By Bill Fletcher
As we witness Palestine further divide itself in the midst of a Hamas/Fatah factional split, I have felt both despair and anger. The reasons for the despair should be obvious. The Palestinian people are no closer to national self-determination than they were when the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in 1993; the Israeli ‘apartheid wall’ moves forward, further dividing the land; the USA does not even pretend to be an honest broker, giving unqualified support to any and every action carried out by the Israeli government; and the people of Palestine continue to suffer. Indeed, their suffering seems to worsen with each passing day.
The anger I feel is certainly rooted in the same factors, but it is an anger particularly directed at the US government. Of all people, President Eisenhower demonstrated in the midst of the 1956 Sinai Crisis (during which Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt) that a strong stand by the US government could force a change in Israeli policy. Not since 1956 has an US President been prepared to take such a stand. Instead Israel has increasingly been viewed as an extension of US politico-economic interests to the detriment of the Arab world, and, indeed, to the detriment of efforts at regional peace.
The current civil war between Hamas and Fatah (which could indeed lead to two rival ‘Palestines’) would more than likely not have emerged had the Bush administration not taken the hypocritical and punitive stand it did after Hamas won the Palestinian elections.
After calling upon the Palestinians to engage in democratic behavior-which for the Bush administration meant holding multi-party elections-the Palestinians did so, yet the outcome was not what the Bush administration either predicted or desired: Hamas won. Instead of respecting the outcome of the elections, the Bush administration, along with several allies, began what can only be called a blockade of Palestine, a blockade that has brought with it horrific consequences.
It is becoming increasingly clear that both the Israeli government and the Bush administration are making a legitimate two-state solution impossible for Israel and Palestine. The creation of Palestinian ‘Bantustans’ through Israeli settlement policy plus the ‘apartheid wall’ of death, plus the blockade of Palestine (except for the convenient introduction of weaponry) are resulting in a breakdown in any hope for a peaceful negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine.
Under such conditions the eruption of factional warfare was not only to be expected; it would have been an historical anomaly had it not happened. One must reflect on the Irish Civil War that followed the unfinished Irish war of independence against Britain. The Irish Civil War was more brutal than their war of independence, with atrocities being committed against one another by former comrades. The frustration that followed the unfinished war of independence along with the mutual feelings of treachery drove the situation to a blood-letting, the implications of which lasted decades.
Palestine stands at a crossroads. While those of us in the USA who support Palestinian sovereignty and national self-determination are praying for a cessation of factional hostilities, probably through the intervention of a mediating broker, it stands to reason that we can be most effective in focusing our efforts on changing US policy towards Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately such a change in policy has barely entered the discourse for the 2008 elections. Instead candidates for most offices either remain silent or jump over themselves to prove their loyalty to Israel.
Why is it so hard for even these establishment politicians to get a simple fact: the failure to arrive at a mutually respectful solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis will mean that the Middle East will remain in flames? Is that not something to be addressed as the clock ticks towards November 2008??? If it is to be, then struggling for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine crisis, a solution beginning with an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, must find itself stage center in the program of leftists and progressives in the USA.
-Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a labor and international activist and writer. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.