CEPR

April 19, 2014

Palestinian Paradigm Shift

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Despite the eruption of turmoil in the center of Cairo, the Palestinian factions met in the Egyptian capital on Thursday, November 24, to advance an agreement of national reconciliation. This accord is long overdue for the Palestinian people but it comes now more out of necessity for Hamas and Fatah –both of which seem to be drifting now towards a new paradigm.
 

With changes underway in Syria, the headquarters of Hamas’ politburo may no longer be as secure as it has been when hosted for the past decades by the Assad regime in Damascus.
 

For Fatah, the continual failure of peace negotiations with Israel has left PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, with little legitimacy and no leverage.
 

Couple with the cuts in funding from the United States to UNESCO (as U.S. punishment for accepting Palestine as a member) as well as cuts to core funding from Congress, Abbas has no ambition left to keeping dancing for Washington – particularly after Obama turned his coat.
 

This is not to say that Abbas endorses violence or that Hamas is returning to the use of violence as a means to end the Israeli occupation, but that has been the only means that has worked so far.
 

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was a result of the Palestinian armed resistance making life unbearable for the Jewish settlers along the southern coast of the Strip; just as it was the means by which Hezbollah liberated South Lebanon in May 2000 after 18 years of Israeli occupation.
 

These military victories gave both Islamist groups large popular support in their respective countries and strong if not overwhelming representation in national elections.
 

The Palestinian reconciliation process is all about the Western endorsement of Israel’s rejection of Hamas’ resounding election in 2006. How to bring Hamas into mainstream politics?
 

The problem is that Hamas will not be ‘brought in’ and go into ‘mainstream politics’ as the United State, Europe and Israel would have it, so a gradual new paradigm is coming together.
 

In Cairo, as Tahrir witnesses more deaths for popular representation, the Palestinian factions were posturing: Hamas has all the time in the world on its side; Fatah desperately needs to save face.
 

What emerged from Cairo was nothing new: Fatah and Hamas had already last month to have elections in May or June 2012. The novelty of the Cairo meeting was the announcement that a power-sharing formula has been reached – even though names were not divulged.

But here’s the catch. What’s the point of advancing technocrat candidates to fill top positions when each faction has its own agenda it’s trying to advance anyhow? What’s the point of this PR exercise of presenting a façade when that façade was already rejected?
 

It was after Hamas was elected in 2006 and realized that it was not prepared to govern Gaza or any other Palestinian entity that they reached the Mecca Accord under Saudi tutelage with Fatah. The delicate ‘security’ file of the Ministry of Interior was handed to the technocrat Hani Qawasmi.
 

He was an independent respected candidate who was kindly swept aside and denied by Israel and the United States when they trained and deployed Fatah troops to Gaza to overthrow the de facto Hamas government there – the rest is history, but we’ve been at the technocrat crossroads before.
 

Why go through the motions of creating a ‘care-taker’ government in the next months when those candidates will be rejected by either the Western powers or by Hamas and when both factions will compete against each other again in national elections next year anyhow?
 

Hamas does not seem to mind either way. Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is once again calling for a return of all Palestinian territory, a return of all Palestinian refugees, and a return of all Palestinian prisoners, with a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
 

Whether you agree or not, Haniyeh is absolutely correct in saying that Israel has overstepped by far the 1967 borders with the Jewish colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank. He’s also correct in seeing the regional balance-of-power shifting.
 

The Palestinian paradigm shift is such that the political opinion of the United States and financial encouragement from the European Union will not count as much as they did before. Neither Washington not has been able to ameliorate the likelihood of a Palestinian state, so the Palestinians might as well be  united in getting it all back rather than settle for the segregated and secluded pieces of territory that they’ve been promised time and again…
 

Hamas is offering the impossible – for now – and it’s by all means a dogmatic and repetitious discourse, but it provides solace and hope for a better future. 
 

Stuart Reigeluth is Managing Editor of Revolve Magazine and works at the Council for European-Palestinian Relations. This article was first published in Gulf News,  Nov. 19, 2011.