Joharah Baker: Where Do We Go from Here?

By Joharah Baker 

Political developments are speeding up in the Palestinian arena, and this time, seemingly in the right direction. The Hamas-led government and the Fateh-led presidency have finally put down their guns and are sitting down to hammer out the formation of national unity government. This step follows the signing of the Mecca Agreement earlier this month between the two political giants in which both sides committed to forming this government and halting the destructive infighting that has left scores of Palestinians dead.

Not long after, the trilateral meeting between US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice, President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, took place in Jerusalem. Two days ago, the three leaders discussed ways in which to jumpstart peace talks, which foundered long ago.

On the face of things, the situation looks as if it could only go one way: up. However, scratch beneath the surface and age-old complexities and enmities flare up, proving that this is one of the most difficult conflicts in history to resolve. For one, not all Palestinian factions have hopped on board the “unity government” bandwagon. The PLO’s second largest faction and the largest leftist party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced yesterday it would not participate in any new government. Its spokespeople claim that although they appreciate the efforts being put forth and completely back the Mecca Agreement’s consensus over prohibiting the “spilling of Palestinian blood” it cannot compromise its principles and accept the clause on a renunciation of violence or honoring all previously signed agreements with Israel. The Islamic Jihad has also declined participation in any newly formed government for largely the same reasons.

Nonetheless, this does not mean a unity government will not be successfully created. Eventually, the ministries will be distributed and a government will be formed even if Hamas and Fateh are still bickering over who gets which ministry. President Abbas and Prime Minister Haniyeh have both pledged their commitment to safeguarding Palestinian interests and forming a unified front in the face of the Palestinians’ political challenges. Time will only tell if they will remain true to their word.

Internal disputes over ministerial portfolios and uncompromising political principles aside, the Palestinians have even bigger challenges to face. While the tides may be changing in the right direction for them in terms of their own perspectives and their realization that it is in no one’s best interest to turn their guns on one another, the major external political players that weigh in on this thorny conflict have not shown any signs of goodwill. In particular, this means neither Israel nor the United States are ready or willing to allow the Palestinians to realize their national aspirations in full.

This is apparent in both their stances. Following the bilateral meeting between Rice and Abbas that preceded the three-way meeting in Jerusalem, it was clear that the new government would be beat into submission even before it saw the light of day. While Rice maintained that the United States would “reserve” judgment on the national unity government, it expected it to adhere to the Quartet Committees’ three preconditions: recognition of Israel, a renunciation of violence and a commitment to previously signed agreements with Israel.

Olmert, unsurprisingly, was even more hostile, reportedly trying to convince the US to boycott any new government if it included a coalition between Hamas and Fateh. During the meeting, sources say Olmert called on Abbas to refuse any partnership with Hamas in the future or risk a continued boycott of the Palestinian leadership. Actually, the only obligation Olmert made at the meeting was to continue contacts with Abbas in spite of his opposition of any future unity government. Israeli officials have also said Olmert and his government were not willing to discuss any final issues with Abbas and would only refer to “improving the Palestinians’ living conditions.”

This is more than a mere disappointment to the Palestinians, who have unfortunately grown accustomed to such letdowns from the United States over the years. It is yet another glaring piece of evidence that the “new world order” follows a brazen double standard where democracy is encouraged and then shunned when the results are not to the superpower’s liking. Not even the United States can deny that the Palestinian Legislative Council elections were honest and that Hamas, in spite of all other political considerations, won fair and square. Contrary to the true principles of democracy, which among other things, espouse that a democratic government is, “of the people, by the people and for the people”, this is not what propels the western world to support or boycott democracies today. While the Palestinians, literally coerced into holding elections during the rule of late President Yasser Arafat by the US, heeded to the pressures and took to the ballot boxes, once the votes were in, the US and Israel changed their tune. Suddenly, the democratic process was not good enough because it had produced a government and a Palestinian Authority that no longer catered to the Americans’ every demand. An international and Israeli boycott ensued and the Palestinians were left to deal with the devastating repercussions.

Now, this double standard has reached an all-time high. The United States and Israel, which both pride themselves on being the epitome of democracy, have shown their hypocritical faces by demanding that, not only must the Palestinians shun the election results that brought Hamas to power, but they must also surrender to their dictates vis-à-vis of the formation of their new government.

This, of course, has put the Palestinians in a very difficult position. Even if they succeed in smoothing out any ripples within their own politics and actually form an efficient and viable national unity government, it is likely to be met with yet another door slammed in their face. Because, while the US does not explicitly say Hamas cannot participate in any future government, it is demanding that the movement relinquish all that it was established on and which sets it apart from other movements. Basically, what the US is demanding is that Hamas – or any other opposition party that wants a piece of the pie – must merge into the moderate pool of acceptable politics, before it can enjoy any diplomatic attention.

For this reason, the Palestinians have a daunting task ahead of them and some very decisive issues to address. Is it more in the interest of the Palestinians to adhere to their national aspirations and to their legitimate right to resist an illegal occupation, or should they bring down their demands one more notch to better accommodate the United States and its allies?

-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 mip@miftah.org (www.miftah.org)

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