Monday, August 28, 2006

Forcing world to act

August 24, 2006

Forcing the world to act

IT IS A great political idea to have a Palestinian national unity government, which is the central theme of a two-day Fatah Central Committee meeting that began in Amman on Wednesday that brought together some of the best-known veterans in the Palestinian liberation movement launched by the late Yasser Arafat. Indeed, things have changed a lot since the Fatah leadership met last. Those meeting in Amman face the tough challenge of shoring up Fatah itself, given the internal divisions that manifested themselves in the results of the January elections to the Palestinian parliament.
The task facing the Amman meeting is not easy, but that is not only the sole and sound option for the future of the Palestinian struggle for freedom but also the most feasible one that would confront the world with a realistic chance for peace in the vital Middle East region.
We could not agree more with Palestinian National Council Speaker and Fatah Central Committee member Salim Zanoun that a unity government is "the only way out for all Palestinian factions to face the difficulties and hardships of the present moment."
It is indeed subject to speculation how far a national unity government would be successful in breaking the current deadlock in every effort to find the right key to open the door for a negotiated solution to the Palestinian problem. However, presenting a united front on the basis of the common goal of liberating Palestine is the best option available to the Palestinians as the first step towards unscrambling the messed-up scenario in the effort for peace in the Middle East.
The fundamentals in the equation are clear: Israel has its own ideas about a solution and this falls far short of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in terms of the rights of refugees, the status of Arab East Jerusalem and the territory that would constitute an independent Palestinian state. It does not matter to Israel who is willing to sign the agreement on the Palestinian side as long as the Jewish state does not have to make compromises on its positions and demands and as long as the Palestinian partner is capable of containing hardliners and protecting Israel from armed resistance. Indeed, it is an unrealistic approach and hence the Israeli position that it does not have a Palestinian negotiating partner.
On the Palestinian side, Hamas represents the Islamist trend which, in principle, does not have room to allow the existence of Israel in Palestine. This trend calls for an Islamic state of Palestine to be created in all the territory that constituted British mandate Palestine before 1948. Whether the call is realistic is not the key issue for the Islamists. It is their position in principle, but there are enough signals that they would be willing to made "compromises" that would allow them a starting ground. Notwithstanding all the ifs and buts, it is a dead certainty that the Hamas leadership would act with pragmatism and realism at the right time and under the right conditions.
Fateh, which represents a nationalist movement as opposed to an Islamist trend, already signed onto "compromises" when it endorsed and accepted the 1993 Oslo agreements, which put off the key issues — refugees, Jerusalem and the borders of the proposed state of Palestine — for negotiations in five years. That deadline ran out in 1998, and the Oslo agreements are now as good as dead since Israel put up obstacles at every stage of the accords' implementation and deprived them of real substance.
The other Palestinian factions, which are varyingly described as militant, hardline and moderate depending on idelogies and perceptions, fit into the overall picture. All of them want a free and independent Palestine to start with but without making compromises on the core of the Palestinians' legitimate rights.
Today, the Palestinian leadership is dominated by Hamas, which defeated Fatah in January elections in a fair and just manner, and is under an international boycott if only because it is refusing to recognise the state of Israel, give up armed resistance and accept the Oslo accords.
We don't need to go any deep into the current crisis resulting from the capture of an Israeli soldier two months ago (because it could be resolved easily within the wider context of a push for negotiated peace. Indeed, there are many other serious issues that need to be addressed, including the priority issue of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, in that broader context).
However, in order to reach that point, the Palestinian side has to be ready and a government that represents the Palestinians as a whole is the first step towards that objective. The Palestinians have to put up a united front and deal with all issues from a point of representative authority, and a national unity government is the best means to to do so.
At the same time, Israeli hardliners are aware that Israel might not have a way out of negotiations if the Palestinians come up with a united front and they should try every trick in the book and outside it to pre-empt that eventuality.
Let us hope that the Palestinian side realises the challenges as well as the opportunities before them. Combined with the Arab initiative based on the decisions taken by the Beirut summit and reaffirmed at all subsequent Arab deliberations on efforts for Middle East peace, a united Palestinian front could force the international community, including the staunchest backers of Israel, to take a new look at the situation and act accordingly. Effectively, forming a solid common platform for the Palestinians means forcing the world's hand to act seriously towards a fair and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict rather than letting the US trying to impose Israeli-dictated terms on the Arabs.