Rajab Abu Sariya
June 18, 2008 - 4:52pm

Not only did President Mahmoud Abbas’ popularity rise since his calls for Palestinian dialogue, but also his political savvy has become evident, on both the domestic and diplomatic fronts. The timing and form of the presidential initiative didn’t allow Hamas to stall or refuse to negotiate, and that is what explains the talks in Cairo and Dakar and the resurgence of hope and optimism, despite wariness and caution shared by both observers and citizens.

As for the birds of Hamas, they are still freely on the tree, despite what some of its leaders view as unexpected achievements over the past two years: first, the astonishing results of the election in 2006, and second, the decisive outcome of the military showdown in 2007, after only five days of civil war in Gaza.

Within months, one consequence of that election victory was the Israeli arrest of the members of parliament from Hamas. That caused Hamas itself, rather than any other political factions, to obstruct the parliament, which was supposed to be the source of Hamas’ political power. This has been apparent on numerous occasions, the most obvious and significant being the group’s refusal of presidential calls for starting the second session in July of last year, thereby hampering parliament’s legitimacy ever since.    

As for the second item, not only did neutral observers and citizens, but even some Hamas leaders, viewed the conflict as a slippery slope that lacked planning. The group wasn’t planning on taking over the security headquarters, and wasn’t planning for a military showdown.  It is as if the group was tricked into an unavoidable trap that it is unable to get out of until now.

That is why its response to the presidential initiative came quickly, and reflected the extent of the crisis that the group is experiencing in Gaza after its military showdown with Fatah. That is apparent from the many and varied responses to the presidential initiative that came from multiple leaders of the group.

The showdown ended a power struggle, but it also critically damaged Hamas politically, as it resulted in the curtailing of the group’s ability to operate in the West Bank, as well as in the group bearing responsibility for the unsustainable national division and the spilling of Palestinian blood in the showdown. That is how Hamas lost more in popularity than it gained from seizing the security headquarters, and how it lost politically more than it gained on the battlefield.

Hamas, which hindered the Oslo track by its opposition, was no longer able to obstruct the Annapolis negotiations. Hamas, which all powers used to seek to persuade to engage in a national dialogue, has itself been seeking such a dialogue for the past year. Hamas, which had criticized all “communications and negotiations” with Israel, has been tirelessly seeking a truce that doesn’t include the West Bank. And Hamas – which barely mentions the aim of securing an independent Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967, lines, Jerusalem, and the rights of refugees, and instead clings to its dream of all of historical Palestine as an Islamic waqf – has been struggling to end the siege on Gaza and the siege on the Palestinian people, who for them have now decreased in number from more than ten million to only a million and a half.

Some of Hamas’ free birds view the truce with the false notion that it is achievable with Israel through Egypt in spite of the lack of a central authority. That is the same notion that some leaders of the Palestinian Authority have regarding negotiations. These notions ignore the need for Palestinian unity, and don’t acknowledge that the Israeli response – that of “almost yes” – which was given by the Israeli cabinet and government, shows how unlikely it is a truce will take place without achieving Israel’s goals of isolating Hamas in Gaza, separating Gaza from the West Bank, and removing Hamas from power and taking away its legitimacy.

Israel is interested in furthering the notion that it is possible to reach a truce in Gaza or to negotiate an end to the occupation in the West Bank regardless of the national division, because Israel fears that Palestinians recognize the problem and end their division. This sets up the loosing political gamble of affiliating with allies that cannot better one’s position, regardless of whether this is a consequence of a regional war or a long isolation. Such strategies can only result in a “disagreeable agreement” that would amount to a new Sykes-Picot, where the “small” players get nothing and the regional powers gain, much as happened to Al-Hussein Bin Ali of Mecca after the end of World War I.

Reason dictates that a regional conflict driven by an axis of resistance cannot change the course of history for the better. Even if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, there will still be Pakistan, India, and Ukraine (which has thousands of nuclear warheads), also considering, the economic weakness and technological backwardness that the Islamic nuclear power (Pakistan) suffers from, preventing it from defying the international community.

Not only is Iran primitive technologically, it is also internally weaken by thirty years of autocratic government which stifled the creativity of its people. That is why strategically, gambling on its fortunes is reckless.

The only bet that can potentially succeed is a bet that is made on the Palestinian people themselves, as shown  by the example of President Yasser Arafat after Camp David in 2000, when he could not find a single Arabic or Islamic country that supported his stance of refusing to give up Jerusalem. Success is only possible through defining the strategy of national struggle, inspiring and mobilizing the grassroots efforts of the people, foregoing the strategy of relying on groups of thugs, and to do all of this within a modern and progressive context that would counter the human backwardness imposed by the Israeli occupation.

The Palestinian bird is a free bird that can sing the most beautiful songs, providing that it escapes from the prison of regional and international agendas. This requires more than slogans. It needs long-, mid-, and short-term strategies, as well as the calm reason and common sense that is only achievable through national unity, not only between the West Bank and Gaza, but also between all social groups and political parties, without demonizing each other as traitors or infidels.                     

[Translation by Mike Husseini of ATFP]


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