The Palestinians: Trapped in the Israeli labyrinth

Haitham Ahmed , Friday 10 Aug 2018

Palestinian analysts urge caution amid rumours of a truce agreement between Hamas and Israel, seeing a possible replay of Oslo, which many in retrospect deem a carefully planned trap

Hamas officials
Hamas officials in a meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza (Photo: AFP)

Palestinian observers and analysts assert that dividing the Palestinians is still viewed as a tactic by some players to create a separate entity in Gaza with independent policies, resources and rulers.

They believe that since the media began reporting on a possible truce between Hamas and Israel that would lead to economic relief for Gaza, there was an avalanche of negative statements about Palestinian conciliation. This revived accusations and criticisms on both sides.

Analysts add that conciliation dropped down the agenda during recent talks in Cairo because other topics took priority, such as the truce, an end of the March of Return demonstrations, and prisoner exchanges between Hamas and Israel.

New players also entered the fray, including UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov, the US behind the scenes via Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, and Qatar via Ambassador Mohamed Al-Amadi (a veteran player).

Despite intense efforts by Cairo to end divisions and bring about conciliation, since it serves Egypt’s strategic national interests and is part of Egypt’s national and moral obligation towards the Palestinian cause, it is clear that Egypt is but one only player amid other regional and international influences, and that some Palestinian players harbour dishonest intentions.

The Gaza Strip still suffers truly tragic conditions, which is primarily the responsibility of Israeli occupation, but also Palestinian parties for being intransigent and serving their own narrow interests.

Amid general apathy towards the suffering of Gazans under poverty, unemployment, disease and environmental deterioration, some are warning that Gazan suffering could be used a tactic to force Gaza and its residents to accept any deal that would alleviate their misery.

Mohamed Qeneta, a writer and analyst, said the Palestinian national consensus government should have achieved an economic breakthrough, since it has a legal mandate. It should have convinced the world of the urgency of its mandate and to oppose anyone who obstructs it, even if Israel.

Qeneta wants Hamas to avoid the precarious path set out before it, to protect the sacrifices “our people made as part of our national Palestinian struggle”. “We understand there are hits and misses, but we cannot fall in the trap set by Israel and the US. Nothing good ever comes from Israel, whether through peace or war.”

Another writer and analyst, Mustafa Ibrahim, said that the slow separation of Gaza from the West Bank is something that has been happening for years, with the main political players surrendering to Israel’s decision to isolate Gaza and divide the Palestinian cause. It is untrue, he said, that this process began with the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007. Separation began, in reality, in the early 1990s.

Ibrahim added that when Hamas expressed a desire for a truce and improved conditions in Gaza, the response of President Mahmoud Abbas to Egypt’s conciliation steps was to change the cabinet and appoint Nabil Abu Rudeina as deputy prime minister and information minister (which was an unusual step, since he is Fatah’s information official and presidential spokesman), re-engineer Palestinian national and central councils, and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) executive committee.

He views these steps as a continuation of Abbas’ attempt to shore up the power of Fatah at the expense of national interests.

“This means we should change our approach and our tunnel vision, which only expresses the views of one camp at the expense of others, and the absence of political partnership.”

Mohamed Mahmoud, a writer, said the truce initiatives being discussed these days are a response to the political climate in Gaza amid the March of Return demonstrations.

Tensions are escalating on both sides and could trigger all-out confrontations between Palestinian resistance factions and Israel. Israel primarily, followed by regional countries, does not want escalation, since any confrontation could have unforeseen and serious consequences in this unstable region.

“Israel wants, and is strongly pushing for, a truce with Gaza so it can focus on the northern front with Hizbullah and Syria, and the growing crisis with Iran,” Mahmoud explained.

Abdel-Nasser Al-Najjar, a writer and analyst, said nothing is impossible in politics. There are no permanent rules or criteria. “Politics has no morals,” he said. “It is based on evil not good.” He asked: “What if we reset the clocks back to 2014 or 2008, instead of 2018, and Israel finds out that members of Hamas’ politburo and military leadership are meeting in a building on the shores of Gaza. What would be the reaction? There would be no delay and the location would be bombed to smithereens.”

But today’s calculations are different from four or nine years ago. Hamas’ entire politburo is in a beach hotel in Gaza, not for a vacation or to declare a long war for the liberation of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

The only reason they are allowed to be there is because Israel gave them security clearance to be there, Al-Najjar said. “Yes, Israeli security clearance for Hamas leaders and they will not be harassed at this decisive time,” he explained. “The reason is because Hamas leaders are discussing the details of the truce that Israel wants, supported by Arab regimes and with the strong blessing of the US.

But if the price for lifting the siege is a truce, then damn this price. Before 2006, the Gaza Strip was not under siege, had a safe corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, and the Rafah Crossing was always open.”

According to Al-Najjar, the US’ so-called “Deal of the Century” is not on the back burner, as some think, but is brewing as we speak. He warned that if the truce happens, if Hamas succeeds in ending the siege, and if Washington opens the tap for funding projects and the civil service there, the biggest loser will be conciliation. “If that is the case, then the Palestinian cause will be frozen for 20 or 30 years. The West Bank, meanwhile, will only be cantons surrounded by settlements and Judaicisation.”

Akram Attallah, a writer, asks whether events in Gaza and with Hamas are unrelated to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah or whether the PA is involved. If the PA is not involved, this means it is a plot to separate Gaza and the West Bank.

But it is most likely the PA is involved. Israeli media is reporting a role for the PA in implementing the agreement, pertaining to suspended salaries or holding elections.

“Thus, it is a comprehensive, undefined plot that involves everyone, and holds obvious contradictions in terms of not only Hamas striking a deal separate from the PA but also talks about the return of the PA. More information is needed before a final opinion can be formed,” he said.

In all cases, Attallah is suspicious because Israel has shown it can lure the Palestinian side into mazes, webs and labyrinths away from Palestinian aspirations. Also, because the balance of power on the ground is not in favour of the Palestinians, even though recently Gaza has shown it can upturn prevailing equations.

“The PA increased pressure on Hamas during the past year, even though we warned against several possible outcomes. We said if Hamas is cornered it may seek more divisive options and that Hamas will not surrender to its dissolution. Those who think everything will work as preferred are mistaken. We relentlessly said that a partnership is the only way to protect Palestinian solidarity. We warned that if too much pressure is applied, it will engender an opposite reaction, and that Hamas views itself as part of the ruling regime, having a share in the ballot box, and wants to lead Palestinian political entities, both the PA and PLO. Does anyone think it will abandon all this? Of course not,” he said.

Attallah believes the Palestinian condition is currently at its weakest and the Arab world is fighting for survival, so “what agreement would this climate result in?” “This is similar to the climate before Oslo, which we later found out was a true ambush for Palestinians, that led to a political labyrinth that never ends. So, where would the new deal lead if it ever took place?”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Trapped in the Israeli labyrinth

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