Palestine’s Lethal Schism

Daily Times Editorial, Pakistan

Hamas and Fatah spent the whole of Wednesday killing each other’s men till the count reached 20, and Israel had nothing to do with these killings. The Gaza Strip saw four days of utter mayhem as these armed groups clashed. After having killed 40, including some innocent people, the two sides have now reached a ceasefire that no one believes will hold. Hamas and Fatah are together in the “national unity” government running the Palestinian Authority. Israel, not wanting to be a mere witness, joined in and killed a Hamas militant. After that a revenge strike was launched into Israel.

The two feuding parties had gone to Saudi Arabia and agreed to a “national unity” government so that the regional Arab states could put forward a new initiative to resolve the Palestinian issue with Israel. This was the Makkah Agreement that has fallen apart. But this is not the first time that the Saudis have tried to put Muslim warriors together and failed: the fractious mujahideen who engaged in history’s most terrible civil war in Afghanistan in the decade of the 1990s had similarly gone to the Holy Land and sworn to bind their differences.

In Palestine, the presidency is in the hands of Fatah; the government is with Hamas. Israel has cut Gaza off from the West Bank; therefore each is nursing its own outlook and creating a separate identity, if that was not already created in Hamas’s long struggle against Yasser Arafat. Old divisions are resurfacing between Palestinians living in the occupied territories and those languishing in exile. A bunch of ill-disciplined fighting groups is acquiring useless fractured power while families and clans play an increasingly assertive role. Having exhausted the increasingly absent thinking mind, outside states, Arab and Western, have begun to wield greater influence.

Can this kind of Palestinian National Movement effectively conduct a final peace accord and then sell an agreement it prefers to its people? Can it even make an agreement stick? As things stand today, the Palestinians don’t even know who should make the big decisions. What is even more exacerbating is that Fatah, which lost the last election, is backed by the world while Hamas, the popularly elected group, is isolated in its defiance. So it seems that just as the Israel-Palestinian problem was seen as permanently deadlocked because of the infertility of mind on both sides, the Palestinians are divided down the middle, afflicted by the same mental handicap.

After Ariel Sharon, Israel has got a leader in Ehud Olmert it cannot trust too much. After the fiasco he made of his forward policy against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli public is not only divided, it is utterly confused as well. One can say that the Israeli state of mind at this juncture is least suited to take “national” decisions. What they see across the wall does not incline them to even consider resolving the deadlock and agreeing on the universally accepted “two-state” solution. And if the United States was once the crucial “third party” in the Middle East capable of persuading parties in dispute, its present plight is most pitiable as a world leader. It has become bogged down in Iraq and at home it is no less divided than the parties in Palestine.
Israel could have been persuaded in the past if the Muslim neighbours had behaved better. In Lebanon they fought a 15-year proxy war mostly against one another. Then came the eight-year distraction of the Iran-Iraq war in which both countries weakened each other to the point where they could be of no help to anyone. Then Saddam Hussein fell upon Kuwait and Israel got a further reprieve to pursue its unilateral solutions. Today Iran seeks to threaten Israel but ends up threatening the Arab states in the neighbourhood. The great war unfolding today is the Sunni-Shia war. The Muslim community is mentally disturbed and thinks of fruitless terrorism that mostly hurts fellow-Muslims. The Palestine-Israel war has been dwarfed by it.

Hamas and Fatah are doing to each other what the Muslim world is generally doing to itself. Soon, their depredations will reduce the people of the area to the plight of the Muslims of Somalia and Darfur, victims of the cruelty of their own brothers.


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