Wednesday, November 8, 2006
By Khalid Amayreh
Nov 8, 2006, 18:07
"Occupied Jerusalem - The impending agreement between Fatah and Hamas to form a government of national unity should be viewed as a resounding victory for Hamas. Hamas’ resilience, patience, and stubborn determination to hang on despite draconian western, Israeli and Arab pressure seem to have paid off.
The West, led by the United States, which is often at Israel’s beck and call, had hoped that the harsh sanctions against the Palestinian people would cause an implosion within the Palestinian society and prompt the suffering Palestinian masses to topple Hamas as had happened in several countries facing similar circumstances.
True, the sanctions, including the arrogation by Israel of Palestinian taxes revenues, estimated at more than 700 million US dollars, as well as the shameless American bullying of Arab and Palestinian banks to refrain from transferring Arab aid money to the cash-strapped Palestinian government, nearly crippled the Palestinian economy, impoverished Palestinians, probably as never before, and pushed tens of thousands of Palestinian families to the brink of starvation.
However, the Palestinian people, despite looming starvation and deepening poverty, must have realized that the real motive behind the claustrophobic sanctions was not really Hamas’ head but rather the movement’s dogged insistence on freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. To put it bluntly, America and Israel wanted to force the Palestinian people to give up their national rights, including the right to have a state with Jerusalem as its capital and abandon the inalienable right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and towns in what is now Israel. Hence, the Palestinians, or to be more accurate, a majority of them, refused to be duped by the Americans and their collaborators and agents into revolting against Hamas.
The main issue still to be resolved is the choice of the next prime minister. Hamas had proposed Dr. Basem Naim, the current Minister of Health, a professor of medicine as the next prime minister. Naim is associated but not closely affiliated with Hamas. The PA president, however, rejected this choice arguing that the next prime minister ought to be a more independent-minded figure. It is expected that within days, Fatah and Hamas will agree on a compromise prime ministerial candidate.
There are two more issues seemingly impeding the early conclusion of an agreement between the two sides. The first is Hamas’ insistence that Abbas obtain from the United States and EU a commitment to lift the sanctions, once the new government is formed. Abbas obviously can’t possibly force western powers to undertake such a commitment, at least at this stage. However, it is likely that he will eventually get a commitment of some sort from the Americans and the Europeans to lift the sanctions or at least press Israel to release hundreds of millions of dollars of Palestinian customs revenue money levied by Israel but withheld for the purpose of punishing the Palestinians for electing the Hamas movement. The US might also signal to some Arab states that they could resume financial aid to the virtually bankrupt PA.
The second obstacle is Hamas’ demand that a prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians take place before the formation of the government. Abbas, however, argued convincingly that he had no authority over Israeli government decisions and that in any case Palestinian national interests shouldn’t be held hostage to Israeli whims.
According to insiders in Fatah and Hamas, these two issues are not very serious and are likely to be settled very soon, which enforces hopes that a final breakthrough is within reach.
The turnabout in Abbas’ approach to Hamas has left observers wondering as to what made him abandon his erstwhile threats to dissolve the Hamas-led government, the Hamas-dominated parliament, declare a government of emergency and call for early general elections.
Some observers here cite the latest Israeli rampage of murder and terror in northern Gaza, which has so far resulted in the death of over 60 Palestinians, the vast bulk of them innocent civilians, and the maiming and wounding of dozens others, as a central factor that strongly militated against any contemplated steps by Abbas against Hamas. Indeed, a coup by Fatah against Hamas under such circumstances would have made Abbas and his Fatah party look as unashamed collaborators with Israel, not only against Hamas, but against the Palestinian people and its just cause. And this would have proven a political suicide for the former ruling party of the PA.
Second, it is very likely that Abbas has received a certain message of late from the Bush administration informing him that the US wouldn’t actively oppose the formation of a government of technocrats as long as such a government agreed to renounce armed struggle, recognize Israel and accept outstanding international agreements pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian strife. Interestingly, the draft agreement between Hamas and Fatah doesn’t explicitly stipulate recognition of Israel but supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which could be construed as a tacit recognition of Israel.
On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying that the US would rather see Hamas “inside” than “outside” the government. Similarly, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made similar statements, saying that Britain would talk to Hamas if it accepted the conditions set up by the international community.
In the light of such circumstances, it is possible to assume that the US, whose erstwhile policy toward Hamas was so vindictive, even sadistic, and primarily aimed at isolating the movement and triggering a popular revolt against its government in Gaza, is now reconsidering some aspects of that policy. The main reason for that seems to be a realization by the Americans that after all the economic, financial and street pressure failed to unseat Hamas or even seriously undermine its popularity among Palestinians.
There is a third important factor which may have prompted Abbas and Fatah to seek a compromise with Hamas. This lies in the educated presumption that in any new elections in the occupied Palestinian territories, Fatah has no guarantee whatsoever that it won’t lose again to Hamas, despite the growing poverty and the social-economic crisis facing the Palestinians. This view is corroborated by several opinion polls published in the occupied territories recently, showing that Hamas has, by and large, been able to retain its erstwhile popularity. On Tuesday, 7 November, an opinion poll released by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in Beit Sahur and supervised by Dr. Nabil Kukali showed that over 75% of Palestinians blamed the US, Israel, EU and Fatah for the financial-economic crisis in the occupied territories.
This alone underscores the utter failure of the conspiratorial American, Israeli (and Arab) designs against the Hamas-led government, namely pressuring and blackmailing the Palestinian masses into revolting against and ousting Hamas.
And, yes, Hamas has been able to retain its dignity and stature as a resilient Islamic and national movement that wouldn’t budge under pressure. Indeed, it is quite safe to assume that any other political movement facing the same pressure and same throttling sanctions would have buckled a long time ago. Hamas has not only refused to buckle, it can argue convincingly that it has not given up its principles, while remaining a force to be reckoned with, not only at the Palestinian arena but also in the Arab region as a whole."