Shihade: A New Era for Palestinians

Magid Shihade writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

The Palestinian Unity Agreement and the Beginning of New Era

The agreement of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, ending years of Palestinian political divisions and paralysis, was signed last week. The reasons for signing the unity agreement at this point are many including local, regional and global dimensions, and these all will define the next chapter in Palestinian history, and thus worth recounting.

Locally, there have been many calls and demonstrations in Palestine calling for ending the political division and forming a united front that can deals better with Israeli constant aggression and western complacency.
For Hamas, beside the growing popular demand for unity, their patrons in Damascus are facing difficult time with the spread of the revolution to Syria. This has pushed Hamas for more flexibility to reach an agreement with Fatah. Regional effects have had their impact on Fatah as well. The fall of Mubarak’s regime and his history of pressure on the PA to go along Israeli and American demands gave more space for Abbas to maneuver in the negations with Hamas.

The new Egyptian political leadership is clearly different from the previous one as seen by the recent statement of the Egyptian foreign minister—Al-‘Arabi—, and that the old policies vis-à-vis Gaza were shameful episode of Egyptian history, and by the Egyptian government position to open the borders with Gaza.

Israel has its role as well with its policies of attacks on Gaza, and colonies building in the West Bank, and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, and refusal to come to terms with the principles of possible peace with the Palestinians and allow a for an independent Palestinian state. While Israeli policies did not help Palestinian leaders to continue its old course of politics of senseless negotiations, it was also the United States constant backing and following of the Israel line that did not help the Palestinian leaders to keep waiting for empty promises.

The reaction to the news about the agreement spurred different reactions. Locally and regionally in the Arab world, the news were much welcomed. On the other hand, there were Israeli open condemnation, European pessimistic hesitance to respond, and cautious American negative response and warnings.

The future prospects of the agreement must be taken with caution. While Palestinian unity is something that has much support within the Palestinian society, political maneuvers of both Hamas and Fatah to dominate Palestinian politics can put this unity in jeopardy again. This depends on how much leaders of both parties understand the changing dynamics in the region, and revolutionary spirit among the Arab people that no longer will accept political cynicism and corruption as was the case before.

Already signs of change from old style politics have surfaced. Mash’al, the head of Hamas announced days ago that organization will not take any step against Israel without the approval of the PA, thus making it clear that the Palestinians will have only one legitimate leadership responsible for decisions. This is much needed as Abbas can us it to show a unified Palestinian political body as he goes ahead with the next strategy for an international recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Abbas himself also announced that he won’t run for the coming presidential election, a clear sign that the Palestinian leadership is becoming more attuned to the winds of change in the region and to internal public demands for change.

Equally important is the Israeli, American, and European roles in this. We should not forget that Israel, with the support of Europe and the United States, remains the colonial power that can make things more difficult for the Palestinians.

The next chapter in Palestinian history will be defined by the interplay of all these factors. While Israel, the U.S. and EU will keep the pressure on the Palestinians to more or less continue the status quo, the Palestinian youth and general public, influenced by regional changes, will continue its pressure on the Palestinian leadership to end the status quo of endless negotiations and Palestinian concession met by Israeli continued ethnic cleansing and colonization policies.

Any new Palestinian government must show independence of heavy partisan political affiliation and loyalty. The Palestinian leadership must show that it is becoming more attentive to public voice, and manage to rally the support needed for its dealing with Israel and the U.S. in the coming stage. The Palestinian leaders will need much more local public support, and can take advantage of the changes in Egypt, where the new political leaders already showing sign of more independence from U.S. pressure, and Abbas’ remarks after the signing of the agreement in Cairo regarding what he sees from Israel in the next stage is already a sign of much bolder stand that seems to be the tone for the coming period.

On the Global scene, the Palestinian unity agreement reflects a possible end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The division was created in line with the global political structure created by the United States after 9/11 under the so called “war on terror,” and its framework of “good and bad Muslims.” If the reconciliation is achieved and maintained, it means an end of that era, and a beginning of new one impacted by the Arab Revolution that aims at making peoples’ voice and will above the wishes of corrupt regimes, and Israeli, American, and European dictates.

If the new regional changes are understood well and utilized for a new form of politics on the ground, and by an official as well as public resistance and diplomacy around the world that can challenge American and European complacency with Israeli policies, the Palestinian cause for justice and freedom might not only bring peace and justice for the Palestinian people, but also might help end the local, regional, and global politics of hegemony and injustice. For all parties concerned, Palestine remains a central question.

Magid Shihade is an assistant professor of International Studies at Birzeit University, Birzeit, Palestine, and the author of the recently published book by Syracuse University Press “Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflicts among Palestinians in Israel.”