Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The wrong road for Palestine

Khaled al-Hroub is a Palestinian academic at Cambridge in the UK, author of a recent book called Hamas for Beginners, host of a book-review show on Al-Jazeera and a regular contributor to newspapers including al-Hayat. Today in that paper he warns against the effects of allowing the Gaza/West Bank separation to continue. First of all, he says, it will be in Israel's interest to see the separation continued, and Israel will almost certainly be working toward that end. The reason is that the separation sets up a set of problems for the Palestinians to solve that have nothing to do with their traditional nationalist aspirations, and that if continued will eventually undermine those aspirations. Putting the argument another way, he says the "national issue" will be transformed into the mere aim of re-uniting Gaza with the West Bank under a common leadership, completely and utterly separated from the issue of liberation from the Israeli occupation.

Secondly, he says, the Israeli screaming about being "surrounded" by "Hamastan" on the south and Hizbullah on the north is nothing but an exaggeration to beef up foreign support. Israel knows full well that the last thing on the minds of the Hamas administration in Gaza is sending rockets into Israel. Not only is Gaza exposed to Israeli attack by land, sea, and air, but if there were constraints in the West Bank about not hitting Abbas-related institutions, there will be no such constraints in Gaza. Hamas knows this, and in all liklihood it will concentrate on fostering domestic unity and forget about inciting Israel, at least in the coming period of time.

Thirdly, Hamas is going to have to use all of its efforts in fostering internal peace and stability, and in fact it appears one of its first tasks is going to be to try and encourage the release of the BBC person Alan Johnston, and then of the Israeli soldier Shalit, all in order to demonstrate to the ouside world that it is in control. And al-Hroub says it is likely that Israel, recognizing this, will avoid re-occupying Gaza with all of the problems that would bring with it, because the dynamics of the situation suggest that will not have any justification from a security point of view.

The fourth problem with continued separation is simply that the longer it lasts, and the longer the two sides stick to an attitude of no-dialogue and mutual accusations of illegality, the more this idea of separation will become confirmed or hardened (the word is takriis, literally meaning consecrate) and the harder it will be to eradicate. And it is already going to be hard enough to eradicate.

Other factors will be working in the same undesirable direction. Regionally, the two sides will be in the gravitational pull of the two "axes" (of "moderation" and the other "radical" one), so that will further militate against any movement toward unity. Similarly, and ironically, each will be in a position to have discussions with Israel, but not with each other. Fatah in the West Bank will talk to Israel directly, and Hamas in Gaza perhaps indirectly. Because the writer says on his reading of the situation, Israel will in fact be willing and even anxious to see to the survival of Gaza as an entity independent of the West Bank, for many of the above-mentioned reasons.

What lies at the end of that road, al-Hroub says, is a three-state solution, one strong Israeli state, and two weak Palestinian ones.
What all this comes down to is that [if things go the way they are going] the concept and the dream of an independent, unified, Palestinian state will become unattainable, and the whole idea of either a two-state or a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian question will gradually be replaced by the three-state idea. In the push-and-pull of all of these internal divisions, the culture of Palestinian rights will gradually weaken as a national issue, to be replaced by issues relating to internal struggles...

Avoiding this result would require [persons of] enormous capacity, such as we are not currently blessed with, for feeling their responsibility to the nation, something that is now a lifeless corpse, and for putting this responsibility ahead of party-egoism.
Just to get you started thinking about this, he says there are two conditions: The first is for the leadership on the Hamas side to decide whether it is better, for the national cause, to unite Gaza with the West Bank even if this means leadership that Hamas sees as corrupt, or to keep Gaza separate and thus free from such [corrupt] leadership. And likewise for Fatah to decide whether it would be better, for the national cause, to join the West Bank with Gaza even if that meant Hamas leadership in Gaza, or to keep them separate. To the writer, the right answers are obvious.

His second condition is this: The rules of political engagement should be changed to make it clear that it is politicians who are responsible for discussing and deciding on political questions. We can't go on having these situations where politicians on one side are answered by the military wing on the other side, and so on back and forth, until the political content of the issue is completely obscured. For instance, where were the politicians when members of the respective military wings commited the outrages that we all saw on our television screens in the last few days?

That's his analysis. Obviously it deals with the behavior of the Palestinian political class, and it doesn't deal with any ideas of change "from below" such as a West Bank intifada or anything like that, so that has to be understood. But taken on its own terms, I think this is an edifying view of the problems that led to this result, and the dangers of allowing this situation to continue.


Anonymous Bea said...

I do agree with this analysis, and I agree that Israel believes these developments to be in its long-term interest. I also see Israel striving to fragment even the West Bank further into smaller entities, such as North, South, and Jerusalem. I think this has been the real goal of the closure policy from the get go. However, while in the short term this may appear to benefit Israel, in my view, it is actually a very short-sighted assessment of where this type of fragmentation and weakening of each fragment will ultimately lead in the long term. A hundred years from now, our descendants will likely look back and mark this era (and I don't mean just these developments this week, but the Bush era generally) as the point in time when a two-state solution became truly unachievable and therefore a one-state/federation/binational/whatever solution became the only possible endpoint, simply because such small weak fragmented entities will not have the ability to develop their economies to a point where they can sustain the considerable populations that reside there. (Not to mention the fact that Israel is not particularly inclined to share natural resources, such as water.) Israel may be counting on Palestinians leaving, emptying the place. But more likely, in my view, is the opposite: Demographic explosion leading to intense and irresistible pressure to violently overthrow the existing order. The perspective that is generally missing from Israeli analyses is that of the needs of the Palestinian population, as if these millions of human beings should just subsist in some backward miserable limbo with all their basic needs unmet forever. That is not a recipe for a status quo that can take root and last for long.

Unfortunately, this may need another generation or more to play itself out. And if it does, another serious disadvantage is that the needs of the Palestinians outside of Palestine are not likely to be met in any way, unless at the end of the day the "one state" entity decides to welcome them all back in to the country. Without a strong Palestinian national leadership, these many refugees will be consigned to an existence that is even more miserable and marginal, if that's even possible, than the one they already have. These considerations alone should suffice to have stopped Abu Mazen from severing ties to Hamas in the way that he chose to do. Who now represents all those Palestinians? What is the relationship of each of these local leaderships (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) to the refugees and other Palestinians outside the country? How will the PLO continue to function as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people when Hamas and Fatah won't speak to one another?

Many questions, but unfortunately few answers as yet. Time will tell.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hamas should take over the West Bank NOW. The only smart thing they can do.


5:28 AM  

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