Amid the bombing that has struck Gaza in its entirety and the battles on the ground between Israeli troops and Hamas, there is an Arab and non-Arab regional division, which is deep and complex. Amid the smoke, bloodshed, and Palestinian and Arab division, one should stop and think about the situation even if our words are restricted.
This war is not an everlasting one – the brutal Israeli campaign against the Gaza Strip will come to an end, especially with the rising number of innocent civilians, women and children, who are being killed. This is embarrassing for the international conscience, creating a public opinion that is putting pressure on Israel. Therefore, Israeli comments about a long-term war and Hamas’s comments about heroism and victories should not be taken literally and represent nothing but psychological warfare.
It is clear however that Israel’s target, if not to “topple Hamas” in the words of Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon, is at least to prevent it from launching rockets towards Israeli settlements and, according to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to create a new reality as was the case with Hezbollah in south Lebanon. The Hezbollah after the 2006 war differed to the Hezbollah before the war in terms of military deployment and the ability to fight Israel.
This war will come to an end either by wiping out Hamas, which is what Israel hopes for, or by weakening it and forcing it to accept the settlements that it rejected before the war. But does this mean an end to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
The truth is that it is difficult for anyone to be convinced of a solution as soon as clashes between Arabs and the Israelis die down. This is for reasons affiliated to our vision of the crisis and the issue of courage vis-à-vis geographical and political facts on the ground.
I believe that it is impossible to eliminate Hamas. Israel would be mistaken to think that it could wipe out Hamas politically and militarily, not because Hamas has divine power but because it is a condition, not only a movement. Hamas is a result of the crisis, not a cause of it. The Palestinian cause has always been a source of revolutionary movements, whether secular or fundamental, all over the Arab and Islamic world.
Even if Hamas exhausts itself, even though it really did adhere to the ceasefire agreement before it violated it, other movements and factions would emerge to outperform it. We saw how the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza refused to adhere to the ceasefire that Hamas had reached with Israel and also fought with whoever violated it. At that time, Mahmoud al Zahar and Hamas leaders considered anybody responsible for launching a rocket into Israel a traitor to Palestine. Khaled al Batsh, a prominent leader of the Islamic Jihad movement, told the press at the time that Hamas’s attempt to reach a ceasefire agreement with Israel “is rejected and is not obligatory upon the Islamic Jihad movement.” Al Batsh stressed that “the Islamic Jihad movement will adhere to resistance as long as the [Israeli] occupation exists.”
When Hamas sought to impose the ceasefire upon Gaza’s unrestrained organizations, it clashed with groups suspected of having ties with Al Qaeda such as Jaish al Islam [Army of Islam] and the Daghmash clan, which was responsible for kidnapping BBC journalist Alan Johnston. We should remember that Hamas was very critical of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority [PA] for choosing peace over war with Israel and continuously launched suicide attacks in Israel whilst negotiations were taking place between the PA and Israel, which caused Israel to react brutally. Negotiations were taken back to square one.
When Hamas came to power however, the situation changed and the Qassam Brigades movement halted action. But again people were breaking away from Hamas and repeating what Hamas used to say against the PA.
Is this limited to Hamas, which is considered one of the youngest movements of the Palestinian struggle? Of course not.
The Fatah movement, which was established in 1954, did not consider itself part of the PLO, which was headed by Ahmed Shukeiri and backed by Nasser’s Egypt. Fatah was critical of the PLO and Shukeiri, particularly regarding the claim that he pushed the Palestinian cause into the labyrinth of Arab countries and altered its revolutionary nature.
In reference to an organisation for liberation, Fatah said, “It should be of a revolutionary nature based on an armed revolution and nothing else.” Fatah further emphasized its position practically when it opted for armed resistance a few months after the PLO was established. In a statement distributed to members of the National Council during its second session in Cairo in 1965, Fatah called for pursuing the path of Al Asifa, the military wing of Fatah, according to a Palestinian researcher at the Fateh Forums website.
Following the Khartoum Summit in 1967, the Fatah movement warned Arab countries against dealing with Ahmed al Shukeiri. Some time later, Fatah joined the PLO, imposing its revolutionary conditions, and Yasser Arafat became chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee.
Fatah, however, was not free of division and this was always based on allegations of weakness and failure, selling the Palestinian cause or rejecting a certain political attitude. This paved the way for groups such as the Abu Nidal Organisation, which was backed by Iraqi Baathists, and the Fatah Abu Musa Faction backed by Syrian Baathists, to emerge.
The Palestinian tragedy has always been a source of Arab antagonism or a means of one-upmanship since the era of King Abdullah I of Jordan and his disputes with Egypt, then Abdul Karim Qasim of Iraq and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, and then Saddam’s Iraq, Hafez’s Syria, Qaddafi’s Libya and Khomeini’s Iran.
This demonstrates that in the case of dealing with the Palestinian crisis, the same mistakes are being repeated time and time again. There is a lack of clarity and Arab regimes are using Palestinian factions to embarrass other leaderships by accusing them of betraying the Palestinian cause. The same old tactic is still being used but this time it is also being used by a non-Arab party, namely Iran.
Neither the Arabs nor the Palestinians have been clear in their vision of solving the Palestinian crisis. Since Anwar Sadat’s decision to sign a peace treaty with the Israelis, despite that he was accused of treachery at the time, matters were clearer. The idea of casting Israel into the sea and liberating all Palestinian land from the river to the sea was no longer a realistic or viable option.
What is required is that the Palestinians, as well as the Arabs, must demonstrate the maximum degree of transparency possible and decide whether we are on the path of war or peaceful settlement.
This uncertainty in our vision and political position must be settled. If the majority of Palestinians are for war until the entire land is free from the river to the sea then so be it. But in reality, how could this happen? What coalitions could be formed? How would the Palestinian people prepare for this? How would a military force be built without causing the annihilation of the nation for which the land is being liberated?
Do Arabs and non-Arabs from different countries and organizations have the ability to enter a war with Israel (Iran’s Secretary of the National Security Council Saeed Jalili said that Hezbollah would not attack Israel)? Or are they for peaceful settlement and against the concept of liberation from the river to the sea? In spite of whether they are deluding Hamas into thinking that they are in favour of this slogan, in the meantime, these Arabs and non-Arabs are negotiating with Israel implicitly and explicitly.
Honesty cleanses the heart; the confusion of positions and the contradictory signals endanger the Palestinians themselves. If a friend tells you frankly that this is the most he can do for you, this is better than sugar-coated promises that amount to nothing, not a single Shehab missile nor a Katyusha rocket.
What is sad is that the people who have paid the price and those who continue to pay the price for political lies are the ordinary people walking in the streets, eating in their homes, shopping in the markets and laying in bed at night hoping to see the next day.
This chapter of the Palestinian tragedy will draw to a close but the tragedy itself will not unless we decide whether we want war or a peaceful settlement and then act accordingly.