Dialogue. Confidence-building measures. Joint committees. Prisoner exchanges. These are all terms we have grown used to hearing during the endless Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Now we’re hearing them about negotiations between the Palestinians themselves — or rather among the political forces that claim leadership of the Palestinians, with the Fatah and Hamas movements at their head.
Egyptian mediators billed the latest round of negotiations in early July — the sixth such “national dialogue” — as the make-or-break round for reconciliation. However, those talks only resulted in plans for another round on July 25, which is supposed to conclude with a reconciliation agreement on July 28.
Each side appears willing to wait the other out. Fatah believes that Hamas, weakened by years of siege, will be further crippled by changes in the status of its allies: the weak showing by the Hizbullah-led alliance in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, the turmoil in the wake of Iran’s elections, and Syria’s growing rapprochement with the United States. Hamas is hoping that the international community’s stance towards it will continue to soften.
Rarely have leaders appeared so disconnected from the needs and rights of the people they claim to represent. The conditions in Gaza are so dire that Americans, Europeans and other civilians undertake quixotic attempts to break Israel’s blockade, most recently through a humanitarian boat that was seized by the Israeli navy.
The Israeli blockade has prevented reconstruction after its year-end assault, and Gazans have been reduced to building homes from mud. Without reconciliation among Palestinian factions, the massive investment necessary to rebuild Gaza will not be forthcoming and Egypt will not reopen its own crossing.
As for the rest of the Israeli-occupied territories, here is a snapshot from the last week of June according to United Nations reports: Israeli forces injured 12 Palestinians in the West Bank, where the number of Israeli search operations exceeded the average for the first quarter of 2009, and there were three home demolitions, including two “forced self-demolitions” in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile Palestinian refugees and exiles languish in their 60-year limbo.
The dismemberment of the Palestinian national movement is one of Israel’s biggest successes. Yet, while Israel — and the Bush administration — provoked the rift, Palestinian leaders are sustaining it, becoming passive onlookers who appear powerless to shape their future, as though only Israel and the United States have agency.
Unless they want to become even more irrelevant to their people’s fate, Palestinian political parties might want to consider three things.
First, Hamas is not the enemy. Neither is Fatah. Israel is — until an Israeli-Arab peace agreement brings freedom, justice, equality, and security. At present, it is pointless for Palestinian leaders to argue about elections and government posts; there is little to govern under Israel’s occupation and in exile. Rather, they should step away from the lure of government and form a salvation front to rescue the national movement and lead the struggle for rights.
Second, the Palestinian national movement should work for peace with Israel from a position of strength. Unity is one element of such a position, intensive diplomatic outreach another. Yet, in the Palestinian context, strength does not necessarily mean military force. Armed resistance against occupation is sanctioned under international law — if it does not violate the law by, for example, targeting civilians. But using weapons against Israel puts Palestinians on a battlefield where they are weakest and Israel is strongest and makes it appear that there are two equal adversaries with equal claims.
Third, Palestinians are not powerless. The international movement of solidarity is not only growing, it is growing increasingly powerful with the effective use of the non-violent tools of boycott and divestment.
Recently, the French corporation Veolia decided to pull out of the light rail project that connects Jerusalem to the illegal Israeli settlements — a major victory for the Europe-wide boycott effort that was estimated to have cost the company $7 billion. Over in Australia, Melbourne decided not to renew the metro management contract of Veolia’s company Connex, the target of a sister boycott campaign.
Jews continue to be among the most active boycotters. For example, the Yes Men, who use humor and subterfuge to spotlight corporate excesses, just withdrew from the Jerusalem Film Festival. In a powerful open letter, they said their decision was not easy given their Jewish roots. Then they cited the many human rights violations of Israel’s occupation and declared, “Our film mustn’t help lend an aura of normalcy to a state that makes these decisions. For us, that’s the bottom line.”
Fatah and Hamas should rejoin ranks on the basis of a different political program and skillfully use the many sources of strength available to the Palestinians. Otherwise they will be reduced to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while their ship of state rapidly sinks.
NADIA HIJAB is a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.