Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation and Palestinian-Israeli Peace

Editor's Note: The date of this post was erroneously changed by Blogger beyond our control. As of this date it is actually a week old.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a member group of the US Campaign. Joel Beinin is a long time JVP member and the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University. Yesterday we blogged Professor Rashid Khalidi's analysis of the same subject.

By Joel Beinin, May 11, 2011

Is the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo on May 4 good for the “peace process?”  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, President Jimmy Carter, and veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery all believe it is.  Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his government vehemently insist that it is not.  Half the Democrats in the Senate and the usual suspects in the House of Representatives have, as is their custom, lined up behind the Israeli government’s position, while the White House has been more reserved.  Since the “peace process” has long been on life-support, if not dead, this may be the wrong question.  We might ask instead, “Is reconciliation between the Palestinian political factions good for the Palestinian and Israeli people?”

It is certainly good for the Palestinian people, first because it has long been a broad-based popular desire.  Calls for unity have been raised regularly by Palestinian participants in the weekly demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank.  It was a demand of the newly established March 15th Palestinian youth movement, whose name comes from demonstrations held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that day to demand national unity.

The next day, Abbas, with the wind of the Arab spring at his back, declared his willingness to travel to Gaza to conduct unity talks.  In addition to the demands of their people, the disarray of their Arab state patrons encouraged Fatah and Hamas to reach an agreement, vague though it is.  The Mubarak regime was Abbas’s strongest supporter in the Arab world.  Deposed Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman tried to pressure Hamas into accepting a deal with Abbas on vague terms with promises that Egypt would address Hamas concerns after they signed.  Egypt’s collaboration with Israel to keep the Gaza Strip sealed off from the rest of the world effectively bolstered Fatah’s position by demonstrating Hamas’s incapacity to deliver the Palestinian people’s most basic needs. Syria’s support may no longer be useful to Hamas.  There are reports in the Arab press that Hamas will move its headquarters from Damascus to Qatar, whose Emir has a soft spot in his heart for Hamas despite hosting the US Middle East Command.