Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement Should
By James Zogby
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 3, 2011
The Israeli response to news that Palestinian factions had achieved a
unity agreement was predictably irritating. Prime Minister Benjamin
derided the agreement in stark terms, saying that the Palestinians had a
choice of either "Peace with Israel or peace with Hamas". His spokesperson
reduced this bumper sticker rejection of Palestinian unity even further to
"reconciliation or peace".
What is, of course, galling is the
assumption implicit in the Prime Minister's framing of the matter, namely,
that peace with his government is a real possibility that the Palestinians
have now rejected. In reality, the Netanyahu government has shown no
interest in moving toward peace—unless on terms they dictate and the
While feigning disappointment at this
Palestinian move, Netanyahu must privately be delighted. The pressure he was
feeling to deliver some "concessions" to the Palestinians in his upcoming
speech to the U.S. Congress has now been relieved. He can now revert to old
form, expressing a vague desire for peace while warning that there is now
clear evidence that there is no Palestinian partner with whom he can work.
For his part, Netanyahu will now feel free to accelerate tensions
with Gaza, raids in the West Bank, home demolitions in Jerusalem and proceed
with settlement construction, as he pleases. His allies in Congress will do
the rest. They will denounce Palestinian reconciliation and claim that they
have no choice but to take steps to suspend U.S. assistance to the
Fateh and Hamas have done in achieving their accord is important and should
be supported. But two cautionary notes are in order: 1) They have merely
announced an engagement—the wedding is scheduled down the road and the
marriage will be fragile and subject to negative interference from
obstructionists who will work hard to break it up; 2) the U.S. can be one of
these home-wreckers (as we have been in the past) if the Administration puts
too much pressure on the Palestinians and/or supports Congress' efforts to
deny them needed aid.
Because Palestine remains a captive nation, it
is not the master of its fate. Prime Minister Salam Fayyed has done a
brilliant job of reorganizing the P.A.'s ministries and security forces and
putting the Palestinians’ financial house in order. But Gaza remains
under a near total blockade; Jerusalem and its environs (once the
Palestinian metropol—its religious, cultural, educational, economic and
social hub) have been severed from the rest of the West Bank; and the West
Bank, itself, has been separated into little cantons with no access or
egress to the outside world. As a result no real or sustainable economy can
develop, leaving Palestinians dependent on Israel and foreign aid. To punish
a captive people by denying them aid would be cruel and most unhelpful.
Given this dire situation, to suggest that the Palestinians must choose
reconciliation or peace, when peace has not been, and is not now, an option,
is nothing more than a disingenuous and cruel taunt.
What has been
so very clear since the elections of 2006 was that the Palestinian polity
had been fractured and was in disarray—with everyone behaving badly. The
U.S. and Israel did not accept the outcome of the election (that the Bush
Administration had pushed for). Israel took repressive measures (at
one point holding in detention, without charge, the majority of the newly
elected Hamas legislature, making it impossible for that body to function).
Aid was cut and the U.S. began to press the losing side, Fateh, to seek a
confrontation. Hamas also behaved foolishly. Instead of assuming the role of
a responsible government, and ignoring the many provocations against them,
they continued their old violent behavior—resorting to terror and picking
fights they couldn't win. The results were disastrous and for three
years now the Palestinians were not only weak and occupied, but increasingly
divided with two competing "governments" in two captive territories. This
situation was both burdensome and unsustainable.
need this unity and, whether they know it or not, the US and the Israelis
need the Palestinians to be unified. Palestinian reconciliation is a
precondition to any peace agreement and to stability in that region. Hamas
(whose past behavior I deplore and whose politics I reject) is a real part
of the Palestinian polity. The Bush Administration’s approach of working to
deepen the internal Palestinian divide only aggravated the situation,
creating more bitterness, and threatening to create a permanent rupture—a
situation which would only benefit those who envision a long-term Israeli
occupation and domination of a captive Palestinian people.
This effort at reconciliation may now provide Palestinians an opportunity to
get their house in order and to move Hamas in a more constructive direction.
Those in Israel and in the Congress who are hyperventilating over Hamas'
Charter ought to read LIKUD's and/or read some of the choice religious
pronouncements coming from Shas' spiritual leader.
What should be of
concern is Hamas' behavior, and this reconciliation agreement may yet prove
to be the best way to guarantee that Hamas will act responsibly. If the new
government of technocrats is allowed to function and to continue on the path
laid out by Fayyed, and if Hamas and Fateh can continue to work out a modus
operandi in their respective areas, leading to a new election later this
year, Palestinians will have put themselves in an even stronger position to
Bottom line: Palestinians shouldn't be asked to
choose "reconciliation or peace" especially when the party doing the asking
is denying them the chance to have both. Palestinians need both
reconciliation and peace. They are working on the former. Now is the time
for the US and Israel to make a real contribution to advancing the later.
In the short term, should the U.S. Congress suspend needed aid, it
would be important for the Arab states and others to step up and sustain the
P.A., allowing the reconciliation plan time to work through elections and an
expected U.N. vote in the fall. None of this, of course, will, by itself,
result in a state. But a democratic and unified Palestinian Authority will
make a stronger moral and legal case for recognition than Palestinians can
make today living as they do divided and governed by entities of
questionable legitimacy. Can this be why Israel is so hostile to the