Hamas and Fatah reconciliation brings hope for the future.
Sixty-three years after the Nakba (catastrophe), the ethnic-cleansing project that launched Israel through the massacre of thousands of Palestinians and the forced eviction of over 750,000 more from their homes and land, Israel is still terrorising the Palestinian people. In recent months, airstrikes on Gaza have again been increasing, while the illegal siege remains in place. Meanwhile, the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank have also been continuing.
However, despite the continued impunity with which Israel wreaks its vengeance on those it has failed in six decades to crush, as the Arab revolts spread around it, and with the Palestinians finally getting reunited in their struggle for self-determination, the long-term prospects for Israel are looking bleaker by the day.
On 27 April 2011, delegations from Hamas and Fatah met in Cairo, following a series of discussions brokered by Egypt, to finalise the Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement. A week later, again in Cairo, the agreement was signed by Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas, and Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, along with 12 other organisations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Palestine People’s Party (PPP).
The agreement is a great step forward for the Palestinian struggle and follows massive demonstrations at the end of March in Gaza and the West Bank, which called for an end to division in the Palestinian leadership.
After four years of hostility, during which the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) played a shameful role, the move toward forming a unity government, with Hamas in a strong position, is a positive advance in the cause of Palestinian self-determination.
The talks also mark a significant change in the role being played by Egypt following the removal of Mubarak. The unity agreement was brokered much to the chagrin of the US and Israel, who had not been consulted or informed. For once, middle-eastern peace talks had been undertaken with only those thatneeded to be involved in the discussions, not those foreign powers who think they have the inalienable right to dictate policy to other countries.
This is an extremely positive sign that Egypt is beginning to move away from subordinating itself to the interests of US imperialism and is instead realigning itself towards those of its own people and of the Middle East in general.
Under the unity agreement an interim government will be set up, with elections to be held within a year. Discussions are already underway as to who will form the interim government pending fresh elections. The agreement also provides for the release of political prisoners, and for the merging of Hamas and Fatah security forces. It also stipulates that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) will be restructured in order to allow Hamas to join it, thus hopefully giving a new lease of life to the broad front that had formerly for decades been widely recognised as representing Palestinians in struggle, but which had seemed to lose much of its legitimacy and relevance after the death of Yasser Arafat and the ascent to power of Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s preference is division
Unsurprisingly, given the amount of time and money Israel has invested in maintaining Palestinian divisions through encouraging the PA to collude with them against Hamas, the Israelis were quick to oppose the agreement.
Their initial response was to freeze the tax revenues that Israel collects for the PA, and to call on other western donors to stop the flow of money likewise. This was, however, met with contempt by all those involved in the reconciliation agreement, and also received rare criticism from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Israel has subsequently lifted the freeze, stating however that “We will continue to verify that the money is not going into the accounts of terrorist organisations. If we believe that is the case, we will stop the transfers again.” (Quoted in ‘Israel’s strategic affairs minister Moshe Yaalon’, AFP, 16 May 2011)
Clearly (and quite correctly!), Israel is terrified of the looming prospect that a united Palestinian government will be able to revitalise the struggle and lead a far stronger opposition to Israeli occupation.
This point has not been lost on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, whose office stated: “Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so explicitly. The idea of reconciliation with Hamas demonstrates the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and makes one wonder whether Hamas will seize control of the [West Bank] the way it seized control of Gaza.” (Quoted in ‘Hamas and Fatah reach resolution’ by Vita Bekker, Financial Times, 27 April 2011)
Egypt a friend of Palestine
The fall of the Mubarak regime is beginning to usher in a new era for Egypt, which shows some signs of bringing an end to the treacherous role it played in aiding Israeli zionism and keeping the Palestinians down, most notoriously through its role in maintaining the siege of Gaza.
This turnaround in Egypt’s approach comes just three months after the fall of Mubarak’s regime. During the preceding fifteen months, talks brokered by the previous Egyptian government had produced little in the way of unity between Fatah and Hamas. However, the lack of progress during those talks was unsurprising given they were mediated by Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s intelligence chief and a close associate of both the US and Israel, whose desire has always been for disunity amongst the Palestinians.
Previously, also at the behest of its imperialist masters, Egypt did its best to isolate Hamas. It was Suleiman, the so-called ‘mediator of unity’ no less, who promised Israel in 2005 that he would prevent Hamas’ rise to power. (‘WikiLeaks: Suleiman promised to stop Hamas’, JPost.com, 11 February 2011)
With the old regime’s demise, relations between Egypt and Hamas have improved considerably. Hani al-Masari, one of the political analysts who travelled to Cairo and Damascus as part of the reconciliation talks in April, explained that “the revolution in Egypt has made Hamas comfortable that now it has a mediator who is not biased to one side or the other”. (Quoted in ‘Palestinian rivals unite with regional mood’ by Tobias Buck, Financial Times, 9 May 2011)
In recent weeks, Egypt has finally responded to calls from home and abroad by gradually easing the restrictions on people and goods allowed into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, a move that will effectively render Israel’s four-year siege a failure. It has also stopped the construction of the metal barrier wall that Mubarak had started to build to help enforce the Israeli blockade, which was known to ordinary Egyptians as the ‘wall of shame’.
Clearly under pressure from the newly-awakened masses, Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi confirmed that the interim government would no longer accept that the Rafah border remained blocked and described his country’s decision to seal it off as “shameful”.
As Egypt’s relations with Palestine have changed, so too must its relations with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood, a leading voice in the new Egypt, has called for a review of the 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. It has also called for an end to normalisation with Israel and the abolition of areas of joint economic interest, such as the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) that allow Egypt to export goods to the US duty-free as long as Israel has contributed 10 percent to their manufacture.
The Brotherhood is also championing the abolition of another unpopular agreement with Israel in calling for an end to the export of Egyptian gas at rock-bottom prices to Israel.
As David Gardner put it: “Israel’s discomfiture is understandable. The era in which it competed for regional influence with Turkey and Iran, in a game refereed by the US, with the Arab states watching impotently from the sidelines, is over. Egypt, once the beating heart of Arabism, is back in the game. ” (‘Old certainties tottering in face of Arab spring’, Financial Times, 10 May 2011)
UN vote on Palestinian state
Meanwhile, the PA has announced its intention of tabling Resolution 377, ‘Uniting for peace’, at the UN General Assembly (GA) session in September, calling for the UN to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza.
It is likely that a vote of the GA will accept the resolution, since 140 of the 192 countries in the GA have already indicated their support. Although this has happened twice before, it will still be a blow to Israel and the US.
However, membership can only be granted by the GA on the recommendation of the Security Council. It is here that UN recognition of a Palestinian state comes unstuck as the five permanent members, of which the US is one, have the veto on any such recommendation.
Israel lashing out in fury
With the Arab revolts spreading across the region, Israel continues to vent its fury on the people of Gaza, with intensified bombing across the Strip. Unsurprisingly, there have been no calls for enforcing a ‘no-fly zone’ over Israel from the ‘great and the good’ of the ‘international community’ who were all so keen to launch an attack on Libya for supposed ‘human rights’ violations.
In another push at expanding into West Bank territory, the Israeli cabinet’s ministerial committee has approved the construction of a further 500 homes within illegal settlements in the West Bank. This was apparently in response to the killing of a settler family of five. The construction of these houses will only serve to further the dismemberment of the West Bank and increase the impossibility of a two-state solution ever being implemented. Thus, even as it lashes out at the Palestinians, Israel is in fact hastening the day of its own demise.
In the short term, Palestinians generally and Gazans in particular may be suffering more than ever as the zionists continue to attack viciously in all directions. However, their long-term prospects can be seen in a very different light. With the shift in the balance of forces in the Middle East, Israel’s ability to act with impunity against either the Palestinians or its Arab neighbours looks set to start rapidly diminishing. Added to this, the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, thereby forging the struggle of a unified Palestinian people against Israeli occupation, represents a great opportunity for Palestinian justice.