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Dr Musa A Keilani: Support should continue
May 14, 2011
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The Palestinians marked this year’s Naqba Day, the anniversary of the 1948 founding of Israel in Palestine that brought a catastrophe to bear upon them, with a newfound sense of purpose in the wake of the reconciliation agreement hat they signed in Cairo in April.

A Palestinian unity government is expected to be announced this week under the reconciliation accord. The process should have a smooth sailing since it is clear that the various Palestinian groups have realised that their cause for liberation stands to suffer if they do not put their house in order and come up with a united platform.

The Cairo accord effectively brings back Hamas into the mainstream Palestinian liberation movement and will hopefully end the existence of two Palestinian entities — the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-dominated West Bank under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

The agreement calls for the formation of a caretaker government of independents until legislative elections are held in a year’s time. That should set the Palestinian house in order.

Israel sees the unity deal as a major threat to its designs to impose its version of a “peace” agreement on the Palestinians. In public, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to include Hamas in the proposed unity government. In private, however, the message is: Don’t ever reconcile with Hamas, unity government or no unity government.

Many argue that if no Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is reached by September, then all prospects for fair and just peace will be lost.

That need not be the case. The Palestinians should go ahead with their quest for international recognition of their notional statehood within the 1967 borders and deal with the resulting situation with whatever that entails. Their best bet would be on European and Third World support for their cause and for pressure that Israel would find difficult to resist despite backing from the US.

Netanyahu and company continue to ignore the signals from Hamas that it has indeed changed and that it has accepted the inevitability of having to deal with Israel.

There have been many Hamas messages, starting with statements by its leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, that the group was ready to accept Israel as a reality if the Palestinians are granted their right to set up an independent state within the 1967 borders and with Arab East Jerusalem as capital and an equitable solution is found to the problem of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.

That is effectively the political platform that was adopted by the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat. Israel had accepted that platform (although not the solutions that the Palestinians sought) and negotiated with the PLO.

In recent media comments, Meshaal also stated that Hamas has given Abbas the final say in armed resistance and made Hamas recognition of Israel contingent on Israel’s recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

No doubt, Hamas has learnt its lessons in the four years since it grabbed control of the Gaza Strip and realised that the wave of Arab unrest might not be in its favour. The same goes for all other Palestinian groups and leaders, including Abbas himself, who lost one of his staunchest allies when Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in Egypt. Hamas leaders have also realised that their perceived alliance with Iran would not be of much realistic use in the effort to realise the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said last week:

“The world should realise that we have made many changes. The international community should not run away from these changes.”

Notwithstanding what Israel and its US-led allies have to say, the onus is on the mainstream Palestinian leadership to firm the “changes” in Hamas and to deprive Israel of the argument that it does not have a Palestinian negotiating partner who represent the entire Palestinian people.

It is a tough mission. Israel and its supporters say that the price for the acceptance of Hamas as a part of the diplomatic scenario of the Middle East is the group’s renunciation of armed resistance, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of past agreements signed by the PLO and Israel.

Well, it is a calculated stand. Israel knows well that Hamas would never meet the demands before it is assured of a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. As long as Israel maintains its rejection of the Palestinian people’s rights, there is no chance of Hamas agreeing to the demands. Therefore, goes a part of Israel’s thinking, all it needs to do ward off the prospects for a realistic negotiating process is to insist on its own terms for peace.

More than anyone else, Hamas should see this Catch-22 situation as damaging the Palestinian cause. Right now, international sympathy and support for the Palestinians is continuing to grow and Hamas could contribute to it significantly by making it known that it is not dedicated to destroying Israel and is willing to accept co-existence in Palestine as the basis for peace with the Jewish state.

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