By Dr. Daud Abdullah
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
The Makka Agreement had the basic elements of success. The protagonists, the setting and commitment were all in place. Even the time was spot on. It came at a juncture of heightened Israeli threat to Al Aqsa Mosque. Everyone concerned including the Saudis recognized the lurking dangers and rose to the occasion.
That the two main players, Hamas and Fateh, were able to come to an agreement in Makka was first and foremost a reaffirmation of the will of the Palestinian people to pursue their quest for freedom and independence. The ecstatic welcome it received on the streets demonstrated the degree of pressure both parties were under to hold the Palestinian society together.
Across the territories from Jenin to Rafah women, religious and civil society leaders had marched for weeks pleading for an end to the infighting and commencement of national reconciliation. For all its worth, it should never have taken the deaths of scores of Palestinians to produce something like the Makka Agreement. Now that it has been successfully negotiated and consecrated in Makka it can only be regarded an important turning point in their national struggle.
The International Community
Notwithstanding the test it presents to the Palestinian leadership the agreement also lays down a challenge the international community and the US especially to prove their commitment to a just and lasting peace. This requires above all that Israel adheres to the rules of international law and respects the national rights of the Palestinian people.
The notion that the Israeli government can continue to act as it does and yet achieve peace is simply an illusion. The entire history of the conflict shows that the Palestinians would never submit to the vile oppression that is evidenced in Israel’s policy of house demolitions, population displacement, settlement construction and extrajudicial killings. Dov Hanin a Knesset member for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) disclosed last month that while the Palestinians were busy trying to form a government, Israel was preparing to expel 34,000 Palestinians from east Jerusalem to make way for its Apartheid Wall.
Ultimately, the international community would have to decide which way it wants to go. It may choose to remain indifferent to Israeli aggression or it can adopt a new approach based on the principles of justice. For the present, however, Israel’s ability to pursue its repressive policies with ruthless abandon only discredits the countries that still support the embargo against the Palestinian people.
While the European reaction to the agreement was generally positive Britain stands out conspicuously for its hesitance and ambiguity. Prime Minister Blair was almost lost for words during a recent encounter in the House of Commons with the Manchester Labour Member of Parliament Gerard Kaufman. Simon Carr summarized the encounter in the Independent [22/2/2007] when Kaufman reminded Blair that Hamas was democratically elected he conceded ‘yes, but…no, but. Hamas weren’t confirming to the will of the international community, and no but they didn’t support a two state solution and yes…but, no…they hadn’t renounced violence.’ So much for the muddle that shapes British diplomacy toward the conflict.
Back in the Middle East the Makka Agreement offers a unique opportunity to the Arab states to demonstrate that they can act independently. Saudi Arabia’s intervention was clearly a reflection of what Arab diplomacy can achieve if there is a will to do so. Now the most pressing obligation is to lead the way in lifting the sanctions, ideally with another solemn declaration from Makka. Such an initiative must not however stop with the transfer of financial assistance. It must be extended to include substantial political support to ensure the survival of the national unity government and the Makka Agreement itself.
Predictably, both Israel and America poured scorn on the Makka Agreement. As they were wrong-footed by the results of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections similarly they were taken aback by the agreement. While publicly claiming its need for more time to study the details, Washington has covertly stepped up its pressure on President Mahmud Abbas to abort the formation of a unity government. Surely his ability to resist these pressures would depend largely on the measure of support he receives from his Arab counterparts.
On the other extreme Israel has been even more dismissive of the agreement. No sooner had the ink on the agreement dried before Israeli mounted a military campaign in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin. For obvious reasons it prefers a long-term suspension of negotiations and continued Palestinian infighting. Instead of a just resolution of the conflict it has opted for the Donald Rumsfeld option of ‘constructive chaos.’ Should at any time it is hauled to the negotiating table as it was in Madrid 1991 it hopes to negotiate with a single ‘credible’ Palestinian partner instead of a unified national movement. The current attempts to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian government of national unity are intended to avoid having to deal with a democratic institution but rather with personalities.
Without the clearest demonstration of flexibility the Makka Agreement would not have seen the light of day. The bloody confrontations of recent months had ruptured many social bonds and fomented a dangerous mix of political and clan feuds. The Makka Agreement was not a tactical retreat from the brink of civil war. It was a strategic decision to break with the politics of exclusion and build a future based on the politics of full participation and inclusion.
Not since the demise of the All- Palestine Government in Gaza in 1948 has the Palestinians succeeded in forming a national unity government with a common Palestinian agenda. On that occasion Britain forced Arab leaders to withdraw their support on the grounds that it was ill-timed. From that point onward Israel has managed to prevent this unified approach under a number of different guises. In the recent years it obstructed negotiations with the late Yassir Arafat on the grounds that they didn’t have a credible negotiating partner. Today it is because of Hamas. After 60 years of waiting Arab leaders must now declare to the world that they can wait any longer.
Not confined to the issue of participation the Makka Agreement also aspires to reform and activate the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Here the aspiration is to create a single mechanism that would allow for the effective participation of Fatah as well as other political forces including the Islamic movements all with a common agenda. To the signatories this approach is not a matter of choice but rather a duty. Only in this way would they be enabled to challenge Israel’s Apartheid Wall, its ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, desecration of Al Aqsa Mosque and settlement expansion.
The massive loss of land to the Wall and settlements and the one-year embargo have reduced the Palestinian people in the territories to such abject poverty that the World Food Programme (WFP) has declared that 46% of them are malnourished. Without a change of course the territories would certainly witness a calamity that could be prevented.
Only a national government can reverse this situation. It deserves the support of all those who desire peace, stability and prosperity for the Palestinians and the peoples of the region as a whole. Those who seek otherwise should be resisted.
-The author is senior researcher a the Palestinian Return Centre, London