Monday, December 17, 2012

Will Palestinians unite on a peace platform?

West Palm Beach:
Inflammatory rhetoric tops all industries in the Middle East. Talk of elimination of Israel or Palestine can only perpetuate the conflict.  To break the current deadlock one side has to move with a significant concession.
It would serve the interests of Hamas to join the Palestinian Authority in recognizing the state of Israel. Without agreeing on Israel the Palestinians cannot achieve lasting unity. Moreover, Hamas ought to realize that its denial of the existence of Israel gives the occupier an additional excuse to extend and tighten the occupation.
Reciprocally, if Israel wants lasting peace with all Palestinians it must also treat Hamas as a major stakeholder in Palestine affairs, not unlike the Palestinian Authority.  In their agreements on the release of prisoners and cease-fires, Israel and Hamas have already established de facto mutual recognition. The two sides have been locked in a vicious cycle: Israel would not formally negotiate with “terrorists” while Hamas would not officially recognize the legitimacy of a “colonial entity”.
Hard line attitudes across the divide are only part of the problem. Tel Aviv exercises collective punishment on Palestinians through mass-detention, pervasive check points, isolation of communities and relentless confiscation of land and homes.  For its part, Hamas and its partners in Jihad inflict widespread insecurity on civilian Israeli communities through blind shelling of rockets. While the era of suicide bombing has largely faded, wobbly rocket launching gives Israel the pretext to exercise disproportionate retaliation.
Selective perception serves the two enemies to rationalize short sighted policy. Following the negotiated cease-fire last month, Israel saw victory in devastating air strikes on Gaza.  On the other hand, Hamas gained regional admiration and international attention for standing up to mighty Israel.
Both Hamas and the government of Israel emerged after the cease-fire stronger advocates for their home constituents. Netanyahu heads for the January elections with expectations of being re-elected. And Hamas leaders ponder possible ascendancy to the presidency of Palestine in the next national election.
Emboldened by vain victory, the two rivals continue to demand illusory terms for peace.  In Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concept of a two-state solution lies the notion of a miserable Palestinian entity.  For Netanyahu, future Palestine would have to be small, disconnected, demilitarized and economically dependent.  
Israel withdrew in 2005 from Gaza and isolated this densely populated strip. Israel separated itself from the West Bank with a “security” wall, built settlements and checkpoints, cut off Ramallah from Hebron and detached the West Bank from East Jerusalem.  Israel’s Prime Minister recently announced plans to build 3000 units of housing in the West Bank and a new community in East Jerusalem. The current government has nearly completed its design to render a Palestinian state non-viable.  
For its part, Hamas rarely loses an opportunity to call for the elimination of the state of Israel. The Islamic Resistance keeps pointing to a mirage: liberating all of “Palestine”, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  Civilians pay heavily with life and treasure for misguided policy.   
To maintain power, Israel counts on continued land absorption, military superiority and partnership with Washington and the European Union.  On the opposing front, Hamas counts on an expanding Palestinian population, solidarity of the Muslim world and continued surge of rage politics.
The dynamics of power do change.  Israel should not take for granted continued European tolerance for the occupation of Palestine. Similarly, Palestinians should not count on rapid population growth, as long as Hamas and other Jihadi groups adopt war for a strategy. Palestinian military resistance, as ineffective as it has been, has opened up wide possibilities for Israel to engage in ethnic cleansing and rationalized annexation of land.
Is there still any chance for ending this conflict?  The recent UN vote on Palestine, where Europe played a major role, may turn out to be a significant opening for diplomacy.
As Washington’s interest in leading the peace process wanes, the European Union is starting to re-assert itself in Mideast politics.  Palestinians are now looking for the European Union to take additional measures against the occupation. By building a strong non-violent movement Palestinians could win the critical support of Europe.  The European legislature is more compassionate to Palestinian misery than the US Congress.
If Europe is willing to assume leadership in mediating Mideast peace, Washington is likely to follow Brussels.  Alone, Washington is no longer able to lead the Mideast peace process.
Nonviolent resistance is a solid platform for the unity of Palestinians; civic resistance is the shortest path for the fulfillment of their national aspirations. Europe may now be ready to push for a breakthrough.  


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