated, again, by geography (Fatah holding the West Bank, Hamas Gaza), but also by ideological division.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is rapidly losing its credibility among Palestinians, thanks to long-standing accusations of corruption, with calls for the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign (his mandate having technically expired in 2009). Last December, US President Donald Trump compounded the isolation of the PA, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance of international law and UN consensus. Many see this act as the precursor designed to further marginalize the PA.

Hamas – originally a grassroots movement born out of the refugee camps in Gaza during the First Intifada – is now similarly weakened by political isolation.

Recently, there seemed to be a ray of hope. After several failed initiatives towards reconciliation with Fatah, a deal was signed between both rival parties in Cairo last October.

Alas, like previous attempts, it began to falter almost immediately. The first hurdle came on March 13, when the convoy of PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. Hamdallah was en-route to Gaza through an Israeli border crossing. The PA quickly blamed Hamas for the attack which the latter vehemently denied. Palestinian politics went back to square one.

But then, last week happened. As thousands of Palestinians walked peacefully into the deadly ‘buffer zone’ along the Gaza border into the sights of Israeli snipers, their intention was clear: to be seen by the world as ordinary citizens, to show themselves as ordinary human beings, people who, until now, have been made invisible behind the politicians.

Gazans pitched tents, socialized and waved Palestinian flags – not the banners of the various factions. Families gathered, children played, even circus clowns entertained. It was a rare moment of unity.

The Israeli army’s response, using the latest technology in exploding bullets, was predictable. By shooting dead 15 unarmed protesters and wounding 773 people on the first day alone, the aim was to discipline the Palestinians.

Condemnations of this massacre flooded in from respected figures around the world, like Pope Francis and Human Rights Watch.  This glimmer of attention may have provided Palestinians with an opportunity to elevate the injustice of the siege up the global political agenda, but is, sadly, of little consolation to the families of the dead.

Aware of the international spotlight, Fatah immediately took credit for this spontaneous act of popular resistance. Deputy Chairman, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, said that the protesters mobilized to support the PA “in the face of pressure and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” undoubtedly referring to Trump’s strategy of isolation towards the Fatah-dominated PA.

But this is not the reality. This is about the people finding expression outside the confines of factional interests; a new strategy. This time, the world must listen.

The Last “Peace Process” Warrior: Abbas Hanging by a Thread

The ‘deal of the century’ is a farce. We suspected that, of course, but, upon his return from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, revealed in more detail why the long-anticipated plan of the administration of US President Donald Trump has no basis in reality.

Netanyahu told his cabinet that there are “no concrete details” to report on the US peace plan. One has to suspect that the ‘plan’ was, all along, the US disavowal of the so-called peace process and the dropping of the ‘honest peace broker’ act.

In fact, that much has been achieved, especially with the US decision last December to accept Israel’s illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem and agreement to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, Israel has initiated a clear strategy to annexing the West Bank. Its top officials are contending that the ‘two-state solution’ is not even deserving of a conversation.

“We are done with that,” said Israel’s Education Minister, in recent remarks to students in New York. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas was, thus, left with the inviable position. It is lashing out left and right, convulsing like a wounded animal.

It is hard to imagine that, at the moment, Abbas is orbiting within a grand strategy of any kind. Random statements, attacks on his Palestinian rivals, the Israelis and the Americans – mostly for betraying him – is all that seems to keep his name in the news.

“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to the Palestinian leader, in response to Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem.

That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardently right wing and pro-Israel US Ambassador to Israel, as “son of a bitch.”

Friedman is an avid supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements, but name calling is not a promising sign of a constructive Palestinian strategy.

Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time and much land, while leaving Abbas with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy.

Abbas is not necessarily angry because the US has betrayed its role in the ‘peace process.’ He is angry because he has, for years, perceived himself as a member in the American camp of ‘moderates’ in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters not. The US government is notorious for betraying its allies.

The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas to play. They renounced him, just like that, and carried on to imagine a ‘solution’ in Palestine that only serves the interests of Israel.

A recent meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis. No Palestinian was involved in the conference.

Since Abbas has hung all his hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. The Europeans neither have the will, desire nor political clout to replace the US. They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible, for any European government to replace the US as the new ‘honest peace broker.’

Abbas’ popularity – and that of his Authority – among Palestinians is negligible. In fact, 70 percent of Palestinians want him to step down immediately. That was according to a poll conducted last December. Yet, at 83 and suffering from ill health, Abbas is still holding on tightly to his chair.

It may appear that, during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to other Palestinian factions. However, the opposite is true. Abbas is accusing his main rival, Hamas, of an assassination attempt targeting PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

After a promising agreement, signed in Cairo between Fatah – Abbas’ party – and Hamas, all hopes have been dashed once more. In a joint conference with visiting Bulgarian President, Rumen Radey, in Ramallah, Abbas proclaimed “The Gaza Strip has been hijacked by Hamas.”

“They must immediately hand over everything, first and foremost security, to the Palestinian national consensus government,” he said.

What ‘national consensus government’ is Abbas referring to, anyway? There have been no general elections since Hamas won the parliamentary majority in 2006. Abbas himself rules on an expired mandate. As of January 9, 2009, Abbas lost his democratic legitimacy.

Oddly, it is the conflict between him and Hamas that is allowing both sides to impose themselves on the Palestinian public – which is left disenchanted, practically leaderless and facing the brunt of Occupation and apartheid on its own.

Instead of mending fences with the Palestinian people, Abbas continues with his political one-man show, encouraged by his enablers in the PA, who are equally responsible for the havoc wreaked by the US and Israeli governments.

Still, the Palestinian leadership (whether in the PA or the PLO) continues with its desperate attempts to resuscitate the ‘peace process’, lonely warriors in a political illusion that has been abandoned even by its own masters.

For Abbas and the PA, participating in the US-led project was the last bridge they wished not to burn. Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy signaled that the last bridge was, indeed, up in flames, but Abbas is yet to be convinced of this obvious reality.

From American and Israeli viewpoints, the ‘peace process’ could be considered a success. It allowed the US to define the political agenda in the Middle East and for Israel to shape the physical reality of the Occupied Territories in any way it found suitable.

The Palestinian leadership has emerged as the biggest loser. It first sat at the ‘negotiation table’ to talk of borders, refugees, water, territories and Jerusalem, only to be left with nothing at the end.

It has lost both credibility and legitimacy. The space in which it was permitted to negotiate withered year after year.

Now, the Palestinian people must reflect on this current harsh reality, but also hope for a new beginning predicated on unity, the re-articulating of national priorities, and a new strategy.

Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?

On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Hamdallah was visiting Gaza, through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a perpetual Israeli siege since 2006.

The Prime Minister’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah – led by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank – and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh, in Gaza.

Although reconciliation efforts have, for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups led to a breakthrough in Cairo last October. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) institutions.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program.

And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.

But who is Rami Hamdallah?

Hamdallah, 60, was chosen by Abbas to serve in the current post in June 2013, despite the fact that he was not a member of Fatah. He took over from Salaam Fayyad who served for six years, focusing mostly on state-building in a region that is still militarily occupied by a foreign power.

Hamdallah, though not a particularity controversial figure, has been a follower of Abbas and committed to his agenda. He is a political moderate by Palestinian standards, and it was through his strong ties with powerful Fatah figures like Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Tawfik Tirawi – who served under late PA leader, Yasser Arafat, and Abbas respectively – that allowed him to claim the post and keep it for nearly five years.

Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”

Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans, and all Palestinians, that respite is on the way.

Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit.

Abbas’ party, too, moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas, 83, has opened up intense rivalry among those who want to succeed the aging leader.

Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who was shunned by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power.

The United States and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the current status quo as long as possible.

Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies, per se, but for what he represents, as the moderate leader capable of achieving a long term understanding with Hamas.

Killing Hamdallah also means ending or, at least, obstructing the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.

Hamas’ main enemy in Gaza are the Salafi Jihadist groups who are unhappy with Hamas’ politics and what they see as a too moderate style of Islamic governance.

Of course, there are those in Fatah, including Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations, but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion.

It would make no sense for Hamas to kill Hamdallah. The group has worked tirelessly to engage the PA, as life in Gaza has become truly unlivable.  Their leadership and reputation has suffered as a result of the failed efforts to end the siege.

Moreover, as Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”

Hamas, in turn, accused the Israel intelligence of the assassination attempt. The group’s spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, claimed that “same hands” that gunned down Mazen Fakha in March 2017 and Tawfiq Abu Naim in October are behind the attempt on Hamdallah’s life. He was referring to Israel, of course.

The timing of the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy was quite interesting as well, as it came barely a few hours after a meeting at the White House regarding Gaza. The meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis.

“The Palestinian Authority, furious over the Trump administration’s actions in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, and cutting aid for Palestinian refugees, refused to attend,” reported the New York Times.

One, however, should not undermine the seriousness of the remaining disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.

Perhaps the main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

But these disagreements are hardly strong enough reason to kill Hamdallah, the last hope for an end to the rift and easing the blockade on Gaza.

Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’”

While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.

Year in Review: Will 2018 Usher in a New Palestinian Strategy?

2017 will be remembered as the year that the so-called ‘peace process’, at least in its American formulation, has ended. And with its demise, a political framework that has served as the foundation for US foreign policy in the Middle East has also collapsed.

The Palestinian leadership and its Arab and international allies will now embark on a new year with the difficult task of drumming up a whole new political formula that does not include the United States.

The Palestinian Authority entered 2017 with the slight hope that the US was in the process of moving away, however slightly, from its hardline pro-Israel attitude. This hope was the result of a decision made by the Barack Obama Administration in December 2016 not to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 that declared the status of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories null and void.

But the new Donald Trump Administration suffocated all optimism as soon as it took over the White House, with a promise to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognizing, in defiance of international law, the Holy City as Israel’s capital.

Mixed messages from President Trump made it unclear whether he would go through with his campaign and early presidency promises, or remain committed to traditional US foreign policy. The appointment of extremist politicians, the likes of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel was juxtaposed with constant references to an ‘ultimate deal’ that would involve Palestinians, Israel and Arab countries.

The American ‘regional peace’, however, amounted to nothing, and Trump eventually fulfilled his promise to Israel and its allies by signing the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.

By doing so, he has ended his country’s once-leading role in the US-espoused ‘peace process’ which advocated a ‘two-state solution’ based on a ‘land for peace formula.’

European countries had anticipated the American retreat from peace-making efforts as early as January 2017, yet it still pushed for the Paris Peace Conference on January 15. The conference brought nearly 70 countries together but, without US support and amid Israel’s rejection, it was merely a platform for rehashed language about peace, co-existence and so on.

Now that Trump has downgraded his country’s role, European powers, especially France, are likely to attempt to salvage peace talks. Such a possibility, however, is likely to prove equally fruitless since the right wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that neither freezing illegal settlements, a shared Jerusalem nor a Palestinian state are on the Israeli agenda. Without the enforcement of international law, Israel will not willingly change its position.

In fact, 2017 has been a year of unbridled Jewish settlement expansion with thousands of new housing units having been built – or are in the process of being completed – while brand new settlements are also in the offing.

Israel’s intransigence and the end of the US peace gambit has renewed interest in the Palestinian struggle, which has been cast aside for years due to regional conflicts and the Syria war. This has resulted in greater support for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Modeled after the South African anti-Apartheid boycott movement, BDS calls for direct action by global civil society to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

However, the rise of BDS has also meant a strong Israeli-US push back to outlaw the Movement and to punish its supporters. Nearly two dozen US states have passed laws to criminalize BDS, while the US Congress is finalizing its own law that makes boycotting Israel an act punishable by a hefty fine and a prison term.

Challenging both the Israeli Occupation and the PA, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories continued with their Intifada, although one that lacked the mass mobilization of previous uprisings.

Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and wounded, including many children, in Israel’s efforts to suffocate any protest against its military rule.

The siege on Gaza also remained in place despite Hamas’ efforts to end it through the rewriting of its constitution and the various overtures towards Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, which dominates the PA government in Ramallah.

A unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah was signed in Cairo in October. It set an election date, and allowed for thousands of PA officials to return to Gaza to man border crossings and populate various ministries and government offices.

The nearly 2 million Palestinians in the besieged Strip, however, are yet to savor the fruit of that unity in their everyday life.

Although the reconciliation agreement was motivated by political expediency for both factions, the need for real unity among Palestinians is more urgent now than ever before, and not only because of Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem.

The Israeli Knesset has passed, or is in the process of passing, various bills that seal the fate of Palestinians, regardless of their geographical location or political affiliation. One is the Jewish Nation-State Bill which defines Israel as the “nation home of the Jewish people” thus rendering millions of indigenous Palestinian Arabs as outcasts in their own homeland.

The “Greater Jerusalem Bill” was only shelved temporarily, despite the fact that it has the support of a majority in the Knesset. The Bill calls for the expansion of Jerusalem’s boundaries to include major illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, thus illegally annexing massive swathes of Palestinian land and reducing the Palestinian population in Jerusalem into an even smaller minority.

The Palestinian leadership must understand that the challenges at hand are far greater than its selfish need for political validation and monetary support. There is an urgent need for the revitalizing of all institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).  The new strategy should place Palestinians first, and must harness the energies of the Palestinian people at home or in ‘shatat’ – diaspora.

2018 promises to be a decisive year for the future of all Palestinians and it will be a difficult one. Not only did the US pull out of the ‘peace process’, it is expected to do its utmost to jeopardize any Palestinian initiative aimed at holding Israel accountable for its 50-year-old illegal military occupation.

If the Palestinian leadership fails to transition itself into a new role, it is likely to find itself in direct confrontation with the Palestinian people, who are ready to move on into a whole new type of struggle; one that is not beholden to the farce of a ‘two-state solution’, which was never truly on the agenda to begin with.

Towards a New Palestinian Beginning

Now that the American mask has completely fallen, Palestinians require an urgent rethink in their own political priorities, alliances and national liberation strategy.

Business should not go on as usual after US President Donald Trump accepted Israel’s definition of Jerusalem as its capital, thus violating the overwhelming international consensus on the matter.

The Fatah movement, which has controlled the Palestinian Authority (PA) since its inception in 1994 has preempted people’s anger over the US move, by declaring a ‘day of rage.’ Several Palestinians were killed and many wounded in clashes throughout the Occupied Territories in what is understandably justified anger over the unwarranted American decision.

But the manipulation of Palestinian emotions by their leadership is contemptable to say the least. The ‘politics of rage’, which has been used by the Palestinian leadership in the past has often worked to deflect popular discontent and criticism.

Sure, Israel and the US deserve all the condemnation for their role in sustaining, funding and defending the military occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. But the Palestinian leadership is deserving of much condemnation as well. Those who have willingly participated in the futile game of the ‘peace process’, dangling the dim prospect of a ‘two-state solution’ before despairing Palestinians should not get off the hook so easily.

Palestinian leaders and an army of officials, politicians, pundits and contractors made billions of dollars from foreign funds to keep the ‘peace process’ charade going for over 25 years, while the general population grew poorer and more despondent than ever.

Those who resisted, outside the acceptable political framework as presented by the Palestinian leadership were harassed, imprisoned and severely punished. This was the case not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. Many journalists, academicians, artists and activists were treated harshly for questioning the PA’s methods throughout the years.

Yet here we stand; the PA is calling on those very Palestinians to rage. Hamas too is calling for a new Intifada. Oddly, Palestinian factions never learned from history. Real, sustainable popular uprisings are never a response to a party’s or a politician’s call. It is a spontaneous, genuine cry for freedom that originates from the masses, not the political elites.

While some Palestinian factions are hoping that the people’s anger directed at the Israeli occupation will create a protective buffer so that they may survive another day, other groups are riding the wave for their own political interests.

But this is not a strategy. Sending bare-chested people to fight armed soldiers only to communicate a media message will neither pressure Israel nor the US. In fact, most American media outlets are centering their debate on ‘Palestinian violence’, as if the violence of the Israeli occupation is a non-issue, and as if the safety of Israelis is the most compelling concern at the moment.

Nor will polite appeals to the US to reconsider its decision and pressure Trump to rescind his embassy move make a difference.

The final statement presented by the Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday was an example of the lackluster language that will prove ineffective.

Calling on Trump to reverse his decision will not, on its own, make an iota of difference. The Palestinians need their Arab brethren to articulate a strong, unified position on the issue, without hesitating to explore new political routes and put real, tangible pressure on the US and Israel to relent.

The Palestinian leadership that has downgraded the Palestinian struggle, and wasted precious years chasing after an American mirage, must be held accountable.

Why are Palestinian leaders still holding so tightly to their chairs considering the amount of damage they have inflicted upon the Palestinian cause?

If the Palestinian leadership had a minimal degree of accountability and self-respect it would issue a heart-felt apology to the people for all the squandered time, energy and blood. It would immediately issue a total overhaul within its ranks, activate all Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) institutions; bring all factions together, under the umbrella of the PLO, to declare a new strategy regarding the increasingly bleak-looking future.

None of this has happened yet. Angry statements and calls for Palestinian mobilization without a common strategy will only feed the interests of the factions, but will, eventually prove of no help to the Palestinian people and their national aspirations.

In truth, ordinary Palestinians need neither Fatah nor Hamas to call for a ‘day of rage’ or a new Intifada. Their hate for the occupation and love for their city of Jerusalem requires no official communications. It is their fight. It has always been their fight, one that they have fought every single day in the last 50 years.

What Trump has done will have terrible consequences on the region for years to come. But one of the early outcomes is that it exposed the peace process as a complete charade and the US role for what it is, neither honest nor fair. But it should also expose the Palestinian leadership, for all of its failings and corruption.

If Palestinians are to start anew, they have to commence their journey with a new political discourse, with new blood, and a new future outlook that is based on unity, credence and competence. None of this can ever take place with the same old faces, the same tired language and the same dead-end politics.

It is time for a new beginning.

What Trump Has Done: The Entire US-Middle East Political Framework Just Collapsed

Now that US President Donald Trump has fully adopted the Israeli right wing political discourse on Palestine, the Palestinian Authority is in a very tough spot.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in Washington on Wednesday. The embattled president has done what many had asked him not to do. But the truth is, US foreign policy has been bankrupt for years. It was never fair, nor did it ever intend to be so.

Trump merely pulled the plug, not only on the so-called peace process, two-state solution, ‘land-for-peace formula’ but also all the other tired clichés that have been long dead and decomposing.

But Trump’s announcement has also laid to rest the illusion that the US was ever keen on achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.

What is left to be said by those who have placed the Palestinian national project of liberation on hold for nearly three decades, waiting for the US to fulfill its self-designated role of an ‘honest peace broker’?

The Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas declared a ‘day of rage’ in response to Trump’s announcement. Way to deflect attention from the real crisis at hand: the fact that the PA has miserably failed by leasing the fate of Palestine to Washington, and, by extension to Israel as well.

Some are arguing that the two-state solution is not a US property to keep or give away, and that Palestinians can continue to advocate what seems to them to be the sane and possible solution.

However, the unpleasant truth is that the ‘two-state solution’ in its current form was itself an American formulation, part of a larger framework that was championed mostly by the US as it pushed Israelis and Palestinians to the ‘negotiation table’ since the Madrid Talks in 1991.

Surely, there will be others who will attempt to continue playing that role, but what difference can Paris and London, for example, make if Tel Aviv and its powerful Washington benefactors have no interest in the subject whatsoever?

Trump’s announcement should not come as a complete surprise, though.

Between the hasty American withdrawal from Iraq, ‘pivot to Asia’, ‘leading from behind’ doctrine throughout the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, and failure to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on freezing the illegal settlements in Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, US policies were growing bankrupt and futile.

This paved the road for a new type of thinking, one that moves away from pandering to Israel, while paying lip service to peace, to wholly embracing the Israeli political discourse and future outlook.

In fact, Trump’s recent announcement from Washington was a tamed version of his statement before the Israel lobby last year.

In March 2016, Republican presidential candidate Trump delivered his famous speech before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Of the many false claims and dangerous promises Trump made, a particular passage stood unique, for it offered early clues to what the future administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine would look like.

“When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise and rises exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States,” he declared.

“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he announced. The mixed cheers and applause were deafening.

Now that Trump is president, he inherited a failed Middle East policy from his predecessor, a policy that Trump finds of no benefit to his administration. What truly matters to the new president is the support of the very constituency that brought him to the White House in the first place. The rightwing, conservative, Christian-evangelical constituency remains the foundation of his troubled presidency.

So, on December 4, Trump picked up the phone and began calling Arab leaders, informing them of his decision to announce a move that has been delayed for many years: relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Arabs fumed, for such a move would surely create further destabilization in a region that has been taken on a destructive course for years. Much of that instability is the outcome of misguided US policies, predicated on unwarranted wars and blind support for Israel.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the last straw in an ailing discourse. The US Middle East political framework of the past is collapsing to the confusion of US allies in the region, and, of course, the pleasure of Israel.

In fact, Trump’s decision constitutes a total US reversal in its approach towards the entire Middle East, considering that Palestine and Israel have been at the center of most of the region’s conflicts.

There are factors that made this embassy move an attractive option for the Trump administration:

The US is currently experiencing unprecedented political instability. Talks of impeaching the president are gaining momentum, while his officials are being paraded before Department of Justice investigators for various accusations, including collusion with foreign powers.

Under these circumstances, there is no decision or issue that Trump can approach without finding himself in a political storm, except one issue, that being Israel.

Being pro-Israel has historically united the US’s two main parties, the Congress, mainstream media and many Americans, lead among them Trump’s political base.

Indeed, when the Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, Trump’s interest in politics was quite haphazard and entirely personal.

The Congress has gone even further. Attempting to twist the arm of the White House, it added a clause, giving the administration till May 1999, to carry out the Congress’s diktats or face a 50 percent cut in the State Departments’ budget allocated to “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad.”

To avoid violating the Congress’ public law, and to maintain a thread, however thin, of credibility, every US president has signed a six-month waiver; a loophole in the law that allowed the White House to postpone the relocation of the embassy.

Fast forward to Trump’s AIPAC speech. His pledge to move the embassy then seemed merely frivolous and opportunistic.

That was the wrong assessment, however. Collusion between the Trump’s team and Israel began even before he walked into the Oval House. They worked together to undermine UN efforts in December 2016 to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s continued illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem.

Chosen to lead the ‘peace’ efforts was Trump’s son-in-law and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s good friend, Jared Kushner. Trump’s dedication to Israel was clearly not fleeting.

Trump has finally decided to shed a mask that every US president has worn for decades. And by doing so, the US will, oddly enough, negate the paradoxical role it carved for itself in the last 50 years – that of “peacemaker”.

Trump’s “Ultimate Deal” Only offers Hard Choices for Abbas

The long wait appears to be coming to an end on Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal”, one supposedly capable of unlocking the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States peace initiative may be unveiled as soon as January, marking the first anniversary of Mr Trump’s arrival in office. Other reports suggest it may be delayed until March. But all seem sure it will be upon us soon.

Neither Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, appear keen to enter another round of fruitless dialogue.

But for good reason, Mr Abbas is far more reticent.

This month, in statements presumably directed at Washington, he insisted he would not agree to a Palestinian state without Gaza, or one restricted to Gaza. He also warned again that, in the absence of a two-state solution, Israel would face demands from Palestinians for equal rights in one state.

That was presumably the context for Mr Abbas being called to Riyadh earlier this month, doubtless after the White House urged Saudi Arabia to use its leverage with the Palestinian leader to bring him onside. According to Palestinian sources cited by Israeli reporter Ben Caspit, Mr Abbas was told in no uncertain terms that he had to respond positively to the coming peace initiative.

Strong-arming Mr Abbas was doubtless also the motive behind US threats at the weekend to shut down what is effectively the Palestinians’ embassy in Washington – unless the Palestinian leader agrees to peace talks.

Outrage from Palestinian officials, who referred to the White House move as “extortion”, was an indication of their mounting exasperation.

Given that Mr Abbas is invested exclusively in diplomacy, his resistance to this round of US-led peacemaking should serve as warning enough of how bad a Trump peace is likely to prove.

At the weekend Israeli media offered the first substantive clues of what might be on offer.

The headline news is not entirely bad – so long as one ignores the small print. Most significantly, if reports are accurate – and Washington and Israel claim they are not – the US is said to be ready to recognise a Palestinian state.

It is a move characterised by the kind of bullishness that is Mr Trump’s trademark and has left Mr Netanyahu anxious. But everything else should reassure him.

The US will apparently agree that no one will be forcibly moved from their home. That may prove the answer to Israel’s prayers. It will finally have US blessing for all its illegal settlements, which have eaten into the bulk of the West Bank, turning it into a patchwork of Palestinian enclaves.

After five decades of Israel clearing most of the Palestinian population from the same area, penning them up in cities, the reported Trump deal will offer no restitution.

The most intractable issue, Jerusalem, will supposedly be kept off the table for now. But reports say Israel will be allowed to continue its military chokehold on the large agricultural spine of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley.

Everything else will be up for grabs – or as a US official noted, its role would be “not to impose anything” on the two parties. In practice, that means the strongest side, Israel, can impose its will by force.

All of this indicates that the “state” the US recognises will be a demilitarised archipelago of mini-Palestines. This Trumpian version of statehood could be the weirdest one ever conceived.

That should not surprise us. At a meeting in London this month to mark 100 years since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, Mr Netanyahu suggested that the Palestinians were an example of a people unsuited to “sovereignty”.

It is striking how little the prospect of a Trump peace process has ruffled the feathers of Israel’s far-right government.

That is in part because they have put in place measures to tie Mr Netanyahu’s hand. He is precluded from negotiating with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and he would have to refer any peace proposal to a referendum. And if he tests his colleagues’ loyalty too far, they can always bring down the coalition.

But their best hope is that the Trump deal will be so outrageously divorced from reality that Mr Abbas could never sign up to it, even if Washington secures Arab money to pay for its implementation.

The biggest danger may turn out to be the US president himself. Previous efforts at peacemaking, however skewed to Israeli interests, were at least premised on reaching a consensual agreement.

It is in Mr Trump’s nature to bargain ruthlessly and then cut a quick deal. In this environment, something has to give.

In one scenario, that could be the US president’s interest in solving the Israel-Palestine issue. But it could also be Mr Abbas and his increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Authority.

Forced into the corner by a bull-headed Trump administration, Mr Abbas may be faced with a hard choice: either he agrees to a series of non-viable statelets under Israel’s thumb, or he steps down and dismantles the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting.

In these circumstances, bringing down the house of cards that is the Palestinian Authority may be the best option, even if it delights many in Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet. It will leave a void, and one to be filled by a new generation of Palestinians no longer distracted by empty promises of statehood.

• First published in The National

This Is Not National Unity

The reconciliation agreement signed between rival Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, in Cairo on October 12 was not a national unity accord – at least, not yet. For the latter to be achieved, the agreement would have to make the interests of the Palestinian people a priority, above factional agendas.

The leadership crisis in Palestine is not new. It precedes Fatah and Hamas by decades.

Since the destruction of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948 – and even further back – Palestinians found themselves beholden to international and regional power play, beyond their ability to control or even influence.

The greatest achievement of Yasser Arafat, the late and iconic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was his ability to foster an independent Palestinian political identity and a national movement that, although receiving Arab support, was not entirely appropriated by any particular Arab country.

The Oslo Accords, however, was the demise of that movement. Historians may quarrel on whether Arafat, the PLO and its largest political party, Fatah, had any other option but to engage in the so-called ‘peace process’. However, in retrospect, we can surely argue that Oslo was the abrupt cancellation of every Palestinian political achievement, at least since the war of 1967.

Despite the resounding defeat of Arab countries by Israel and its powerful western allies in that war, hope for a new beginning was born. Israel reclaimed East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but, unwittingly unified Palestinians as one nation, although one that is oppressed and occupied.

Moreover, the deep wounds suffered by Arab countries as a result of the disastrous war, gave Arafat and Fatah the opportunity to utilize the new margins that opened up as a result of the Arab retreat.

The PLO, which was originally managed by the late Egyptian President, Jamal Abdul Nasser, became an exclusively Palestinian platform. Fatah, which was established a few years prior to the war, was the party in charge.

When Israel occupied Lebanon in 1982, its aim was the annihilation of the Palestinian national movement, especially since Arafat was opening up new channels of dialogue, not only with Arab and Muslim countries, but internationally as well. The United Nations, among other global institutions, began recognizing Palestinians, not as hapless refugees needing handouts, but as a serious national movement deserving to be heard and respected.

At the time, Israel was obsessed with preventing Arafat from rebranding the PLO into a budding government. In the short term, Israel achieved its main objective: Arafat was driven to Tunisia with his party’s leadership, and the rest of the PLO’s fighters were scattered across the Middle East, once more falling hostage to Arab whims and priorities.

Between 1982 and the signing of Oslo in 1993, Arafat fought for relevance. The PLO’s exile became particularly evident as Palestinians launched their First Intifada (the uprising of 1987). A whole new generation of Palestinian leaders began to emerge; a different identity that was incepted in Israeli prisons and nurtured in the streets of Gaza and Nablus was sculpted. The greater the sacrifices and the higher the Palestinian death toll rose, the more heightened that sense of collective identity grew.

The PLO’s attempt to hijack the Intifada was one of the main reasons why the uprising eventually faltered. The Madrid talks in 1991 was the first time that true representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories would take on an international platform to speak on behalf of Palestinians at home.

That endeavor was short-lived. Eventually, Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (today’s head of the Palestinian Authority – PA) negotiated an alternative agreement secretly in Oslo. The agreement largely sidelined the United Nations and allowed the United States to claim its position as a self-proclaimed ‘honest broker’ in a US-sponsored ‘peace process.’

While Arafat and his Tunisian faction were allowed back to rule over occupied Palestinians with a limited mandate provided by the Israeli government and military, Palestinian society fell into one of its most painful dilemmas in many years.

With the PLO, which represented all Palestinians, cast aside to make room for the PA – which merely represented the interests of a branch within Fatah in a limited autonomous region – Palestinians became divided into groups.

In fact, 1994, which witnessed the official formation of the PA, was the year in which the current Palestinian strife was actually born. The PA, under pressure from Israel and the US, cracked down on Palestinians who opposed Oslo and justifiably rejected the ‘peace process.’

The crackdowns reached many Palestinians who took leadership positions during the First Intifada. The Israeli gambit worked to perfection: The Palestinian leadership in exile was brought back to crack down on the leadership of the Intifada, while Israel stood aside and watched the sad spectacle.

Hamas, which itself was an early outcome of the First Intifada, found itself in direct confrontation with Arafat and his authority. For years, Hamas positioned itself as a leader of the opposition that rejected normalization with the Israeli occupation. That won Hamas massive popularity among Palestinians, especially as it became clear that Oslo was a ruse and that the ‘peace process’ was moving towards a dead-end.

When Arafat died, after spending years under Israeli army siege in Ramallah, Abbas took over. Considering that Abbas was the brain behind Oslo, and the man’s lack of charisma and leadership skills, Hamas took the first step in a political maneuver that proved costly: it ran for the PA’s legislative elections in 2006. Worse, it won.

By emerging as the top political party in an election that was itself an outcome of a political process that Hamas had vehemently rejected for years, Hamas became a victim of its own success.

Expectedly, Israel moved to punish Palestinians. As a result of US urgings and pressures, Europe followed suit. The Hamas government was boycotted, Gaza came under constant Israeli bombardment and Palestinian coffers began drying up.

A Hamas-Fatah brief civil-war ensued in the summer of 2007, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the political and administrative split of Gaza from the West Bank.

Officially, Palestinians had two governments, but no state. It was a mockery, that a promising national liberation project abandoned liberation and focused mostly on settling factional scores, while millions of Palestinians suffered siege and military occupation, and millions more suffered the anguish and humiliation of ‘shattat’ – the exile of the refugees abroad.

Many attempts were made, and failed to reconcile between the two groups in the last 10 years. They failed mostly because, once more, the Palestinian leaderships leased their decision-making to regional and international powers. The golden age of the PLO was replaced with the dark ages of factional divisions.

However, the recent reconciliation agreement in Cairo is not an outcome of a new commitment to a Palestinian national project. Both Hamas and Fatah are out of options. Their regional politicking was a failure, and their political program ceased to impress Palestinians who are feeling orphaned and abandoned.

For the Hamas-Fatah unity to become a true national unity, priorities would have to change entirely, where the interest of the Palestinian people – all of them, everywhere – would, once more, become paramount, above the interests of a faction or two, seeking limited legitimacy, fake sovereignty and American handouts.