Is Palestinian unity the “only option” for Palestinians? Articles for and against

“…the existence of the PA – whether divided or united – perpetuates the myth that Palestinians have some control over and responsibility for their own fate, when in fact, the Israeli hand is heavier now than before the PA was constituted in 1993.Paul Larudee

“…This unity between Fatah and Hamas is inevitable. The problem for the US Congress and Israel is that they cannot face reality. – James Wall

AGAINST: By Paul Larudee – With apologies for usurping the title of Jim Wall’s commentary, and all due respect for his excellent treatment of the subject, a joint Hamas-Fateh Palestinian Authority is neither the only option for Palestinians, nor the best one.

A part of me says that it is not the place of a non-Palestinian (or, alternatively, an insult to the honor of being given a Palestinian passport) to speak on an internal Palestinian matter. However, It is widely acknowledged that the so-called Palestinian Authority has none. To unify this lack of authority through reconciliation between the two major factions of the Palestinian political landscape merely perpetuates the illusion that Palestinians have meaningful autonomy within the confines of a brutal and repressive Israeli occupation that pervades all aspects of Palestinian life.

Granted, unity is always better than disunity, and especially when attempting to defend the interests of a people that are the object of an ethnic cleansing campaign that began more than a century ago. However, the PA is no defense at all; it either implements Israeli policy (as in the case of the Ramallah administratrion) or fails to do so (as in Gaza). To the extent that either administration provides any defense, it does so outside its authorized role.

Nevertheless, the existence of the PA – whether divided or united – perpetuates the myth that Palestinians have some control over and responsibility for their own fate, when in fact, the Israeli hand is heavier now than before the PA was constituted in 1993. The myth that Israel permits any shred of sovereignty does not serve the Palestinian people.

Before Mahmoud Abbas acceded to the presidency of the PA, he was often admired for refusing to accept responsibility without authority. On more than one occasion, he refused an assignment or even resigned his position rather than accept to become the “fall guy” for someone else. Sadly, his reputation is now just the opposite, and he seems to revel in his unappreciated role as “ahsen min balash” (better than nothing).

Many would disagree, arguing that “balash” (nothing) is better. The principle applies equally to Hamas, even in its “rejectionist” role; many argued from the beginning that Hamas should never participate in an election process that offers the victor as much authority as a high school prom queen (the US custom of choosing by election the most popular graduating female student).

Better to end the sham and refuse to play the game. Israeli leaders have said for the last decade that “Oslo is dead.” In fact, it was stillborn, and officially ended in 1999, anyway. Why not dissolve the PA and return to direct Israeli rule? At least then the source of misery and brutality will be unmistakable and Israel can be held directly accountable, at least in the public perception, if nowhere else.

The Palestinian Authority has had its day; perhaps it was worth a try, or perhaps not. Today, however, it is a liability and an embarrassment. Its dissolution is a better option than living under emasculation disguised as sovereignty, unified or not.
Dr. Paul Larudee is a co-founder of the movement to break the naval blockade of Gaza.


FOR By James M. Wall

You would not know it from reading/viewing the American media, which parrots whatever Israel’s leaders say, but Bibi Netanyahu is secretly delighted that Fatah and Hamas have reached a unity agreement.

The official line, of course, is that the Israeli prime minister is outraged that the Palestinian Fatah leadership has actually embraced the Hamas leadership. The leaders of the two parties are shown here, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Ha’aretz reported from Jerusalem that, upon hearing of the unity agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down his marker: “the Palestinian Authority must choose whether it is interested in peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas.”

This is an empty option, one that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) knows is empty.

The London Guardian explains what lies behind Fatah’s willingness to finally work for unity with Hamas:

There are three chief reasons why, after four years of bitter and violent conflict between the rivals, Fatah acceded to all of Hamas’s political conditions to form a national unity government.

The first was the publication of the Palestine papers, the secret record of the last fruitless round of talks with Israel. The extent to which Palestinian negotiators were prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate Israel surprised even hardened cynics.

The Palestinian Authority found itself haemorrhaging what little authority it had left. The second was the loss to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, of his closest allies in Hosni Mubarak and his henchman Omar Suleiman. While they were still around, Gaza’s back door was locked. But the third reason had little to do with either of the above:

Abu Mazen’s faith in Barack Obama finally snapped. For a man who dedicated his career to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation, the turning point came when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement-building. In doing so, the US vetoed its own policy.

To make the point, the resolution was drafted out of the actual words Hillary Clinton used to condemn construction. Fatah’s frustration with all this has now taken political form.

Long-time Bibi Watcher James Zogby knows why it was time for Fatah to give up on both Bibi and Barack. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, wrote in Huffington Post:

What is, of course, galling, is the assumption implicit in [Netanhyahu’s] framing of the matter, namely, that peace with his government is a real possibility that the Palestinians have now rejected. In reality, the Netanyahu government has shown no interest in moving toward peace — unless on terms they dictate and the Palestinians accept.

While feigning disappointment at this Palestinian move, Netanyahu must privately be delighted. The pressure he was feeling to deliver some “concessions” to the Palestinians in his upcoming speech to the U.S. Congress has now been relieved.

This unity between Fatah and Hamas is inevitable. The problem for the US Congress and Israel is that they cannot face reality.  These two soul mates in repression continue to pretend the future belongs to them. They keep making the same mistakes. For example:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress while he is in Washington to address the AIPAC policy conference.

The AIPAC Policy Conference, scheduled for May 22-24, is, according to the AIPAC web page, “the pro-Israel community’s preeminent annual gathering”.

MJ Rosenberg, Senior Foreign Policy Fellow, Media Matters Action Network, writes in Huffington Post:

The Israeli response to news that Palestinian factions had achieved a unity agreement was predictably irritating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the agreement in stark terms, saying that the Palestinians had a choice of either “Peace with Israel or peace with Hamas”.

The narrative that Israel is pushing is that Fatah’s embrace of Hamas will eliminate any chance for peace.  It is a false narrative. Rosenberg explains why the union of Fatah and Hamas is the only option available to the Palestinians.

Rosenberg predicts that the US Congress will fall quickly into the Bibi narrative: Condemn the Palestinians and withhold aid until they stop all this “unity” foolishness.

The problem with this old scenario, which has worked to keep the Palestinians in bondage since 1948, is that things have changed since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Change in the Middle East is coming, slowly in some areas, more quickly in others. Some change will be violent; other changes will be relatively peaceful.

When Egypt ousted a brutal dictator, Israel lost a “reliable” neighbor to the south, a neighbor who played a major role in oppressing its fellow Arabs in Palestine. The Egyptian-Gaza border will now be opened, according to an Al Jazeera report.

Egypt’s foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday [April 28] that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis.

A unified Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government is no guarantee that Israel will retreat behind the 1967 border, tear down that obscene wall, and give up its military control of the Palestinian people. Such a radical reversal of the current reality will take time. But one thing is certain: The Arab Spring has unleashed a demand for freedom and self-government that has been dormant for far too long.

This demand for freedom extends from Ramallah to Rafah, from Cairo to Jerusalem. No AIPAC Policy Conference and no cheers for Bibi in the US Congress can hold back this demand for freedom.

Philip Weiss, who co-edits, along with Adam Horowitz, the indispensable Mondoweiss web site, sounded like a Protestant evangelist with this word on how slow his fellow Jewish journalists have been to grasp the reality of Israel’s role as an inspiration for the Arab Spring:

My theme today is denial, specifically as it involves the Arab revolutions: the failure of American media figures and Jewish leaders to recognize the huge spiritual-political effect of the Arab spring and the inevitability of that spirit coming to bear on the dire human-rights situation in Palestine.

As Issandr El Amrani said the other night at the 92d Street Y, this revolution has the promise of the French revolution, and to seek to diminish it or to caricature it (the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over Jordan, Yossi Klein Halevi warned at the American Jewish Committee today) is a terrible mistake.

This denial is most profound inside American liberal Jewish life and in the failure of liberals to understand. Of course, Palestinians will also want their spring. And they must have it.

I will give you two instances of this denial. The first was Terry Gross interviewing Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker on Fresh Air the other day, all about the Arab revolutions and Egypt and Obama’s foreign policy. And you will see from the transcript that Israel was mentioned only once, and tangentially.

The conceit of this nearly-hour-long exchange was the idea, Well these Arab countries are finally going to try to be democratic, harrumph, and Obama must lend his hand.

With no awareness at all that (a), American support for Israel has militated against Arab democracy and the idea of Arab self-determination forever, and (b), that the thirst for democracy in the Middle East portends revolutionary change in one of the most repressive societies in the world, the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

If that is not preaching, then, gentle reader, you don’t know preaching.

Finally, Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, and a frequent contributor to the London Guardian, traces the recent history that led up to the Arab Spring, the upheaval that inspired such evangelistic zeal from Weiss.

His language is poetic, uplifting and insightful:

The patchwork political landscape of the Arab world – the client monarchies, degenerated nationalist dictatorships and the imperial petrol stations known as the Gulf states – was the outcome of an intensive experience of Anglo-French colonialism.

This was followed, after the second world war, by a complex process of imperial transition to the United States. The result was a radical anti colonial Arab nationalism and Zionist expansionism within the wider framework of the cold war.

When the cold war ended, Washington took charge of the region, initially through local potentates then through military bases and direct occupation. Democracy never entered the frame, enabling the Israelis to boast that they alone were an oasis of light in the heart of Arab darkness.

Darkness in this context, however, is a relative term.  The Arab people who have walked in darkness in the colonial period, have begun to see the light. No amount of Israeli deception, nor of  US congressional blindness, will change the fact that the Arab Spring has revealed a future to the Arab people in which bondage is no longer tolerated.


James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois.  From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine.  Jim launched his new personal blog Wallwritings April 24, 2008.


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