Nov 29 2012
By Daoud Kuttab
The asymmetrical violence against the people of Gaza has again forced regional and international players to consider what to do about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. When Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, and his wife visited a Gaza hospital with Arab ministers, they were confronted with the arrival of families whose loved ones had been killed by Israeli missiles.
Mr Davutoglu and the other ministers were brought to tears as they were confronted with the human costs of the conflict, and they promised to do what they could to end this tragedy.
The ceasefire on Wednesday came as the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, visited the region. Both UN and U.S. officials promised to work towards a political solution, not just to end the latest violence, but for the century-old Middle East conflict.
This renewed regional and international attention requires Palestinians to step up and present a more unified position regarding the formulas that are needed to help provide a political answer to the violence. Experience shows that the ceasefire reached between Israel and Hamas, with the help of Egypt, will not last if there is not a parallel movement on the political track.
The deep split between Hamas and Fatah, reflected in the larger disagreement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Islamist movements, has complicated the possibility of any major political breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians. In the middle of tragedy, however, Palestinians have begun serious efforts to end their disagreements.
Nabil Shaath, a Fatah leader speaking from his home in Gaza, told reporters that the crisis had brought a sense of unity never felt before. Mr Shaath, a member of Fatah’s central committee, said this unity could be felt on the ground, not just in media statements. In Ramallah, Palestinians representing Islamist and nationalist factions marched in an expression of unity.
This newfound unity will be put to the test rather quickly. The PLO’s decision to go to the UN on November 29 — which is recognised as the international day for solidarity with Palestinians — will need to be seen as a move supported by all Palestinians.
Mohammed Ramahi, a Hamas legislator and spokesman for the group’s parliamentary faction, has told Al Jazeera that Hamas will support the UN initiative. Others have indicated that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to move quickly to finalize the reconciliation process. Meetings are scheduled for this purpose in Egypt, which under President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies has become much more active in Palestinian discussions.
For the first time in recent history Palestinians are seeing Egypt act as an ally, rather than as a mediator co-operating with Israel. This has both positive and negative connotations.
A strong supporter of Palestinian rights in Cairo is a bonus for the Palestinians, but there is concern that an exaggerated role for Egypt in Palestinian affairs might boomerang, alleviating pressure on Israel and its perceived responsibilities in Gaza.
One of the issues that both sides of the Palestinian conflict will need to discuss with their Egyptian allies is the fear expressed by some that Israel is pushing Egypt rather than the Palestinian Authority into a role of responsibility in Gaza. Israelis have long wished that Egypt would resume its pre-1967 role as caretaker of Gaza, and they wish for Jordan to do the same thing in the West Bank. These discussions are often revived when the Palestinian Authority appears weak and the political horizon of an independent contiguous Palestinian state appears distant.
The architects of the Oslo Accords designed what was referred to as a “free-passage road”connecting Gaza to the West Bank. The Protocol Concerning Safe Passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was signed in Jerusalem on October 5, 1999.
Save for a short stint that lasted a few days, the safe-passage road has not been opened. Israel has not honoured its commitment, in violation of bilateral agreements as well as an agreement that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US ambassador Daniel Kurtzer produced in Jerusalem in 2005.
Israel has used one excuse after another to deny Palestinians the right to travel from one Palestinian area to another.
A unified Palestinian position to the UN on November 29 will greatly enhance the political aspirations of Palestinians and will once again bring the two-state solution to the forefront. While the war on Gaza has had tragic results in terms of human suffering, these sacrifices will not be in vain if Palestinian leaders can put aside their petty differences and unite for the sake of freedom in a democratic and independent state.
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