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LEVEN VS SPIVAK : THE DEBATE OVER THE FATAH-HAMAS RECONCILIATION: A STEP FORWARD OF BACKWARD

By Elliot Leven with Response from Rhonda Spivak, May 12, 2011

 

The Debate over The Fatah and Hamas  Reconciliation- A step forward or backward? 
 
     

Fatah-Hamas’s Reconciliation-A Small Step Forward

By Elliot Leven, May 12, 2011

 

All things end. Great Britain once refused to recognize America’s right to exist, and fought a bloody war to prevent it from existing.  Many died on both sides. Today, Britain and America are the closest of allies.

Until the early 1970s, the United States and China had no diplomatic relations, and would barely talk to each other.  It was considered a major breakthrough when a few of their citizens played ping-pong together. Today, their economies are inextricable intertwined.

Once Israel refused to talk to Fatah (the majority faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization) because Fatah was a terrorist organization.  Today, Israel and Fatah are partners in a search for peace.  Peace remains elusive, but cooperation with Fatah continues. Fatah controls the Palestinian portions of the West Bank.

Today, Hamas (which controls the Gaza Strip) is a terrorist organization that refuses to unconditionally recognize Israel’s right to exist. (In the past it has declared its support for the concept of a long-term cease-fire with Israel.) That does not mean that it will always be at odds with Israel.  If we can agree that a desirable goal would be for Israel, Hamas and Fatah to all be at peace, the practical question is: how do we get from here to there?

One major problem is that, since about 2007, Fatah and Hamas have been bitter enemies.  It is a shame the voters of Gaza elected Hamas in 2006, but the reality is that Hamas controls Gaza.  If there is ever to be peace in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, a first step must be some form of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

This first step may have occurred on May 4 in Cairo.  With Egypt’s blessing, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement which might pave the way for reconciliation between the two groups.  The pact calls for an interim Palestinian administration run by independent technocrats, in preparation for an open election which would elect a government to run both Gaza and the West Bank.  It is not clear how well Fatah and Hamas will be able to cooperate in the months ahead. 

However, the agreement did lead to some immediate symbolic signs of reconciliation. Hamas allowed Fatah-controlled Palestine TV to broadcast from Gaza for the first time in four years.  Also, Hamas allowed Gaza residents to wave yellow Fatah banners, which had been banned by Hamas police in the past.

Frmer United States President Jimmy Carter went on record as supporting the Fatah-Hamas agreement.  In a Washington Post editorial, Carter expressed his feeling that Hamas and Fatah “understand that their goal of an independent Palestinian state cannot be achieved if they remain divided.”  Carter is aware of the challenges ahead: “suspicions of Hamas stem from its charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. I find the charter repugnant. Yet it is worth remembering that Israel negotiated the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization while its charter had similar provisions. It took five more years before the PLO Charter was altered.”

Israeli reaction to the Fatah-Hamas agreement has been mixed.  Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the accord: “The agreement between [Fatah chairman] Abu Mazen and Hamas strikes a serious blow to the peace process.”  Netanyahu also labeled the accord “a great victory for terrorism.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that he would delay the transfer to the Palestinian Authority (PA) of some tax money which Israel has collected on behalf of the PA.

Oher Israelis have been more balanced.  Yuval Diskin, outgoing head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI), warned against blowing the accord out of proportion, and opposed the idea of withholding tax money from the PA: “Overall, we have to give the Palestinian Authority money.  If we, the Americans and the West do not give money, there will be no more Palestinian Authority.”

 A report prepared by the Israel Foreign Ministry’s planning division advises Israel’s government to take a “constructive approach” and to try to improve relations with Washington by being (and being perceived as) a “team player”.

In short, Netanyahu’s overblown rhetoric is excessive.  The accord may fall apart in the months to come.  Fatah and Hamas are far from being best friends.  Even if Fatah and Hamas achieve a real reconciliation, there will be no peace in the Middle East until Hamas really and truly comes to terms with Israel’s secure existence.  That may take years.

However, it would be foolish to say that Hamas will “never” be a partner in peace.  Just as it would have been foolish to say in 1776 that Britain and America would never be allies.  Or to say in 1970 that America and China would never be trading partners.

For now, Israel must use its considerable public relations skills to remind the world that Hamas still has to amend its charter and publicly renounce violence.  But even while doing so, Israel must keep an open mind to the possibility that, a few years from now, a Palestinian government (including representatives of Hamas) and Israel might sign some form of peace agreement.  Stranger things have happened.
 

EDITOR’S RESPONSE TO LEVEN’S ANALYSIS:

THE FATAH-HAMAS RECONCILIATION--A STEP BACKWARD

 by Rhonda Spivak, May 12, 211

I agree with you that the unity between Hamas and Fatah is a step but I think it’s more likely to prove to be a step backward not forward. In other words—the agreement is more likely to embolden  and benefit Palestinian intran

 
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