Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Hope and Gloom in the
Beach Refugee Camp
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 5, 2014
For years, Palestinian factions have strived for unity, and for
years unity has evaded them. But is it possible that following several
failed attempts, Fatah and Hamas have finally found that elusive middle
ground? And if they have done so, why, to what end, and at what cost?
On April 23, top Fatah and Hamas officials hammered out the final
details of the Beach Refugee Camp agreement without any Arab mediation.
All major grievances have purportedly been smoothed over, differences have
been abridged, and other sensitive issues have been referred to a
specialized committee. One of these committees will be entrusted to
incorporate Hamas and the Islamic Jihad into the fold of the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO).
A rift lasting seven years has
been healed, rejoiced some headlines in Arabic media. Israelis and their
media were divided. Some, close to right-wing parties, decried the
betrayal of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of the
‘peace process’. Others, mostly on the left, pointed the finger at Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pushing Abbas over the edge –“into
Hamas’s arms” per the assessment of Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing
It is untrue that the rift between Fatah and Hamas
goes back to the January 2006 elections, when Hamas won the majority of
seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and formed a
government. The feud is as old as Hamas itself. The Islamic Resistance
Movement, Hamas, was founded in Gaza with two main objectives, one direct
and the other inferred: to resist the Israeli military occupation at the
start of the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, and to counterbalance the
influence of the PLO.
Since then, a staple argument has clouded
the judgment of many analysts, most of them sympathetic to Palestinians.
They claim that Hamas was the brainchild of the Israeli intelligence Shin
Bet, to weaken Palestinian resistance. That too is a misjudgment.
Hamas founders were not the only Palestinians to have a problem with the
PLO. The latter group, which represented and spoke on behalf of all
Palestinians everywhere, was designated by an Arab League summit in 1974
as the sole and only representative of the Palestinian people. The target
of such specific language was not Hamas, for at the time, it didn’t exist.
The reference was aimed at other Arab governments who posed as Palestine’s
representatives regionally and internationally.
representation’ bit, however, endured even after surpassing its
usefulness. Following the Israeli war on Lebanon in 1982 that mainly
targeted PLO factions, the leading Palestinian institution, now operating
from Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab entities, began to flounder. Its
message grew more exclusivist and was dominated by a small clique within
Fatah, one that was closest to former leader Yasser Arafat.
the 1987 uprising broke out, it was a different breed of Palestinians who
seemed to reflect the new mood on the ground, far away from Tunis and all
Arab capitals. New movements included the United National Leadership of
the Intifada, although it was quickly coaxed by PLO leadership in exile.
Other movements, like Hamas, survived on its own.
That was the
original rift, which grew wider with time. When Arafat signed the Oslo
Accords with Israel in 1993, the once unifying character of the ‘sole
representative’ of Palestinians began to quickly change. The PLO shrunk
into the Palestinian Authority, which governed parts of the West Bank and
Gaza under the watchful eye of Israel; and the parliament in exile became
the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), a much more restricted
parliament at home that was still under occupation. The blurred lines grew
between the PLO, the PA and Fatah. It was clear that the liberation
project, mounted by the PLO and Fatah in the early 1960’s, became anything
In fact, the whole paradigm was fluctuating at all
fronts. ‘Donor countries’ became the true friends of Palestine, and
geography suddenly became a maze of confusing classifications of areas A,
B and C. The status of Jerusalem was a deferred topic for later
discussions; the refugees’ Right of Return was a mere problem that needed
to be cleverly and creatively resolved with possible symbolic gestures.
The befuddling peace process has remained in motion, and is
likely to continue even after the unity deal. On April 18, former Israel
lobbyist and current US peace envoy Martin Indyk returned to the region in
a last desperate effort to push both parties to an agreement, any
agreement, even one that would simply postpone the US-imposed deadline for
a ‘framework agreement’. But little could be done. Netanyahu had no
reasons to move forward with the talks, especially being under little or
no pressure to do so. Abbas’s only hope that Israel would release a few
Palestinian prisoners, from the thousands of prisoners it currently holds,
was dashed. He had nothing to show his people by way of an ‘achievement’.
20 some years after Abbas helped facilitate the Oslo agreement,
he had nothing to show except for more settlements and a seemingly
unbridgeable divide between factions within his own Fatah party, but also
with others. With the imminent collapse of the peace process, this time
engineered by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas needed an exit, thus
the Beach Refugee Camp agreement with Hamas.
The timing for Hamas
was devastatingly right. The group, which once represented Palestinian
resistance, not just for Islamists, but for others as well, was running
out of options. “Hamas is cornered, unpopular at home and boxed in as
tightly as ever by both Egypt and Israel,” wrote the Economist on April
26. “Its former foreign patrons, such as Qatar, have been keeping their
distance, withholding funds for projects that used to bolster Hamas.”
Indeed, the regional scene was getting too complicated, even for
resourceful Hamas, a group that was born into a crisis and is used to
navigating its way out of tough political terrains. Despite putting up
stiff resistance to Israeli wars and incursions, the group has in recent
years been obliged to facilitate hudnas (ceasefires) with Israel, doing
its utmost in keeping Gaza’s border with Israel rocket-free. The
destruction of the tunnels since the Egyptian army coup against the
government of Mohammed Morsi in July had cost the Hamas government nearly
230 million dollars. To manage an economy in a poor region like Gaza is
one thing, to sustain it under the harshest of sieges is proving nearly
As is the case for Abbas’s PA, for Hamas the
agreement was necessitated by circumstances other than finding true ground
for national unity to combat the Israeli occupation. In fact, the Beach
Camp deal would allow Abbas to continue with his part of the peace
process, as he will also remain at the helm of the prospected unity
government, to be formed within a few weeks from the signing of the
agreement. Although Arab governments were not directly involved in
bringing both parties together – as was the case in previous agreements in
Sana, Mecca, Cairo and Doha – some still hold a sway.
particular holds an important key, the Rafah border with Gaza. Hamas is
looking for any space to escape the siege and its own isolation. Egypt
knows that well, and has played a clever game to manipulate, and at times,
punish Hamas for its closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Americans and the Israelis have the largest keys to quashing the unity
deal. Netanyahu immediately suspended the peace process, as the
Hamas-Fatah agreement was a last minute escape route for his government to
disown the futile talks, whose collapse is now being blamed on the
Palestinians. The Americans are in agreement with Israel, as has always
been the case.
Scenes in Gaza tell of much hope and rejoicing, but
it is a repeated scene of past agreements that have failed. Sometimes
despair and hope go hand in hand. The impoverished place has served as a
battlefield for several wars and a continued siege. It is aching for a
glimmer of hope.
- Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle
East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His
latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto
Press, London). (A version of this article was first published in Middle
East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)