Palestinians Still Grieve Over May 15, 1948.
Tens of thousands of Jordanians celebrated Nakba day by walking from Karama village towards the Jordan River in an expression of support for the Palestinians’ rights of return. The demonstration stressed loyalty for King Abdullah II and rejection of Zionist plans to have Jordan as a compensation for lost Palestine. Paper kites with the Palestinian flag were flown over the occupied territories.
In many other Arab countries, the Palestinians marked this year’s Nakba, the anniversary of the day on May 15, 1948, of the founding of Israel in Palestine, that brought a catastrophe upon them with a newfound sense of purpose in the wake of the reconciliation agreement that was signed in Cairo in April. A Palestinian unity government is expected to be announced under the reconciliation accord. The process should be smooth sailing, since it is clear that the various Palestinian groups have realized that their cause for liberation stands to suffer if they do not put their house in order and come up with a united platform.
The Cairo accord effectively brings Hamas back into the mainstream Palestinian liberation movement and will hopefully end the existence of two Palestinian entities -the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Fateh-dominated West Bank under the Palestinian Authority (PA). The agreement calls for the formation of a caretaker government of independents until legislative elections are held in a year’s time. That should set the Palestinian house in order. Israel sees the unity deal as a major threat to its design to impose its version of a “peace” agreement upon the Palestinians. In public, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to include Hamas in the proposed unity government. In private however, the message is: don’t ever reconcile with Hamas, unity government or no unity government.
Many argue that if no Israeli Palestinian peace agreement is reached by September, all prospects for peace will be lost. That need not be the case. The Palestinians should go ahead with their quest for international recognition of their statehood within the 1967 borders, and deal with the resulting situation. Their best bet would be on European and Third World support for their cause, and for pressure that Israel would find difficult to resist despite backing from the US.
Netanyahu and company continue to ignore the signals from Hamas that it has indeed changed and that it has accepted the inevitability of having to deal with Israel. There have been many Hamas messages, starting with statements by its leader in exile, Khaled Mishaal, that the group was ready to accept Israel as a reality if the Palestinians are granted their right to set up an independent state within the 1967 borders, with Arab East Jerusalem as capital, and if an equitable solution is found to the problem of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.
That is effectively the political platform that was adopted by the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat. Israel had accepted that platform (although not the solutions that the Palestinians sought) and negotiated with the PLO.
In recent media comments, Mishaal also stated that Hamas gave Abbas the final say in armed resistance and made Hamas’ recognition of Israel contingent on Israel’s recognition of an independent Palestinian state. No doubt, Hamas has learnt its lessons in the four years since it gained control of Gaza Strip and realized that the wave of Arab unrest might not be in its favor. The same goes for all other Palestinian groups and leaders, including Abbas himself, who lost one of his staunchest allies when Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in Egypt. The Hamas leaders have also realized that their perceived alliance with Iran would not be of much realistic use to the effort to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.
Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government in Gaza Strip recently stated: “The world should realize that we have made many changes. The international community should not run away from these changes.” Notwithstanding Israel’s and its US-led allies’ statements, the onus is on the mainstream Palestinian leadership to confirm the “changes” in Hamas and to deprive Israel of the argument that it does not have a Palestinian negotiating partner who represents the entire Palestinian people.
It is a tough mission. Israel and its supporters say that the price for the acceptance of Hamas as a part of the diplomatic scenario of the Middle East is the group’s renunciation of armed resistance, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of past agreements signed by the PLO and Israel. It is a calculated stand. Israel knows well that Hamas would never meet the demands before it is assured of a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. As long as Israel maintains its rejection of the Palestinian people’s rights, there is no chance of Hamas agreeing to the demands..
More than anyone else, Hamas should see this catch-22 situation as damaging the Palestinian cause. Right now, international sympathy and support for the Palestinians is continuing to grow and Hamas could contribute to it significantly by making it known that it is not dedicated to destroying Israel and is willing to accept coexistence in Palestine as the basis for peace with Israel. It is this enigma that requires Jordan to resume its historical role that was snatched away by Mubarak of Egypt and Omar Suleiman a few years ago. Cairo does not have the same strong political cards that Amman enjoys. Only Jordan, which has the principal means to apply leverage on Hamas, can induce Mishaal to accept the new terms of the game and to secure the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity, as a strong signal to Netanyahu that all Palestinian factions are for peace.
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