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Analysis: Did our leaders take a bite too big to chew?
Nidal Alayasa
Ma`an News Agency
11/07/2011

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=404020

There are two items on the to-do list of all the Palestinian political entities (for lack of a better and more conclusive term). Firstly, establishing the unity of the Hamas state in Gaza with the Fatah state in the West Bank; and secondly, declaration of the Palestinian state and proposing it to the UN Security Council.

The first item has been the subject of every significant discussion since Hamas overthrew Fatah in Gaza five years ago. The second has been the goal of Palestinians for 63 years (a few millennia actually, but that is a discussion for another time).

Thus, it is safe to say that this is one short list that is anything but short, timid or easy.

Although I believe it is time for Palestinian heroes and we reach for the stars, I also believe that cautious forward motion toward the two goals would perhaps be more fruitful than a full-blown leap into the unknown. This unknown that has not been kind to Palestinians in the past and if Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has his way, will not be this time.

The declaration of statehood and unity must happen together but are impossible to happen together.

The first part of the agenda is unity.

The meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal notwithstanding, it is impossible to view the past two months either as a success or as a surprise of any sort. The only success is that the heads of two parties, or dare I say two states, exchanged pleasantries and agreed to isolate two dominating and threatening forces out of the political mix, namely Salam Fayyad and Muhammad Dahlan.

The exclusion of Fayyad and Dahlan from any future government, regardless of its political ramifications, legality or strategic correctness, has nonetheless emerged to signify a goal of the Hamas/Fatah agreement rather than a solution to any issues of mutual trust or a specific problem.

More than month after from the reconciliation, this remains the only part of the agreement, although implicit, that came to pass. Meanwhile, no new prime minister has been named, no elections scheduled and no political prisoners set free.

Meanwhile, Fayyad and Ismail Haniyeh, his Hamas counterpart, still behave as heads of two separate governments in two separate states, which they are by all means, but name and sovereignty.

The effect of the failure of the reconciliation process cannot be overstated on the domestic level, however it is the international ramifications of the Palestinian inner friction that poses the biggest threat.

I have faith that Palestinians from Gaza will always be the brothers and sisters of the Palestinians from the West Bank. At the risk of being naively optimistic, my only proof is that Palestinians in Latin America still play for the Palestinian national football team; with Palestinians they have never met, who live in a place they only dream about, but have never seen. This is not just sports, it has political and diplomatic implications.

First, and foremost, it is fatally naive to assume that including Hamas in any government of national unity will not harm the position of the Palestinian negotiators before the international community. It, quite simply, will.

On the other hand, a government that excludes Hamas, and consequently Gaza, cannot declare a Palestinian state in the name of a unified Palestinian people.

The easiest argument that discredits such a claim under these circumstances is that a future Palestinian state becomes a geographically disfigured West Bank. In parallel, Gaza becomes a rogue region and a cautionary prototype for anti-Islamism and political Islamic movements.

Although I am a firm believer in the separation of state and religion, I equally firmly oppose dubbing movements of Hamas`s nature with Al-Qaeda. This, however, is the inevitable and unfortunate outcome of any total isolation of Gaza from a potential Palestinian state in the West Bank.

The Palestinians will be unjustly divided into a West Bank that may become accepted internationally but is seen as traitorous and vilified by Gaza. Similarly, the international community will see Gaza as a case of `what not to do, and who not to be.`

Further, Palestinian disunity puts the core concept of the right of return in jeopardy. How can Palestinians ask for the return of refugees from neighboring countries while they have, seemingly voluntarily, deprived their brothers in Gaza that very same right?

The anticipated declaration of the state is an undoubtedly political issue. It is also the fruit of Mr. Fayyads vision, which, whether we agree with it or not, has a characteristic that has lacked in Palestinian politics; namely being a vision. The PLO and all other factions have lost way. Fayyads idea, with all its imperfections and impossibilities, has a set direct goal that can be monitored, pursued and evaluated.

The problem, however, is that it is doomed by the Palestinian internal struggle. What we know is that the world would much rather starve Palestinians than work with a Hamas government, for example the salaries crisis of 2006-2007.

Moreover from a practical standpoint, it is equally obvious, however, that without including Hamas -- the winner of the last elections -- and its supporters who are roughly 15- 20 percent of the population, a government after the September declaration has no future.

The reasoning behind this is straightforward. Such a state would have no national currency, no known, or even prospective, borders, no identifiable population and no future as an independent state. Such a state would also sacrifice the right of return. As impractical as this right has been in the past and will be in the future, it has been a center piece of all peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, simply because that suggesting giving it up is political suicide.

A government with Hamas is doomed as well, at least on the international scene. Not only would this state have no international diplomatic leverage, but it would also, like its alternative, have no domestic decision making ability.

The new government of the prospective Palestinian state will be reduced to its pre-September municipal chores. The new government of the new state would connect water that it does not control, buy electricity it does not produce and direct traffic inside cities and not from them.

It would be impossible to sustain an independent Palestine by September, because with Palestinian unity the world would refuse such a state and without unity Palestinians would refuse such a state.

It would be similarly impossible to sustain an independent state by September, because the Palestinians failure to achieve unity will haunt them in reality as well symbolically.

This state is doomed quite simply because it has been portrayed as a political objective, not a right, and Palestinian reconciliation has been treated as a political maneuver, not a patriotic duty.

In the midst of all this, Palestinians -- Fatah, Hamas, and even Fayyad -- lost all perspective, and most importantly vision. They closed their eyes, opened their mouths, and bit three mouthfuls at once of a blade-filled pie.


Nidal Alayasa is a co-founder of Swarthmore College`s Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine.

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