This week an Israeli and a Palestinian negotiator, along with envoys of the Middle East Quartet, met in Amman. Don’t get your hopes up. It was the merest gesture to deflect diplomatic pressure, and what is actually brewing in the Palestinian arena has nothing to do with peace.
Fatah official Mahmoud al-Aloul said as much the day after the meeting—in a speech he gave on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Al-Aloul proclaimed: “The Palestinian leadership has spared no effort to seek peace and has complied with all [peace] initiatives. But all our efforts have been in vain…. The Israelis are not prepared for any solutions.”
And added: “We can’t restrain ourselves any longer in the face of settlement construction. The popular resistance will erupt in the next phase.”
The picture is this: the “Arab Spring” sweeping the region has not left the Palestinian arena unaffected. Abbas thinks it will sweep him away, too, unless he joins forces with the Palestinian Islamist factions—principally Hamas but also Islamic Jihad. He aims to do that by, for the first time in history, incorporating at least Hamas in his relatively secular PLO. That way when the “Arab Spring” comes to the West Bank, Abbas hopes it will be directed against Israel instead of what’s left of his weakening rule.
To these ends Abbas already signed a reconciliation pact with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo on December 24. That will help him, in DEBKA’s telling, “orchestrat[e] an Arab Spring-style uprising on the West Bank….” DEBKA predicts, though, that Abbas’s Palestinian Authority “will soon lose control as Hamas and [Islamic Jihad] ride into the enclave’s towns and villages. Any demonstrations will soon get out of hand and descend into violent turmoil.”
Abu Toameh concurs if in slightly less dramatic terms, writing that “in 2012, if [Hamas’s] agreement with Abbas is implemented, [it] will take control over the PLO.” He adds:
Hamas is joining the PLO not because it has changed, but out of a desire to make the Fatah-dominated organization stick to its true mission: the liberation of Palestine from Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—in other words, all the land that is currently Israel—and to achieve the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to their original villages and homes inside Israel.
Once Hamas takes control over the PLO, it will seek to cancel all agreements and understandings reached between the organization and Israel, above all the 1993 Oslo Accords. Hamas also wants the PLO to withdraw its recognition of Israel.
1. Having backed Islamists—even militarily in Libya—since the “Arab Spring” began a year ago, the U.S. and the major European powers should not be surprised to see the trend growing among the Palestinians as well. An openly Islamist PLO driving Palestinian crowds into violent clashes with Israel would test the limits of the Western blame-Israel mentality. The Europeans, with their large Muslim populations, dependence on Arab oil, and animus against Israel, would probably still “pass” the test. The Obama administration, facing elections, would have a harder time. But with Defense Secretary Panetta having bitterly blamed Israel just a few weeks ago for not getting along better with Islamist neighbors like Turkey and Egypt, it remains to be seen.
2. The Palestinian claim that only Israeli “settlement construction,” and refusal to precommit to the death-trap 1967 borders, prevents serious negotiations is still parroted by Western media and taken seriously by Western governments. By now this is nothing short of shameful. Israel, of course, negotiated peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and a series of agreements with the Palestinians, without ceasing settlement construction or making such a suicidal commitment. The Palestinians, however, are still coasting on the Obama administration’s initial calls on Israel to stop all “settlement,” including in East Jerusalem and including for “natural growth,” and Obama’s demand last May that Israel return to those indefensible lines. It makes it easier for the Palestinian Authority to keep presenting itself as the aggrieved, rejected, peace-seeking party even as it forges deals with blatantly genocidal Hamas.
3. If the Fatah-Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) reconciliation goes through, it will be partly because the gap between them was never really so wide. Not only the Islamist groups but also Fatah perpetrated much of the terror of the Second Intifada. By the time Abbas became Palestinian Authority president in 2004, Israel was on the way to defeating the terror campaign. Abbas, therefore, tried different tacks—first negotiating with the weak and desperate, “we are tired of winning” prime minister Ehud Olmert, and, when finding that even he had red lines, trying a unilateral push for statehood at the UN. With that—for now—rebuffed, and with the “Arab Spring” roiling around him, it is not so hard for Abbas to turn to Hamas—even if it means eventually being swallowed up by it.
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