SMOKING CORNER: DIFFICULT CHOICES IN PALESTINE – Journal
In the anthology Negotiating in times of conflict, Anat Kurz describes the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as “a three-way conflict”.
There is, of course, the best-known bilateral struggle between the Israeli state and the government in the West Bank and Gaza. These predominantly Palestinian regions came under the control of a partially autonomous body in 1994, after the signing of an agreement in Oslo between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the largest Palestinian political entity. The reason why Kurz explains the brawl as a three-way conflict is because of the presence of another influential Palestinian party, Hamas.
Hamas, which has had a problematic relationship with the PLO, emerged in 1987 as an âIslamistâ variant of the Palestinian nationalist movement. The PLO, since its creation in 1964, is of course an umbrella organization comprising various secular Palestinian nationalist formations. The biggest party in the PLO has always been Fatah, led by the late Yasser Arafat. Initially, the PLO was very militant in its outlook and was involved in armed attacks against Israel. Many of its constituent factions were supported by the former Soviet Union and radical Arab nationalist regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
However, from the mid-1970s, when most Arab countries began a process of repairing ties with Saudi Arabia and the United States, Fatah decided to focus on building itself as a face. “ legitimate ” Palestinian nationalism, recognized by the UN. In 1987, a spontaneous uprising erupted against the Israeli occupation armies in various predominantly Palestinian areas. The uprising, called the Intifada (rebellion), surprised the PLO.
The uprising did not have a core group to navigate it. It was mainly driven by young Palestinians throwing stones, confronted by heavily armed Israeli occupiers. Yet the Intifada had enough nuisance value to get the Israelis to speak with their main enemy, Fatah, in Oslo. An agreement was signed that handed over the West Bank and Gaza to a partially self-governing government of Palestinians. In the 1996 elections here, the electorate gave the PLO a landslide victory and the mandate to rule the West Bank and Gaza.
Crushed between Israel’s intransigence as the occupier and the electoral opportunism of Benjamin Netanyahu on the one hand and Hamas’s belligerence in Gaza on the other, lies the rational space that PLO Fatah has. wants to explore.
Hamas was the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – a pan-Islamist movement headquartered in Egypt – but used to garner underground support from Israel when the Muslim Brotherhood was suppressed by Arab nationalist regimes in Egypt in the 1960s and Syria. in the early 1980s.
According to Andrew Higgins, in the January 24, 2009 issue of the Wall Street newspaper, Israel supported Hamas to use it as a “counterweight” against the PLO. The roots of this maneuver can be found in the late 1970s, when the State of Israel began dating an Islamist group called Mujama al-Islamiya, which describes itself as a charity.
According to Higgins, the Egyptians had ruled out and banned the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the Palestinian areas that were under Egyptian control until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But once those areas fell into the hands of the Israeli forces, the Israelis allowed Islamist groups to operate, as long as they were anti-PLO.
With Israeli support, the Mujama and other similar groups began to undermine the influence of the PLO. They organized charity programs, setting up small clinics, schools and mosques, and in return were able to recruit large numbers of disillusioned Palestinians. Hamas followed the same path until 1994, when the PLO agreed to recognize Israel as a country and, in return, Israel handed over the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians.
However, so began campaigns of suicide bombings, assassinations and rocket attacks against Israel by Hamas, resulting in vicious Israeli retaliation. The PLO swept the 1996 election, but Hamas won the 2006 election. It received 44.45% of the total vote against 41.43% of the PLO.
Muhammad Abbas of Fatah had replaced Yasser Arafat as President of Palestine after Arafat’s disappearance in 2004. Tensions between the Fatah-led PLO and Hamas had simmered since the 1990s. The PLO had agreed to end to its policy of armed resistance and, as a result, the presence and government of the PLO have been recognized by the international community. The PLO is now in favor of a settlement through negotiations and providing jobs, education and security to Palestinians.
Hamas’s activities in this context are focused more on the poorest areas of Palestine, particularly Gaza. Here Hamas provides charitable services and gains new recruits. He also amasses weapons that include rockets made in secret workshops by the locals. Hamas does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. His militant actions are often criticized by President Abbas who accuses Hamas of dragging the Palestinians into a war that can be settled through negotiations.
In June 2007, fighting broke out between PLO and Hamas militants in Gaza. The fighting was intense. Over 600 people lost their lives. The conflict saw the ousting of the PLO from Gaza. This means that there are now two governments controlling the Palestinian territories. Fatah / PLO rules the West Bank region while Hamas controls Gaza.
Things got even more complex with the election in 2009 of populist Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu followed a hard line and refused to prevent the Jewish people from settling in the occupied Palestinian territory. Such regulations are contrary to international mandates and opinions.
Interestingly, Netanyahu’s popularity in Israel has waned. His conservative Likud party has had to form faltering coalition governments. There were four undecided elections in Israel between 2019 and 2021. Netanyahu also faced two criminal investigations against him.
The recent Israeli army attacks in Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinians were in retaliation for rockets fired at Israel by Hamas from Gaza. But the tipping point was Netanyahu’s refusal to prevent Israeli settlers from seizing Palestinian property, and a brazen raid by Israeli soldiers on worshiping Palestinians inside the historic Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
It is likely that Netanyahu believes his hard-line approach will reconfigure his dwindling electoral fortune in Israel as he presents himself as a savior of the Jewish homeland. For Hamas, Israeli violence and the team’s rocket attacks against Israel “prove” that Palestine can only be liberated through armed struggle.
Once again, squeezed between the two, there is a more rational space that Fatah wants to explore. It is also the space favored by former US President Barack Obama. But current US President Joe Biden is busy settling differences of opinion over the dispute within his own multicultural government.
Some members of his cabinet ask him to follow Obama’s path. But unlike Obama, until the writing of this article, the Biden administration seems reluctant.
Posted in Dawn, EOS, May 23, 2021