Palestinian Unity: In Search of a Game Changer

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…


5 Comments on “Palestinian Unity: In Search of a Game Changer”

  1. WENDY CARSON says:

    in thinking in the beginning i felt very conflicted about my feeling about Hamas.I have come to realize that without hamas involved in negotiations the peace process is doomed.they represent a part of the base of the Palestinian people and their voices must be heard.i appeal to the goverments involved to take this step although it might take longer a more just and lasting peace will be achieved.

  2. Tord Steiro says:

    I think you are correct about what woud be the real gamechanger here. However, I do think that a unified PA government can take very effective action.

    In order for this deal to be worth anything to parties involved, I believe the following has to be included in it:
    1. opening of the Egyptian border.
    2. Solution to the question of political prisoners.
    3. More than tacit recognition of Israel behind the green line.
    4. A clause of dismantling the PA in a dignified manner if unification together with a declaration of independence does not lead to a viable state within a specified time limit.

    The ‘dignified manner’ of point 4 here is crucial, as it opens up for Hamas and Fatah politicians to gain credibility and legitimacy in leading the new revolt Joseph Dana speaks about. And my guess is that the politicians involved gamble that they are the better candidates for leading this new revolt, and that those they look upon as opponent will fail.

    The effect of this move will be most exciting, and I think it is a real gamechanger.

    P.S.
    I am also convinced that several European countries will go to great lengths to recognize the unity government as soon as possible, and doing their best to build pressure on the US to do the same. I’ll be excited to see which tactics they’ll use.

  3. Mark Zivin says:

    I agree with Brant that the US should itself engage with Hamas and even more importantly pressure the Israeli administration to face reality on the ground as well ( i hope to elaborate on this with a post at Beyondzs with 24 hrs). But I do think this changes the game – the problem is that anyone who says they know how is fooling you. It does potentially strengthen the seriousness of the potential unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September. And that fact certainly puts additional urgency on the Israeli government to retain control of events by pushing a bilateral agreement.

  4. Steve says:

    I agree that the following statement made by Bibi is pitiful and tragicl: “The PA must choose whether it is interested in peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas.”  The following link tells us why: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=218332


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