By Joharah Baker
The press conference at the Muqata’a could have taken place anywhere. The two podiums, the two national flags standing behind the two sharply clad politicians. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Mahmoud Abbas looked like two old buddies, reunited. The handshake after they spoke was warm, like one between years-old friends and Abbas lightly guided Rice off the stage with a nimble stroke of his hand.
But under the cordial smiles and the sugar-coated words, it was clear to just about everyone that Rice did not drop by Abbas’ headquarters just to say hello.
As inter-factional fighting continues in the West Bank and Gaza, many say Rice’s visit has only served to further fan the flames of dissent. It was only last month when the prospect of a national unity government could finally be seen on the horizon after the Hamas-led government and Abbas announced they had reached an agreement.
It did not take long for that glimmer of hope to evaporate into thin air. On October 4, after three days of clashes and over 10 people killed in inter-Palestinian fighting, Abbas declared that no unity talks were on the table at the time. The Palestinians have been thrown into a dark abyss, which will have catastrophic results if the situation continues to spin out of control.
In the midst of all this comes Condoleezza Rice, praising President Abbas and pledging that the US would “redouble its efforts” to improve the conditions of the Palestinian people. In almost the same breath she squarely put the blame for the downward situation in the Palestinian territories on the Hamas government, reiterating the US position that Hamas cannot lead in the region if it did not accept the Quartet’s three demands. Israeli measures on the ground were not part of Rice’s equation and no mention of any US pressures on the Israeli government to lift the siege and closure and halt its indiscriminate bombing of innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip happened to come up.
Hamas, of course, brushed Rice’s statements aside as the kind of bias expected from the United States whenever Israel and the Palestinians are the subject of the hour. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh accused Rice of wanting to rearrange the Middle East to suit American and Israeli interests.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are no where closer to an end to the infighting, the formation of a national unity government, an end to the Israeli siege on the Palestinian territories or to the economic embargo imposed by the US-led international community.
If Hamas and Fateh were even remotely closer to finding their way back to civilized dialogue before Rice’s visit, this is no longer the case now. Perhaps empowered by the US’s newfound faith in him, there is talk that Abbas could dissolve the government by presidential decree within two weeks if Hamas does not return to national unity government discussions.
Hamas, on the other hand, seems to be a prisoner of its own intransigence. The most Hamas believes it could offer by way of concessions is a long-term truce with Israel and a Palestinian state of lands occupied in 1967, without completely losing its credibility among the people or compromising its political and philosophical standpoints. Many critics say this no longer serves Hamas’ interests, even among its own people because they have come to equate Hamas’ unbending positions with the continued siege on the Palestinians and now, the eruption of dangerous infighting.
Although there may be some truth at the heart of this – as the ruling party, Hamas does have a responsibility to keep its people’s best interests at heart even if this means compromising some of its own convictions – one key point to remember is that there is a much more powerful and overriding force here at play – Israel – and by association – the United States.
This is to say, even when Fateh was in power of the legislature and the government, the peace process was at an impasse. True, economically, the international community was more generous in providing the Palestinians with financial aid, but let us not forget – the Apartheid Wall was constructed, the isolation of Palestinian cities from one another, the killing of scores of Palestinians and the destruction of thousands of homes were all carried out by the Israeli occupation under Fateh’s rule.
So, while it is extremely important to get our house in order – no one will deny that this is the Palestinians’ primary task at this point in time – we must all remember something else. Israel and the United States have bigger and much more insidious plans for the Palestinians than we have so far envisioned. Now more than ever is the time to stand united even if ideological and political differences set us apart because the one thing we all have in common is that one, we are under a military occupation that we must be rid of before any real prosperity can come to this land and people, and two, we are living in a world where the Palestinians have already been labeled as “one of them.” Hence, we are operating against two very strong currents, which have the ability to pull us under if we are not careful. Perhaps our young men in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank should think of that before they point their guns at their fellow countrymen.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
© MIFTAH (www.miftah.org), October 5, 2006.