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Gaza, and an Arab civil war

Behind the Arab rhetoric of unity over Gaza - and Syria or Iraq - lie deep and dangerous fractures.

Hazem Saghieh
10 August 2014

The Arab Mashreq is abuzz with wounded cries. Some wail "Syria", others "Gaza", yet ohers "Mosul". Each lament blames western public opinion and the media for downplaying  the particular cause. But in most cases, the cries are determined by a person’s religious, sectarian, or ethnic affiliation. True, two cries might sometimes converge in a single voice,  but the person's primary focus usually remains clear.

A closer look at this focus, though, often reveals variable emphases and even inconsistency. For instance, there are those who support Gaza, Hamas, and Palestine separately, in accordance with their respective view of the "cause" at stake. All three may agree that what Israel has done is brutal, and express a desire to get rid of Israeli occupation and Jewish settlement, but they differ over everything else.

This is no small detail. For instance, those who support Gaza and its people want an end to the war, to the humanitarian tragedy there, and to the isolation of the blockaded Gaza strip, as well as investment in a Palestinian national project that rebuilds what has been destroyed, finishes with occupation, and establishes a Palestinian state.

This agenda is by definition incompatible with Hamas’s policies, which are underpinned by rockets that serve no concrete political purpose. Indeed, those who support Hamas give priority to the resistance and its rockets, rather than to avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe or reviving a political settlement. The rocket-based policy is at odds with the politics-based policy. The standoff between them is exacerbated by regional backing of Hamas and its actions, such as the ever more influential Turkish-Qatari component.

If the dispute between supporters of Gaza and of Hamas may be grounds for a civil war, those who support "liberating Palestine" from the river to the sea - and who see no other alternative to full "liberation" - are basically advocating a disastrous programme guaranteed to replicate the defeats reaped by Arabs since 1948. This time, the catastrophe will go beyond Palestine to its immediate surroundings. And naturally, the radicalism of those who denounce compromise, or a lack of patriotism among those backing "only" Gaza or Hamas, is another form of advocacy of civil war.

There is palpable friction among these narratives, whether they are launched out of Gaza or into Gaza from outside. For instance, Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement, has - from the heart of Israel - attacked Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizbollah, saying: “Palestine will not be liberated by the person who insults its conqueror Omar ibn al-Khattab.” Of course, Nasrallah did no such thing, but the climate of Sunni-Shi'a division allows the Sunni sheikh to attribute such comments to a Shi'a figurehead.

The fractures here, existing and potential, are evident. It is notable, for example, that the well-intentioned "progressive" witticism of a decade ago has gone: the kind that would have once combined the "patriotic" and "nationalist" concerns symbolised by Gaza with the "social" and "democratic" ones symbolised by Mosul. That is no longer tolerable. All that's left of such discourse today is the equivalent of pure missionary preaching.

All in all, positions over Gaza and the war are not united, except in the sort of news bulletins recently carried by some Lebanese television networks, drenched to their core in sectarianism and mutual hatred. This is contemptible enough, and a sign of how far reality is from fantasies of "unity" over Gaza or anywhere else. 

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