Just days after the Hamas-Fatah clash last June in Gaza,
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looked firm and composed as he shook
hands with members of his new emergency government. He made sure his move
appeared as legitimate as possible, issuing decrees that outlawed the armed
militias of Hamas, and also suspended consequential clauses in the Palestinian
Basic Law, which had thus far served as a constitution.
The Basic Law stipulates that the Palestinian parliament
must approve of any government for it to be constitutional. Abbas simply
decreed that such a clause was no longer valid, effectively robbing
Palestinians of one of their greatest collective achievements -- democracy.
This system, when truly representative, is indeed precious
and meaningful. Considering the impossible circumstances under which
Palestinian democracy in particular was spawned and nurtured -- military occupation,
international pressure, extreme poverty -- it was also deeply historic.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that followed the US occupation in Iraq,
Arabs showed themselves as ultimately capable of carrying out a democratic
Unfortunately, the achievement of democracy cannot guarantee
Almost immediately after Hamas� sizable election victory in
January 2006, both local and international forces scrambled to suffocate and
reverse the outcome of this vote. Conceited intellectuals wrote about the
incompatibility of Islam and democracy, politicians decried Hamas� victory as
signalling the encroachment of militarism and extremism, and world leaders
clambered to affiliate themselves with the �legitimate� Abbas, as opposed to the
�illegitimate� Hamas. Indeed, it was a mockery.
For Israel, the clash between Abbas� Fatah and Islamic Hamas
was a golden opportunity, one that is comparable to the benefits gleaned from
another opportune moment, the alleged terrorist attacks of September 11.
The latter was recently -- and not for the first time -- described by Israeli
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as good for Israel (Haaretz, April 16).
The Palestinian fight was also good for Israel; no longer
would the nuisance of Palestinian democracy compete with Israel�s self-ascribed
�only democracy in the Middle East.� More, Palestinians were once again
depicted as the unruly mob, incapable of producing responsible peacemakers and
creating an environment of �security,� which the state of Israel so often
claims to covet.
As for Abbas and his ministers, they knew too well that the
newfound American-Israeli fondness for them was conditional. After all they are
the same people, holding the same position and playing the same roles that they
have always played. They are the ministers, aides, friends and officials of
late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who were, like their
president, repeatedly shunned. They also understood well their new appeal in
representing the antithesis to Hamas. Rather than rejecting the role of the
stooges, Abbas� cabinet ministers played along.
Suddenly the conflict that was hitherto seen as one between
Israel and the Palestinians became one between Abbas and his supporters (Israel
and the US) on one hand, and Hamas alone on the other. The problem as reported
in mainstream media ceased being about settlements, occupation, and violations
of international law, but rather about the anti-democratic �forces of darkness�
in Gaza as opposed to the forces of peace and civilization in Ramallah and Tel
Aviv. To reinforce these highly deceptive images with �action,� Abbas and
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert initiated their quest for illusive peace.
This started in Annapolis and was followed by regular, although equally futile
�rounds� of talks in Israel. Few expected such meets to yield any meaningful
outcomes; they were clearly intended only to further isolate Hamas and
underscore the Abbas-Israeli alliance.
In order for the show to go on, Hamas and Fatah will not be
allowed to reconcile, at least not until Israel and the US decide to change
tactics. Of course this doesn�t mean that there is no basis for reconciliation.
Palestinian factionalism equals capitulation in the face of a harsh, emboldened
enemy. Recently we have seen the 2005 Cairo Agreement, the 2007 Mecca Agreement
and the March 2008 Yemen Agreement. But to win the approval of Israel in the
West Bank -- and to avoid the tragic fate of Gaza -- Abbas is not interested in
the points of agreement, but rather in the points of discord. Aljazeera
reported that Azzam al-Ahmad, the Fatah member who signed the Hamas-Fatah
memorandum in March, was chastised openly for keeping Abbas �in the dark,�
regarding the nature of the agreement. Al-Ahmad insisted that Abbas knew exactly
what the agreement stipulated. It seems that a document that merely highlights
a course of action towards full reconciliation between the two parties was too
much for Israel to accept. Not even the blood of over 120 Palestinians in Gaza,
who were killed in a matter of six days in early March, seemed a strong enough
motive to override Israel�s threats of Palestinian unity signalling the end of
the futile �peace process.�
And, of course, there is the money trail. Just days before
the Yemen fiasco, the US had agreed to transfer $150 million in support to the
Palestinian Authority as �part of past pledges to boost President Mahmoud
Abbas� government.� Boost against whom? Surely not Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reportedly said it
was �the largest sum of assistance of any kind to be transferred to the
Palestinian Authority by any donor in one tranche since the Palestinian
Authority�s inception (in 1994).� Heart-rending indeed, Mr Fayyad, but one must
wonder how much of the money will go to feed the starving in Gaza, or
rehabilitate the refugee camps of the West Bank?
While such noble efforts by the UN�s John Dugard, former US
President Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu have brought much needed
attention to the plight of Palestinians and Gazans in particular, PA officials
are too busy attending donors' conferences and issuing empty statements which
few even bother to read. They act as if they are a neutral party caught in the
middle of religious fanatics and Israel. Their fight no longer seems even
remotely related to Palestine or its people. These are hardly the qualities of
any liberation movement or leadership anywhere, in any period of history,
recent or otherwise. Neither Abbas nor Fayyad are likely to be the exception.Ramzy
Baroud is a Palestinian-American author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has
been published in numerous newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s Struggle (Pluto
Press, London). Read more about him on his website: ramzybaroud.net.