Two-sided reconciliation

Tony Greenstein argues the importance of continuation of Palestinian resistance

On April 28, after four years of fighting and imprisoning each other’s cadres, Hamas and Fatah have signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority - which runs a fraction of the West Bank, centred on Ramallah, courtesy of the United States and Israel.

The first, and obvious point to make, is that but for the uprisings in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world this agreement would never have happened. The Mubarak regime, which was a cat’s paw of the United States and Israel, was crucial in preventing such an agreement. Since his removal there has been a relaxation of the border controls at Rafah and an easing of Israel’s siege of Gaza.

On one level an agreement between Fatah and Hamas is good, as it overcomes, at least on paper, the national divisions within the Palestinian camp. The reaction of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that the Palestinian Authority/Fatah can either make peace with Israel or with Hamas bears this out. Like all good colonial regimes, the Israeli state seeks to divide and rule the Palestinians and thereby perpetuate the occupation of the West Bank. It has since followed this up by freezing the payment of tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Abbas clique of quislings that runs Ramallah.

However, despite the Palestinian Authority agreeing to sell the Palestinian birthright for a mess of potage, as the leaked ‘Palestinian papers’ from the negotiations with Israel demonstrated, Netanyahu refused to close any deal and continued with the settlement building. No peace deal is possible with an Israeli government that creates anything other than a series of Palestinian reservations and mini-Bantustans, since Zionist expansion is non-negotiable by definition.

But should socialists and anti-imperialists therefore be pleased with the last developments? On one level, yes. We are not in favour of the national movements of the oppressed fighting each other. But on another level we have to be honest and say that this will not lead to any fundamental change, given the politics of both Fatah and Hamas. Palestinians are left with two groups whose main desire is to take over the repression of the Palestinians themselves.

The record of Fatah is by far and away the worst. It runs the Palestinian fiefdom of Ramallah, in close cooperation with both Israel and the United States. The latter trains its police and security forces in Jordan under general Keith Dayton, while Israel vets the whole military programme. Despite the fact that this is a shadow of a state, the use of torture (95% of detainees of the security police are said to suffer it) and the disappearance of opponents is widespread.

Hamas’s rule in Gaza is hardly a benevolent one either. It has repeatedly attacked progressive forces and tried to enforce stricter Islamic feudal rules in respect of women. Both Hamas and Fatah opposed any demonstrations in support of the Egyptian protestors in their respective territories, although Hamas did not get its way, unlike Fatah.

The agreement between Hamas and Fatah, given the physical division between the West Bank and Gaza, is likely to be symbolic at best. And it is unlikely that the role of the Palestinian Authority will change fundamentally - it is the bastard child of the Israeli occupation.

But the agreement between Fatah and Hamas is, even if symbolic, a portent of the changes in the Middle East. This year has seen the overthrow of the tyrants in Egypt and Tunisia, the uprisings in Yemen and Libya and unrest throughout the region. Even if they do not result in an overthrow of the system that spawned those regimes and even if repression succeeds in the short term in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf, it is clear that, just as the 1848 revolutions achieved far more than the defeats they are remembered for, so the uprisings will have consequences for Arab and Middle East politics long into the future.

As America’s imperial grasp gradually weakens - demonstrated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - it will nonetheless seek, with its Israeli satrap, to try and shape the outcome of the Middle East politically. It is no surprise, therefore, that Israel, which styles itself ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ was the most worried of all. Hosni Mubarak may have been a bloody dictator, but he was very much Israel’s dictator. That has now begun to unravel. Likewise Israel is scared that the Ba’athist police state in Syria, despite its purported hostility, is far preferable to the present uprising, the consequences of which will not be beneficial to Israel. In short the political geography of the Middle East is changing and it is not to the benefit of imperialism. In the short term the latter will try to ride the tiger where possible, as it is doing in Libya (despite some on the left clinging to the illusion that Gaddafi was some kind of progressive).

Palestinians, who are suffering from the ravages of an occupation which is nakedly racist and whose purpose is to turn the indigenous population into wage labourers as the prelude to ‘transfer’, will welcome the agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Unity is important, but it has to be around a political alternative both to Zionism and to the tyranny of the existing Palestinian groups. There is no doubt that Hamas is eager to do a deal with Israel, its rhetoric notwithstanding. It has always done its best not to confront Israel, as is befitting for a movement which Zionism helped create. But Israel does not wish to see an independent state in Gaza, whoever is in control. If, as is widely believed, there are large gas fields off the Gazan coast, then the prospect of energy independence is an extra incentive for Israel.

What is more important is the continuation of Palestinian resistance to the apartheid wall and the ongoing confiscation of land. This has to be coupled with the struggles of the Arabs of Israel against the depradations of the Jewish National Fund and the overt and naked racism of Netanyahu’s government - for whom all Palestinians, regardless of whether they possess Israeli citizenship, are the enemy.