What’s Next Will Come Soon
In Gaza, where Hamas is in charge, the high price of armed resistance to Israel has discredited any attempts to revive the conflict. In the West Bank, under Fateh rule, negotiations have gone nowhere. Neither track of Palestinian politics, resistance’ or negotiation, offers hope of achieving independence. As a result, Palestinians face their most difficult challenge since 1948.Israeli threats of renewing its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip are taken very seriously. The scenes of devastation are still vivid in the streets and neighborhoods of Gaza, and Hamas is taking no chances of provoking Israel into a new war. The fighting cost Hamas two of it’s top leaders, Saeed Siyam and Nizar Rayan, and significantly weakened its military capabilities. It is only recently that these have been rebuilt. Hamas finds itself in a difficult position, since its policy calls for strong resistance, while simultaneously pursuing a very political agenda. Yet this policy has failed. Hamas has put pressure on all resistance groups in Gaza to refrain from provoking Israel. In an unprecedented statement, Mahmoud Al Zahar, a top Hamas leader, said any missiles fired at Israel from Gaza would be “betrayal missiles”.
Instead, Hamas has turned its attention to the West Bank, where it has no political authority. It has called on Palestinians there to launch a new Intifada against Israel, even while insisting on calm in’ the Gaza Strip. Fateh, which runs the West Bank, wants no part of another Palestinian uprising. President Mahmoud Abbas has made no secret of his objection to such a strategy. But with their government unable to do anything about the expansion of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, as well as continued conflicts over holy sites in Hebron, Bethlehem and AI Aqsa Mosque, West Bank Palestinians are extremely frustrated. Recent street demonstrations could easily turn into an outbreak of ongoing resistance to Israeli rule.
The Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, is afraid that a popular, nonviolent Intifada might quickly turn violent. If so, Israel might use it as a pretext to crush the Palestinians and their newly built institutions. This has happened before, during the last Intifada in 2002.
There is another scenario that also terrifies Fateh leaders. An outbreak of violence could strengthen Hamas and its military wing, Al Qassam Brigades, in the West Bank. This, in turn, could produce a repeat of the scenario that brought Hamas to power in Gaza in June 2007, when all Fateh authority in the area collapsed after the Israeli withdrawal. Yet the peace process has been stalled for more than a year, greatly reducing Fateh’s credibility in the West Bank. Abbas has repeatedly described peace as a strategic choice for the Palestinians. But 17 years since the signing of the Oslo agreement and the launch of talks between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, there has been very little movement towards a Palestinian state. In popular opinion, negotiations have reached a dead end.
CAPTION: Saeb Erekat’s Solution for the Haram
The PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat suggested unprecedented compromises on the division of Jerusalem and its holy sites.
Erekat proposed unprecedented compromises and a “creative” solution for on the division of Jerusalem and its holy sites including the Haram al-Sharif in a private meeting with US envoy George Mitchell. Minutes of negotiations at the US State Department in Washington DC indicate that Erekat was willing to concede control over the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, to the oversight of an international committee. The highly controversial issue of who controls the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), home of the Al Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – has been a major sticking point during decades of negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians.
Israel calls the Haram al-Sharif the “Temple Mount” because Jews believe it was the site of the Second Temple destroyed during Roman times. In recent years, Jewish settler groups – some with close ties to the Israeli government – have advocated building a “Third Temple”, which would necessitate the destruction of the existing Muslim holy sites.
Arab diplomats also show few signs of optimism. At its recent summit in Libya, the Arab League rejected the proximity talks proposed by the United States’ Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell. The Arab position is that no proximity talks can be held until Israel freezes its settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinian and Arab opinion is waiting for the US, as Israel’s ally, to intervene and press for concessions.
Though the Palestinian economy in the West Bank has improved greatly under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, this is no substitute for serious peace negotiations. In August 2009, Fayyad declared his vision of a Palestinian state in two years. Under his blueprint, which has received strong financial support from the US and the European Union, the political, economic and security infrastructure of the Palestinian state would be ready by August 2011. Fayyad has also gained the backing of Fateh and most other Palestinian groups in the West Bank. Fayyad’s strategy for international recognition of a Palestinian state is to fight a legal battle against Israel in the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies. He is convinced that establishing a Palestinian state would serve the interest of all parties, and that the odds favor the Palestinians in international political struggle.Hamas does not share this view, and Palestinian reconciliation efforts have reached an impasse. The Arab League has given Egypt the lead role in bringing the two sides together, but Hamas has spurned Egypt’s proposals. Now, with open revolt in Egypt and calls for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak’s, Egypt has put aside these talks. Palestinians are looking instead to Iran, Hamas’ ally, for signs of any revival in discussions between Fateh and Hamas.
Palestinians’ choices are limited, and there is no consensus among them on how to proceed. But there is a growing sense that the waiting game cannot last much longer. Whatever comes next will most likely come soon.
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