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Palestinian unity and peace paradox

10/21/2008

If reports about a proposed Palestinian unity deal are correct, the future of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process may have gotten darker this week, if that is possible. Unity is essential for peace. Everyone understands that no real progress can be made until the Israeli political situation is settled and until the Palestinians form a unified government in the West Bank and Gaza. However, the wrong sort of unity could kill the peace process permanently, if it is not already dead.

The two political situations are intimately related to each other and to peace prospects. A hardline government in Israel will make progress toward peace difficult and will weaken support for the relatively moderate West Bank Palestinian Authority/Fatah government. A Palestinian unity deal that gives Hamas the upper hand will doom the peace process and may hasten new elections in Israel. Those elections would almost certainly result in election of a right-wing government that is opposed to territorial concessions to the Palestinians and opposed in fact, to a Palestinian state. A Hamas led Palestinian government would strengthen the contention of Israeli hard liners that there is "nobody to talk to" and that a Palestinian state would be a Hamas state bent on destruction of Israel. Hamas refuses to honor the agreements of the Oslo accords which are the basis of the Palestinian Authority and the continuing peace process, and it has announced time and again that it will never make peace with Israel. At the same time, lack of a Palestinian unity accord will probably lead, in the natural way of things in the Middle East, to an outbreak of violence directed at Israel, in order to force Palestinian unity against a common enemy. Therefore, reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under one rule is essential for peace.

Egypt, which is mediating the Fatah-Hamas unity talks has come up with a unity proposal that reportedly has a very dangerous key element:

Egypt also said Abbas should continue peace talks with Israel but that any deal needs approval from Hamas and other factions sworn to Israel's destruction.

Since factions such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are, as the article notes, sworn to Israel's destruction, it is unlikely that they would ever agree to any peace agreement. From the practical point of view, both these factions are under the control and direction of Iran and Syria. Neither of those countries is interested in the success of the US mediated peace effort, or in any other US success, and therefore there is no chance they would support any agreement negotiated in that framework. Mahmoud Abbas has rightly insisted that any unity agreement must include an undertaking by the Hamas to honor previous agreements made by the Palestinian Authority, a provision that is evidently absent in the proposed unity agreement.

Hamas grabbed power in Gaza by brute force. Therefore, the "unity" negotiations are negotiations with an illegal and criminal government. The Hamas power grab sabotaged US and quartet efforts for peace. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, ostensibly allies and client states of the United States, are putting much effort into the "unity" talks that weaken Mahmoud Abbas, Salem Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority, also American allies and proteges, and legitimize and strengthen the extremist Iranian supported Hamas regime. Very possibly, they hope to detach Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Iran. But it is a mystery why the US acquiesces in this policy and issues no words of protest to either the Egyptians or the Saudis. Egypt and the Saudis tried their hands once before at a Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Like the current proposal, that agreement did not include provisions to honor previous agreements of the Palestinian Authority, and it led to the June 2007 coup that ousted the Fatah from Gaza. We can imagine that the same noxious "benefits" or worse will flow from the current attempt. Nobody learned anything from that "agreement." In the real world, when the lamb is forced to lie down with the lion, only one of them is there in the morning.

The Hamas coup in Gaza surprised almost everyone because of the ease with which Hamas overcame the far more numerous Fatah. The quick defeat was blamed variously on the absence of Gaza Fatah boss Mahmoud Dahlan, on aging of the Fatah soldiers, or on failure of Mahmoud Abbas to give the order to fight the Hamas. None of these explanations are convincing. Fatah people were being thrown from rooftops and cut up into steaks. They should not have needed any orders to defend themselves. On paper, they had overwhelming superiority in weapons, in training and in numbers.

A very disturbing possible explanation emerged from Palestinian sources this week:

A committee appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to examine Hamas' Gaza takeover in 2007 revealed that almost a third of the Gazan security forces, allegedly belonging to the PA, were actually agents of Hamas.

A Palestinian source told Ynet that, in reality, the number of covert Hamas agents was at least double, ceding the de facto majority of PA security forces in Gaza to Hamas at the time of the overthrow.

Ominously, the report noted that similarly, Palestinian Authority forces in the West Bank may be infiltrated by an unknown number of fifth columnists. Therefore, even if all the militias are disarmed, the legitimate Palestinian government can still be overthrown by Hamas collaborators.

A Hamas takeover in the West Bank could come about because a unity government is not achieved, but it is far more likely to be enabled by a false unity deal, similar to the previous one. That would spell the definitive end of the peace process and of American influence in Palestinian politics. Talk about American "engagement" would be meaningless, and all the weapons and resources that were supplied to the Palestinian Authority would be in the hands of the Hamas, just as occurred after the Gaza coup. That is what Egypt and Saudi Arabia are engineering, even if they do not understand that that is what they are doing. These developments should be of the utmost concern for the United States, if the United States still believes that Israeli-Palestinian peace is the central ingredient in Middle East stability. The United States government, however, is preoccupied by the presidential elections and the worsening economic crisis.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000720.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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