Amira Hass
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
November 21, 2011 - 1:00am

My crystal ball shattered long ago, so I cannot predict whether or not a Palestinian reconciliation government will indeed come into being. All I can do is offer a few thoughts and questions, and emphasize that it is not my Israeli identity that is responsible for them but rather my left-wing identity.

First, there is a contradiction between the term "reconciliation government" and the hopes that are pinned on reconciliation. "Government" (even a new one) conjures up mild regulation along the lines that have evolved over the past 20 years, namely international subsidizing of Israeli occupation and its socio-economic and security cost to Palestinians (in Gaza, add to the subsidizers Iranians and other Islamic sources). This sustains social groups that are embedded in the limited self-government apparatus to the point where its very existence becomes the objective. Not only the bureaucracies but even the means of national struggle for independence, including the use of arms, have rusted and become sclerotic; they have evolved into a mechanism for maintaining two self-governments.

Second, the illusion that self-government could develop into a state has been shattered. No one thinks that Israel of today is interested in an agreed solution, unless it is capitulation. The popular hope is that reconciliation, along with the bid for United Nations membership, will bespeak a new way that defies the patron (Israel and the West, particularly the United States), if only because it's obvious that the patron opposes reconciliation. The assumption is that reconciliation--like the UN bid--signals clearly that the Oslo phase is over. Creativity is now expected. Can those who participate in reconciliation talks develop creativity on their own?

Third, the illusory existence of a "Palestinian government" with ministers and ministries and sovereign ceremonies--but in reality with less authority than a municipality--is an inseparable aspect of the Oslo process. In this regard, there is no difference between Hamas and Fateh as ruling party. It is the representative function of the Ramallah government vis-a-vis the international community that creates the illusion of the "real thing", while the Gaza Strip's existence as an autarchic geographic entity renders it easy for the Gaza government to pass for sovereign.

Fourth, the crumbling Fateh movement now has to persuade us that reconciliation is not just a means of trying to rehabilitate itself or of delaying its inevitable evolution toward non-relevance. Ever since it ensured its rule over the Gaza enclave, Hamas has been doing all in its power to prove that it, as an Islamist national movement, is capable of ruling better than Fateh. If we factor in the draconian siege of the Strip and the western boycott, Hamas seems to display more cunning governance skills than Fateh. Would it have been as successful without its reliance on internal repression and without Israel's closure policy? One way or another, reconciliation involves a greater concession on the part of Hamas/Gaza than Fateh. Is its willingness--and not just the agreement of Hamas Politburo Chairman Khaled Meshaal--assured?

Fifth, if the two parties are interested in addressing popular expectations, they will deal less with the identity of the new prime minister and instead begin by dispensing with the very deceptive concept of "government" and its division into "ministries" a-la-Britain. It is not a semantic change that is required. Is it possible to create a new type of collective leadership? Can the old two-headed leadership generate a new collective? Is the old leadership, particularly in the West Bank enclaves, capable of foregoing the material returns and pleasures of (limited) power that produced the illusion of rule until now?

Sixth, the assumption that it is worthwhile and possible to hold free elections to the representative institutions of the Palestinian Authority in the shadow of Israeli occupation is also an inseparable aspect of the Oslo self-deceit. Elections, by their very nature, sharpen differences and generate competitiveness. That's good for the occupier and bad for the occupied. The democratic element embodied in elections--constant monitoring of the elected representative--is eroded insofar as the dates of new elections are constantly changing. Just how well the competitive-differentiating element of elections served Israel's separation policy has been demonstrated since 2006. Would it not be preferable to forego party-based elections and develop alternative means, meaning direct democracy, to facilitate the discussion of tactics and strategies for realizing self-determination and to choose representatives? To this end, it is necessary to restrain the authoritarian inclinations developed by the autonomous governments in the West Bank and the Strip. Is this possible?

Seventh, Israel and the West are likely to respond to reconciliation and the new way with malicious economic penalties and blocking of funds (taxes, customs duties and donations) that disrupt the ways of life that have emerged in the course of the past 20 years. Accordingly, the reconciliation process requires preparations for dealing with this evil while maintaining public support for the process and for those who represent it. How?

Eighth, rehabilitating the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative body of the entire Palestinian people--including all-Palestinian elections in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora--sounds more and more like a creative option that grabs peoples' imagination. Reconciliation could be a means for hastening this option.


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