When I read of the reported “PA-Hamas reconciliation” deal, my initial response was generally positive. It seemed to me that Palestinian leaders on both sides were finally taking their constituents’ desire for unified leadership seriously. It also appeared that – together with the PA’s campaign to find international support for a declaration of statehood – Palestinian leadership had decided to proactively shake up the paralyzed status quo.
Readers of my blog know I’ve long believed that Israel, the US and the international community should end its shunning of Hamas if any real progress will be made in settling this conflict. Alas, I’m saddened but not too surprised that Bibi’s immediate response to Palestinian unity talks was to say the PA “must choose whether it is interested in peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas.” For its part, the White House stated it “supports Palestinian reconciliation,” but then rejected its support in its very next sentence:
The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians.
At any rate, it’s fairly clear that the unity effort is likely to be more symbolic than an actual game changer. As Ali Abunimah recently pointed out, it’s difficult to imagine how a unified Palestinian leadership could ever operate effectively under current circumstances:
If there is an agreement on a joint “government” how can it possibly function without Israeli approval? Will Israel allow Hamas ministers be able to operate freely in the occupied West Bank? Will PA officials be able to move freely between the West Bank and Gaza? Israel is effectively at peace with the current Abbas wing of the Palestinian Authority and at war with Hamas. Impossible to see how such a government can operate under Israeli occupation. If anything this proves the impossibility of democracy and normal governance under Israeli military occupation.
In the end, writes Joseph Dana, the issue is not whether or not the Palestinian leadership could function with Hamas involved. The actual motive behind unity talks is not the Palestinian leadership’s desire to serve as a real functioning government – but rather its desire to co-opt the Palestinian masses who are inspired by the revolutionary spirit currently coursing though the Arab world:
The agreement signed last night between Fatah and Hamas does not represent unity. The reconciliation agreement represents a move to appease growing popular movements on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank which are demanding real unity, one that might not even involve the PA and Hamas, in order to combat Israeli occupation.
I completely agree with Dana that the Palestinian popular nonviolent resistance movement has the power to challenge Israel in ways that the PLO and Hamas never could. Indeed, this is the kind of Palestinian unity Israel should really be taking seriously:
A unified Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza which adopts nonviolent resistance tactics has the potential to inflict incredible damage on the Israeli occupation. Actually, Israel does not have an effective strategy to combat Palestinian nonviolence and unity. Look at the amount of military resources Israel have used to crush small West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh, which embrace unity and nonviolence against occupation.
Unless American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders show real leadership, there is every reason to believe Palestinian people may well seize that mantle themselves. Now that would be a real game changer…