Much is being made of the support Israel, the West and pliant Arab regimes are giving to Fatah and Abbas. The problem with this arrangement is that it is totally unsustainable.
The Arab regimes are not so naive as to buy into the notion that Hamas can be excluded from Palestinian political life — it is the elected government, and speaks for close to half of the Palestinian population. In the last Palestinian election, it thrashed Fatah not only in Gaza, but also in most of the major West Bank towns and cities. While rallying against its armed takeover in Gaza, what the Arabs are demanding is that Hamas recognize the authority of President Abbas (which, by the way, Hamas has done, even since taking power in Gaza — it is Abbas’s side that has the greater problem recognizing the legitimacy and authority of Hamas as an elected government). The Arabs are making very clear that their goal is to revive the Mecca Agreement that brought Hamas and Fatah together in a unity government. That remains a plausible goal, not least because Hamas has indicated a similar goal — although the politicking will be tough and it is unlikely that the same Fatah warlords who, with the backing of the U.S., refused to submit to the unity agreement last time would do so this time. Still, the basic message of the Arabs is that Hamas must be brought back within the umbrella of Palestinian unity; they know it can’t be defeated through isolation and repression.
This position is of course utterly rejected by Israel and the West. The last thing they want to see is unity between Hamas and Fatah.
The U.S. and Israel, of course, insist that Hamas must be isolated and that there can be no revival of the Mecca agreement. At U.S. prodding, Israel has agreed to release some of the Palestinian Authority finances it has withheld, and Prime Minister Olmert says he’ll release some 250 Fatah prisoners although none with “blood on their hands” — i.e. no Marwan Barghouti, the only Fatah leader capable of reversing the movement’s precipitous decline.
Ultimately, the matter comes down to the same issues that have always plagued the Arab/Israeli conflict. No amount of support from Israel and the West is going to make this issue go away without being resolved.
And even as the Arab states demand that Israel begin moving towards final-status negotiations with Abbas based on a return to 1967 borders, Olmert has signaled he has no interest in even opening such talks any time soon.
So, the latest U.S. plan is on a familiar hiding to nothing, precisely because it fails to address the basic problem: Hamas defeated Fatah because Fatah had proved itself unable to end the occupation; the Arab regimes and the Fatah leaders know that the only way they can be revived and strengthened is for Fatah’s path of engagement with the West and Israel to show results, i.e. concrete steps to end the occupation; but Israel has no intention of taking steps now to end its occupation of the West Bank — together with the U.S., it is essentially expecting Abbas and Fatah to police the status quo. Which is what got them into trouble in the first place.
Let’s just say that the best thing Hamas has going for it right now is the limits on how far the American and Israelis are prepared to go in addressing Palestinian national rights.
While the West will simply turn a blind eye to Gaza, Israel will turn the territory into an even greater cesspool of suffering and oppression, and the remaining Palestinians Bantustans in the West Bank will continue to shrink.
The Gaza Strip is “an independent state” just like any prison cell is: a hermetically sealed cage, overpopulated by 1.3 million people; no sea port or airport; no control over its own borders, waters, or airspace; even its population database, not to mention water, food, electricity, gasoline, and medical equipment, are all strictly controlled by Israel.And as for the West Bank, it’s enough to look at its recent map prepared by the UN to understand why no Palestinian state can emerge there: notice how the small area was pulverized into numerous tiny cages for humans, separated by Israeli settlements, fences, roadblocks, and checkpoints. Cages for non-Jewish humans only, mind you; Jews move around freely in their (whose?) land.
So the question that remains is, what does Israel and the West hope to gain by propping up Fatah?
In a matter of days, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned from an unreliable foe to a precious friend. All of a sudden the boycott against the Palestinians was lifted, Israel unfroze Palestinian tax money, and Abu Mazen was promised a generous package of Israeli gestures and invited to a leaders’ summit.
And why does Abbas suddenly deserve all that? As a reward for his most impressive success: namely, losing Gaza to Hamas forces. Fatah’s defeat in Gaza was allegedly unexpected; Israel and the U.S. wanted to help Abu Mazen but their aid came too little or to late, and Israel finally realized that it was time to save the Palestinian non-Islamist national movement by making peace with its moderate leader. And we are supposed to believe all that.
We have seen this situation before, in the early 1990s. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yassir Arafat just as the latter was about to end his career as an irrelevant old leader enjoying a good life in Tunisian exile. Arafat was fighting for his survival; Israel knew it very well. Leaders just about to be forgotten, or, as in Abbas’ case, just about to be thrown out of the window of the 15th floor, are excellent partners for colonialist regimes.
That’s precisely what Israel is looking for in the West Bank: a ruthless, weak, and hated partner, fighting against its own people for survival and relying on Israel rather than facing it.
All these measures have just one objective in common: strengthening the Fatah militia and enabling it to crush any opposition. Fatah’s hysteria should now turn it into an Israeli proxy, dependent on Israel to survive, serving Israel’s interests, and using ever more violence against the Palestinian opposition, which happened to win the democratic elections. Forget removal of roadblocks, let alone of outposts and settlements; forget work permits in Israel; forget freedom, of movement or otherwise; forget a Palestinian state. The occupation is here to stay.
In other words, the West and Israel is simply applying the bromide of supporting a tyrant to repress the masses. It turns out that these people aren’t really fans of democracy after all.