Gaza, the ‘damn table’, and the Arab Spring

The wasted years of peace talks have finally sunk in. A decent future lies ahead, but only if the Palestinians can work together on a clear and simple set of timeless goals and tactics: non-violence, Palestinian unity, justice and equal rights, if possible with international law in its corner.

Wasseem El Sarraj
14 December 2011

Since the Arab Spring, Gaza politically and economically is glancing more and more to its western neighbours. Hamas’s chronic dependency is most likely to be relieved by the Muslim Brotherhood. And, as reports this week indicate, a deal with the Brotherhood is in the offing. These developments have the potential to accelerate Gaza’s detachment from Israel, the West Bank and ultimately Palestine.  

Hamas’s brand is toxic. The name conjures up the not so mutually exclusive combination of terror and beards. Their move to join the Brotherhood under the name freedom and justice is a smart piece of rebranding. It may just get them to into the corridors of power and see them sipping sparkling water in the lobby of Cairo’s Four Seasons. But how will any of this help the Palestinians?

The Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, dignity, and a homeland, has been stalled for many years. Hopes today are being pinned on a “legal tsunami” and a global boycott movement (BDS). Both have their merits and provide Palestinians with tools to get them out of the cul-de-sac of failed bilateral negotiations presided over by the US. But, they are blunt tools, and applied poorly can wind up being not just ineffective but counterproductive. The danger is psychological and stems from a deep paranoia already felt by an increasingly isolated Israel. This paranoia is stoked by the BDS movement.  Actions like the Naksa, when Palestinian’s descended on 1948 Palestine from all angles, terrify Israel. Of course over the years there has been such little rapprochement by Israel towards the Palestinians, that Palestinians are only reasonable to look for alternate strategies.

Hamas on the other hand have not been able, or rather allowed to sit with the real politicians, who use the more legitimate tools of ‘peace building’. In common though, neither Abbas nor Meshal have much to celebrate. Hamas’s deal with the Muslim Brotherhood is curious in as much as they are unlikely to be any more successful than the PA in reaching national goals - even if they do have new business cards. Seeking international leverage – if that’s their goal - is unlikely to nudge an intransigent Israel into deal making. Clearly, Hamas’s lurch toward the Muslim Brotherhood will not foster warmth and trust with Israel. There is in fact a much deeper concern that the Palestinians and Israelis are heading toward a war defined by religious identity. This could herald a phase of spiralling conflict enveloping the entire region.

The Palestinian question gets more complex by the day and strategies to share the land are mind boggling, bordering on surreal. The two state solution seems improbable, and the one state seems unlikely, particularly as Israel remains intent on retaining an exclusive Jewish identity. However, the contradictions of the latter are surmountable if the warring parties can foster cooperation. But it’s up to Israel, as much as anyone, to create that type of environment.

The Arab Spring, the failure of the peace process, America’s regional reticence, the collapse of the global economic architecture – which keeps the EU busy - has signalled a paradigm shift. This shift, in fact, is a backward one. The wasted years of peace talks have finally, and thankfully, sunk in. A decent future lies ahead, but only if the Palestinians can work together on a clear and simple set of timeless goals and tactics: non-violence, Palestinian unity, justice and equal rights, and if possible with international law in its corner.  

Israel is undoubtedly happy with the status quo, but for how long will its diaspora or own people tolerate the far right politics that is hijacking Israeli society? Israel, for its own long-term future, and sanity, has to take significant risks. Rather than absorb regional changes into pre-existing narratives, Israel must cultivate a different, and braver, emotional posture, one that will put her on a par with the regions emboldened ideals. Instead of dividing Palestinians and pushing Hamas into the arms of the Brotherhood it needs to confront the realities in its own back yard. In doing so it can provide an exemplary formula for providing equal rights and justice for aspiring new nations. Meanwhile the Palestinians must establish a technocratic government, wean itself from soul-sapping aid and end the era of authoritarian, big-desk, politics. These sorts of steps will help it towards the creation of a legitimate and representative political body. Jointly these moves will help create the foundations for stability of which ordinary peoples hopes will be built on. 

Failure to do so might see a region already infused with xenophobia and paranoia devour itself under the rubric of nationalism and religious dogmatism. Everything is relative. Today’s global economic and political crises may seem to amount to a tall order, but compared with the alternative that lurks around the corner, we should still be hopeful.  

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