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Dr Musa A. Keilani: Solution calls for united move
November 28, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today
It is a positive sign that both Hamas and Israel are claiming victory following the eight-day Pillar of the Cloud operation.

The Palestinian group Hamas is celebrating the end to Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip, as a boost to the group’s legitimacy as a Palestinian partner which could win international political recognition, end of its siege and boycott and a restoration of its leadership role in running affairs in the country.

Hamas’s rival, the West Bank-based Palestinian group Fatah, is rejoicing over the halt to the violence that started on Nov.14 with the targeted killing of a Hamas military commander leader and ended on Nov.21.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza killed 162 Palestinians, while rocket attacks on Israel left six dead.

Waving black and yellow flags, Fatah supporters and those from other Palestinian factions have taken part in demonstrations across the West Bank.

For once Fatah activists have acknowledged that Israel fears Hamas and its rockets for more than a week. They are doing so as Hamas has begun emerging from diplomatic isolation, imposed by Israel and supported by its allies. Hamas is now considered as a Palestinian group that demands to be an integral part of any Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.”

Hamas leaders took centre stage during indirect negotiations with Israel, brokered by Egyptian President Dr Mursi and approved by the US.

Indeed, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s emerging power is a big boost to Hamas. It is also seen as prying Hamas away from Iranian influence.

The ceasefire agreement has undermined years of US, European Union and Israeli marginalisation of Hamas, which they considered to be a “terrorist” organisation.

After the recent crisis — it is yet to be seen if indeed it is over — the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is deemed to be the isolated Palestinian group that administers the West Bank.

Zakaria Al Qaq, professor of security studies at Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, argues that “Hamas’s credibility, its diplomatic stature and its popularity have increased during this crisis.” According to Qaq, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “was almost totally absent.”

Abbas spoke to Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and congratulated him on his victory in what was seen as a PNA acknowledgement of Hamas’s newfound status. But, a key question is whether Hamas can translate its “improved” status into concrete changes in a manner that suits the Gazans, many of whom are actually apolitical but seeking an end to their suffering. That would require a serious loosening of Israel’s blockade over the territory, considered by most Gazans to be of paramount importance.

The ceasefire agreement vaguely outlined changes to the Israeli restrictions on movement of people and goods through the territory, although negotiators were still thrashing out the accord’s long-term details.

Some already see encouraging signs.

“Hamas understands our predicament and how it affects so many Gazans, and they are pushing this agreement for us,” according to Nizar Ayyash, the head of Gaza’s fishermen syndicate.

Since Israel’s three-week war on Gaza in 2008 and 2009, fishermen have been confined to restricted waters only 5 kilometres from shore and regularly harassed by Israeli naval vessels.

Hamas is said to be trying to increase that limit to 50 kilometres. If it secures an Israeli agreement to this, then Hamas would be in a slightly better political advantage, as far as the Gazans are concerned.

However, most pressing for Hamas is the status of its Rafah crossing point on the border with Egypt.

Despite the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, President Mohammed Mursi’s government has so far refused to open the crossing to commercial trade.

Such restrictions have led to Gazans bringing goods including cars, building materials and weapons into the territory through tunnels.

But tunnel operators say their days could be numbered since American troops are due to be stationed in Sinai at the request of the Israeli Prime Minister, who considered this step as part of his conditions to cancel the land incursion into Gaza.

Hamas issued orders not to repair tunnels damaged by Israeli air strikes, reports say.

Now the international community is compelled to consider what to do about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have promised to work towards a political solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not just to end the latest violence.

That is a tough mission, given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proved himself to be the most hardline leader that the region has seen and has not shown any sign of willingness to accept a compromise with the Palestinians. And the disarray in Palestinian ranks is helping him maintain that position.

In the face of such odds, the key task facing the mainstream Palestinian leadership and Hamas is to come up with a unified position on a political solution to the Palestinian problem.

Hamas’s position that it would agree only on a “long-term” truce with Israel is a non-starter. Israel is a reality on the ground in our region and to make peace with it is a must for the Palestinians. Both sides have to make compromises, but Hamas is not signalling any change in its position.

There is indeed a marked difference in the positions of the Gaza-based Hamas leadership and some of the Hamas leaders in exile. And those differences need to be addressed so that Hamas could come up with a united forum of its own before seeking reconciliation with the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The Palestinians have to realise that their differences have complicated the quest for a political breakthrough with Israel.

Without a united Palestinian platform, there is little hope of a solution to the Palestinian problem and the region stands to see more violence and bloodshed.
The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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