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Palestine's New Partition

The US, the European Union, Israel and some Arab leaders are making every effort to prop up Fatah to combat Hamas. As a result, Palestine has been divided into two "mini-states" - the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Palestine’s New Partition

The US, the European Union, Israel and some Arab leaders are making every effort to prop up Fatah to combat Hamas. As a result, Palestine has been divided into two “mini-states” – the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

NINAN KOSHY

P
alestine is partitioned again. There are two “mini-states” in Palestine now. Former US president Jimmy Carter in an address in Dublin at a human rights conference accused the US, the European Union and Israel of seeking to divide the Palestinian people by channelling aid to president Mahmud Abbas’ new government in West Bank while denying the same to the Hamascontrolled Gaza strip. “It is an effort to divide Palestinians into two peoples”, Carter said. This will result in a “separate development within separate development” and “apartheid inside apartheid”.

When president George Bush and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert met soon after the installation of a Fatah-led emergency government in the West Bank, they reiterated their backing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. This sounds strange at a time, when a two-state solution

– Israel and Palestine – has virtually been killed by the new realities created on the ground by US and Israel and unfortunately when the term “two-state solution” has an ominous ring about it.

The fact is that there are now two governments in Palestine; one led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and the other led by Fatah’s Salam Fayaad in West Bank. So with two prime ministers in two locations representing two political orientations, all the signs indicate that the political partition of the West Bank and Gaza is a fait accompli, especially with the announcement of a new “separate development policy” by the US and Israel.

While the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmud Abbas described the Hamas takeover of Gaza as a “military coup”, many close observers of the developments see Hamas’ seizure of Fatah’s security offices in Gaza as a pre-emptive strike to forestall a “coup” by Fatah. Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian that Hamas acted on a very real fear of a US-sponsored coup.

Danny Rubinstein wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haretz soon after the Gaza takeover by Hamas, “The primary reason for the break-up is the fact that the Fatah headed by Palestine Authority chairman Mahmud Abbas has refused to fully share the PA’s mechanism of power with its rival Hamas, in spite of Hamas’ decisive victory in the January 2006 general elections. The US, the EU, most of the Arab leaders and of course the state of Israel warned Fatah not to share power with Hamas.” They decided to boycott their new Palestinian counterparts politically and punish Palestinian voters by blocking economic aid. Matters came to the point where Hamas attempted to take by force what they believe, they rightfully deserve.

Divide and Rule

There have been reports of a more sinister side to the boycott. According to them the US decided last year on a plan to arm and train Abbas’ presidential guard in a deliberate move to confront and defeat Hamas militarily. These reports indicated a US “hard coup” strategy. One mentions a document that recounts Washington’s objectives as expressed in US officials’ conversation with an Arab government. These are among others, “to maintain president Abbas and Fatah as the centre of gravity on the Palestinian scene”, “avoid wasting time in accommodating Hamas’ ideological conditions”, “undermine Hamas’ political status as well as military capability”. The document, dated March 2, 2007 (a month after Saudi Arabia brokered the agreement for the Palestinian Unity government), suggests that the US wanted to sabotage it because it left prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in charge.

Hamas wanted a restored unity government where the security forces would all report to the interior minister. Why was that so important? The security forces have been controlled by Fatah and its security chief Mohammed Dahlan and he was bent on sabotaging the Mecca accord. As a west Asia expert Alastair Crooke based in Beirut said, “Dahlan refused to deal with the independent interior minister and put his troops on the streets in defiance of the minister. Hamas felt that they had little option but to take control of security away from forces which were in fact creating insecurity.” Hamas has explained that the movement had no political goal except to defend itself from a group within Fatah collaborating with Israel and the US.

Indeed Israel has made no bones about backing Fatah and attacking only Hamas targets. And the US has funded and supported the Israeli efforts. Since the elections in January 2006, the US and Israel have worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah, with recognition and weaponry. The weapons went to Fatah’s security forces led by Dahlan. It is widely known that CIA operatives have long worked closely with Dahlan’s security apparatus.

The confidential report by Alvaro de Soto, UN under secretary general who was UN special representative of the secretary general to west Asia and Palestine Authority and also envoy to the quartet, titled ‘End of Mission Report’ in May 2007, is highly revealing. He describes the devastating consequences of the quartet’s (the US, EU, Russia and the UN) boycott of Hamas when it won the elections. He points out how this policy effectively transformed

Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

the quartet from a negotiation-promoting foursome guided by a common document (the Road Map) into a body that was all but imposing sanctions, on a freely elected government of a people under occupation, as well as setting unattainable preconditions. Of course, the US was just pursuing its own policy in the name of the quartet.

The distinguished diplomat commented on the consequences of the boycott of Hamas: “The propitious decline of the standard of living of Palestinians, particularly but by no means exclusively in Gaza, has been disastrous, both in humanitarian terms and with perilous weakening of Palestinian institutions. The underpinnings for a future Palestinian state have been seriously undermined, and the capacity of the Palestinian security apparatus to establish and maintain law and order has diminished tremendously. Thus the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neigbbour Israel have had the opposite effect.” De Soto points out that the other consequence of the quartet’s policy has been to take all pressure off Israel. “With all focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated.”

The UN envoy said that in fact a national unity government with the compromise formula along the lines of Mecca might have been achieved soon after the elections in January 2006, had the US not led the quartet to set impossible demands and opposed a national unity government in principle. The report says, “At the time and indeed until the Mecca agreement a year later, the US already pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas – so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys’ meeting in Washington, I like the violence, referring to the near civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured because it means other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Dangerous Peace

Despite security concerns for southern Israel that comes with Hamas controlling the Gaza strip, the Israeli prime minister has welcomed the situation as a “new opportunity” to make peace with Palestinians in the West Bank. President Bush said that the US was hoping that Abbas and his new government would be strengthened to the point where they could lead Palestinians in a different direction. Some Fatah leaders also appear to consider the situation propitious to resurrect the peace process since Israel has accepted the Fatahled government as a partner. They all seem to share a dangerous illusion.

Israel wants to isolate Gaza to prevent Hamas from spreading its influence in the West Bank and to boost its support of Palestinian president Abbas, it has been officially stated. “A Palestinian government which is not a Hamas government is a partner and we will cooperate with it”, the Israeli prime minister said on the day the new government was formed. “A new reality has been created during these past few days which we haven’t known during the long diplomatic efforts accompanying the long evolution of the Palestinian authority and we have the intention of working full-belt to seize the opportunity.” It is clear that Olmert has been not only hoping for this new reality but working for it.

What is also important to point out is that rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza would formalise the split and push prospects for a negotiated settlement further away. Efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, including a recent push by moderate Arab states led by Saudi Arabia would be dealt a huge blow because Abbas could no longer claim to represent all Palestinians and would lose his credibility with the embrace of Washington and Tel Aviv.

The question usually asked is, doesn’t Hamas refuse to negotiate? Isn’t it sworn to Israel’s destruction?. In fact there is a debate within Hamas about how far to go in meeting Israeli or American demands. Ismail Haniyeh the prime minister says Hamas’ goal is the creation of a Palestinian state in pre-1967 borders of West Bank and Gaza. The group’s military wing says it will consider a long-term truce only when Israel withdraws from the West Bank. The movement’s pragmatists including Haniyeh have been largely silent recently. They were silenced by the civil war abetted, if not fomented by Israel. This was not the first time Israel played such a role. At least twice last year, when the pragmatists prevailed and Hamas united with Fatah to promote a plan for peace, Israel used violence to provoke Hamas hardliners and block the peace process.

One of the persistent demands on Hamas from Israel and the international community – read the US – is the recognition of the state of Israel. Robert Fisk in a recent article in The Independent wrote: “No one asked – on our side – which particular Israel, Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds – and goes on building – vast settlements for Jews and Jews only in Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of Palestine still left to negotiate over?”

Alvaro de Soto in his report gives an insightful and careful assessment of both Hamas and Fatah. He says, “Hamas is deep-rooted, has struck many chords including its contempt for the Oslo process, and is not likely to disappear. Erroneous treatment of Hamas would have repercussions far beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories because of its links to the Muslim brotherhood, whose millions of supporters Islam-wide, might be led to conclude that peaceful and democratic means are not the way to go. Hamas is in effervescence and can potentially evolve in progressive direction that would allow for a two-state solution – but only if handled right.”

Alvaro de Soto adds, “On the other hand it is difficult to be sanguine about Fatah. They seem to have lost their compass long before their rout in the January 2006 elections. Abbas does his level best to keep things on track and to rebuild the broad pre-existing Palestinian consensus in favour of Oslo by trying to lure the Hamas, but it is not clear that he has substantial support among his advisers, let alone the broader Fatah constituency which has been taken for granted for long.”

What about prospects for any peace deal between Israel and its new Palestinian partner? Israel is unlikely to introduce a sea change in its historic, oppressive annexationist policy with respect to the West Bank, in spite of the current rhetoric promising to help set up the area as a model for Gaza. For one thing this requires a freezing or reversal of the disturbing expansion of Jewish settlements that have more than doubled since the 1993 Oslo Agreement. Israel will continue to impose its will on the Palestinians violating their communities, refusing a final status for the occupied territories, giving lip-service to the cause of peace, while in reality, establishing facts on the ground that increasingly make a lasting agreement impossible. And the US will continue to bless Israeli actions.

EPW

Email: knkoshy@vsnl.com

Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

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