May 8, 2011
Last week, the PLO and the Hamas has seized the moment of change in the Middle East to reach a new agreement ending over 4 years of a divided Palestinian camp. It appears with President Mubarak, a once staunch opponent of Hamas, no longer in the picture, the President of the Palestinian authority and the leader of Fatah, Mahmud Abbas realized that the time had come to work towards reconciling their differences with Hamas, the Islamic party which seized full control of the Gaza Strip. During the last four years, despite what many harsh words critics have slung at Abbas, he has lead the West Bank into prosperous times and put forth an ambitious plan to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state at the United Nations this upcoming September. In contrast, the Hamas has brought economic despair on the Gaza Strip and a failed policy which lead to the last war with Israel. Furthermore, with Syria currently undergoing political strife and Hamas remaining “neutral,” not throwing their weight behind the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, it seems safe to say that they will lose the support of one of their staunchest allies. Recently, it has been rumored that Hamas is even contemplating on moving their political wing to Qatar; if this is true, this will certainly be a move that will lead Hamas’s leader, Khaled al-Meshal to rethink his strategies. Lastly, while discussing the regional aspects of this, the signing of the reconciliation under Egyptian supervision must have came as a surprise to Turkey and its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who has invested great efforts in the reconciliation of the two factions.
While I will not go into the details of the deal which will eventually lead to general Palestinian elections in 2012, it could not have come at a better time for the Palestinians and at a worst time for Israel which seems strikingly immobile. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even warned Abbas before the signing that it “was either us or them.” This of course would only fall on deaf ears since every Palestinian understands the dire need to reconcile their differences and stand as one government united. Israel would be wise to continue peace negotiations and realize that this actually provides a window of opportunity to reach a sound agreement. As someone who has no lost love for Hamas (to put it mildly), I understand that a peace agreement in the end will be between two governments and Israel does not have the right to choose who they negotiate with; just like the Palestinians cannot boycott talks just because Netanyahu has in his government right-wing factions that are seen as enemies of the Palestinian cause. Nevertheless, it seems that Netanyahu will use this as yet another reason to stall. During his current tenure as Prime Minister, not like his predecessors, he has not made any real attempt at jump-starting the peace process. One wonders what he is waiting for and how long Netanyahu can continue this charade. With countries lining up to support the recognition of a Palestinian state just a few months away, it seems that Israel is stuck with no real answers. If Prime Minster Netanyahu were serious he would appoint a new Foreign Minister since the current one, Avigdor Lieberman has lost all credibility in the hallways of the United Nations and with US and European diplomats. Time is running out and with a united Palestinian front Israel is being backed into a corner with little room left to maneuver (a fact regardless if you are for or against Netanyahu). Lastly, as I write this, a news article has just come out in Haaretz which reminded me of something I had meant to put in this entry: that this reconciliation could definitely help bring closer the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage by Hamas for almost five years now. Let us hope that with Fatah and Hamas reconciling their differences that a deal over the release of Shalit and Palestinian prisoners can be reached as soon as possible enabling the release of Shalit before the fifth-year anniversary of his capture which is quickly approaching. Such a deal could be a chance for Hamas to show that they understand the new reality and that if they too can work out a deal that is acceptable to both the Palestinians and the Israelis.