When Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas flew to Damascus last weekend to meet with Khaled Mishaal, the head of the Hamas politburo, he took with him many expectations.
It was hoped that this meeting could put an end to the political infighting that has been going on ever since Abbas’ Fatah movement refused, with Western-backing, to accept the result of the elections one year ago that gave Hamas a sweeping majority of seats and the right to form a Cabinet.
With both parties nominally committed to a “national unity government”, it was also hoped that an agreement would put an end to the US-Israeli-EU siege and boycott of the Palestinian Authority that has brought an occupied people to unprecedented levels of suffering and misery.
After a delay, resolved through Syrian mediation, Abbas and Mishaal did meet, but they did not achieve the sought-after agreement. Both committed themselves to further talks, and Mishaal reiterated Hamas’ position that it would not allow the Palestinians to be drawn into the civil war that their external enemies want and plan for them.
Why have repeated efforts to persuade the two conflicting Palestinian sides to agree on one political programme failed? The answer is simple: it is not possible to reconcile the irreconcilable; it is not possible to invent a formula that can easily disguise the significant aspects of two contradictory political programmes.
In any political dispute, it is common to devise language that allows each party to interpret the formulation in a manner that allows it to make concessions while keeping its constituency onboard. But this can happen only when both sides share the commitment to overcome obstacles.
The so-called “Prisoners Document” was sought as a basis for agreement between the two sides last summer. It implicitly included all the elements Hamas is required to accept as conditions for reconciling with Abbas and his Western backers, but when Hamas accepted the document, Israel undermined any chance of progress by launching a full-scale assault on Gaza, killing hundreds of people and cutting off electricity to nearly a million, ostensibly in retaliation for the capture of one Israeli occupation soldier by Palestinian resistance fighters.
The crucial point of disagreement reappeared in Damascus, with Abbas insisting that his letter of designation to the new prime minister would require the new national unity Cabinet to commit itself to accepting all the previously signed agreements between the PLO and Israel, in addition to the Prisoners Document, the decisions of the Arab summit conferences and the rulings of the “international community” (code for the US-Israel-EU axis).
Demonstrating on how fine a line political agreements can stand, Hamas apparently agreed to “respect” rather than “pledge to accept” these conditions. This was not enough to seal an agreement. But it would be incredibly naive to expect that even if Hamas submitted unconditionally to all Abbas’ demands and pledged allegiance to a Jewish Zionist state, this would result in any progress towards a reasonable settlement of the conflict.
The key factor is that Israel shows no interest whatsoever in a full withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, the minimal conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state — if that is even possible, given the decades of Israeli colonisation in the West Bank. At the very best, Hamas’ capitulation would mark the return to an endless Western-sponsored “peace process” that never leads to peace.
The PA, Fatah and the Abbas’ “presidency”, acting as a shadow parallel government, want just that: to return to the good old days when money was pouring in to finance the luxuries of the ruling elite and when a sterile “peace process” was providing a tranquilising effect by maintaining the false impression of progress.
Israel, in the meantime, continued to colonise the land, annihilating what was left of the Palestinian rights and hopes.
The Palestinians’ decision to vote for Hamas in the last general elections was precisely to indicate that they were fed up with deception, incompetence and corruption. It was a plea to exit the vain cycle of redefining the terms of reference always at their expense.
And yet, deception and lies continue unabated. In December, Abbas met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Amid images of them hugging and kissing effusively, the results of their meeting were hailed by the peace process industry as a great breakthrough: Olmert promised to remove dozens of checkpoints which enforce the apartheid regulations in the West Bank, and to transfer $100 million of Palestinian tax money illegally seized by Israel. Yet on January 22, senior Israeli army sources confirmed what UN monitors had already stated: the 44 barriers and checkpoints allegedly removed by the Israeli army had not existed in the first place (Haaretz, January 22, 2007). Meanwhile, the released tax money will not flow through the Palestinian finance ministry, but into the unaccountable hands of Fateh and the “presidency”, where much of it will be misappropriated to fund its militias rather than meet the needs of the public.
It is once again in fashion to proclaim the necessity to address the Arab-Israeli conflict.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU President Angela Merkel, and various Arab leaders are rushing from meeting to meeting. The Quartet is scheduled to meet in February, with US blessing, and Abbas would love to show up armed with an agreement with Hamas that meets the Quartet conditions. Everyone stresses the need to return to negotiations, but no one has the guts to refer to the substance of the called for negotiations or to face the real obstacle: Israeli intransigence and unabated colonisation.
There can be no better example of how much the patrons of this mockery of a peace process have their heads in the sand than the latest regional tour (they now seem to occur monthly) by the EU high representative, Javier Solana. After seeing the extent of new Israeli settlements in and around occupied Jerusalem, he declared himself “shocked”, just like the corrupt police chief who “discovers” gambling going on under his nose in the movie Casablanca.
Why should Solana be shocked? The settlement growth is a direct result of the policies he supports and represents: punishing and imposing sanctions and conditions on the occupied Palestinians while appeasing Israel at every turn and remaining silent as it builds a system of apartheid more total than anything that existed in South Africa.
EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This article first appeared in The Jordan Times.