- Published on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 16:42
- Category: The Connection
This week on April 27th, an agreement was reached between Fatah and Hamas, two important leadership groups in the Palestinian Territories who are typically at odds with one another, to form a unity government is preparation for what many believe will be a UN vote to recognize a Palestinian State in September. Across the board, media coverage of the agreement has centered on what effect it will have on US interests in the region, which, ironically, has done more harm than good to those very interests.
After years of verbal jousting, Fatah and Hamas negotiated a deal to re-unite and hold parliamentary and presidential elections in the upcoming year. The peace treaty, brokered by Egypt’s new leadership, brought a splintered government back together. A new temporary government, which will include members of both Hamas and Fatah, will lead a transition period until elections are held.
Over the past several years, it has been generally understood that without the support of Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Fatah, would be unable to negotiate a real peace deal with Israel. Hamas has control of the Gaza Strip, while Fatah governs the West Bank. Protesters in the Occupied Territories have long called for a unification of the two parties. In mid-March, protesters in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank headed out to the streets to call on the feuding parties to come back together. As Israeli air attacks continue to pound the Gaza Strip and the Israeli presence in the West Bank becomes increasingly untenable for Palestinians, the Palestinian people were justifiably upset at the lack of a unified opposition to Israeli actions.
Without a coalition, Palestinian efforts to become an independent state via U.S.-brokered negotiations would likely continue to be unsuccessful. Columbia Professor and Palestinian expert Dr. Rashid Khalidi agrees: “Inter-Palestinian reconciliation and elections -- both for Palestinians under occupation and those in the Diaspora -- are the essential preconditions for establishing a unified national movement and a consensus on a strategy for liberation. Without these things, the Palestinians have little hope of changing their situation, which is characterized by occupation and dispossession.”
Immediately after the April 27th announcement, headlines flooded U.S. media: “If Palestinian rift is healed, does that help U.S. aims in Middle East,” asked a headline in the Christian Science Monitor. The story focused not on the consequences on the ground for Palestinians but on how U.S. interests would be affected. Another headline read, “U.S., Israel wary as Palestinian factions advance unity deal,” while still another suggested the agreement puts U.S. aid to the Occupied Territories into question: “U.S. affirms aid to Palestinians -- for now.”
Understandably, U.S. interests in the region are relevant to an American audience, but the implications of the agreement are much more nuanced than the mainstream media’s knee-jerk reactions suggest. As we’ve seen in the past four months of regional shock, the Middle East is no longer solely determined by autocrats and theocrats who are willing to negotiate peace deals around Western interests; Middle East leaders are now keenly aware that their survival depends on their ability to answer the demands of their people.
In the case of Fatah and Hamas, it’s “people power” that is forcing the reconciliation, not U.S. or Israeli pressure. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas alluded as much a few days ago: “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said O.K., I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder, and he removed the ladder and said to me, 'jump.' Three times, he did it.” With protesters calling for a dramatic change in direction, and other parties (like the U.S.) clearly only interested in their own interests, Fatah and Hamas finally recognized that unification would be crucial to their survival.
Of course, the Palestinian people have the most to win – or lose – when it comes to the proposed Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Will Salaam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, economist, and internationally respected leader, stay on board? Hamas has already vowed that they will not allow him to be a part of any new government. Will Hamas reign in its repressive tactics? Protesters faced Basij-like attacks from Hamas thugs in mid-March (Fatah itself has also attempted to shut down protests in the West Bank). How will the next election be administered? Can the economic success that some pockets of the Occupied Territories, like Ramallah, have experienced be recreated in poorer, denser areas like the Gaza Strip or Jenin? Most of all, will Israel accept the new unity government? Having spent years arguing that it could not negotiate peace with a divided partner, what will it do now that its partner is unified, and with Hamas on board?
These questions are far more relevant to the Palestine-Israeli peace process – and the political structure in the region – than any U.S. maneuvers or interests. Indeed, these questions are at the root of the frustration, disenchantment, and hopelessness that the Palestinian people are experiencing. Ultimately, reaching a satisfactory, sustainable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will do far more for U.S. interests than almost any forced or frustrated efforts by American administrations. And yet, the U.S. media continues to present only the myopic viewpoint that caused us to be blind-sided by the recent Mideast “People Power” in the first place.By Kianpars, Aslan Media Columnist