Palestine: Unite or die

Against a pyromaniac Israeli government, Palestinians need their leaders to unite, not repeat empty slogans.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub speaks as deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri appears on a television screen during a video conference to discuss Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Ramallah July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub speaks in Ramallah in the West Bank in 2020 as deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri appears on a television screen during a video conference to discuss Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank (File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

A new fanatical Israeli government is putting the old flailing Palestinian leadership to the test — and this could be its final test. How it responds will determine the future of Palestine, Israel and the entire Middle East.

The coalition of religious Zionist and far-right parties now in power in Israel rejects Palestinian statehood and claims exclusive right to all of historic Palestine. It tramples over past agreements as it prepares to annex much of the occupied West Bank, which makes up the backbone of a prospective Palestinian state.

This week’s provocation by Israel’s minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, in entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, is only the beginning of what threatens to be a protracted campaign of incitement and violent escalation until this pyromaniac government sets Palestine on fire.

The Palestinian reaction has thus far been meagre at best. Politically divided, diplomatically isolated and terribly unpopular, Palestinian leaders have resorted to the same old empty slogans and tired manoeuvres. They have proven incapable of rising to the challenge or unwilling to do what it takes to face the imminent threat.

Their appeal to the United Nations for salvation smacks of desperation and escapism. It is no victory to extract yet another resolution when previous resolutions collect dust at UN headquarters. If history is any guide, Israeli obstinacy and aggression have only increased with every resolution.

It pains me to watch smug Palestinian spokespeople speak of an inevitable “end of apartheid” or the “demise of the Zionist regime” when, in reality, Israel has become the Middle East’s most powerful state and one of the richest in the world while Palestine devolves into an impoverished, failed and broken entity.

After more than seven decades of dispossession, five decades of occupation and three decades of protracted negotiations, Palestinians deserve better than having their rights and freedoms reduced into wishful dreams and political fantasies. They deserve a worthy, responsible and unified leadership ready and able to take on Israeli intransigence, Western indifference and official Arab insolence.

A tall order? Perhaps.

But the sooner the Palestinian leaders realise that the UN is no substitute for a united nation, that international law is not synonymous with international action and international alliances are no replacement for national bonds, the sooner they can prepare to weather the Israeli hurricane coming their way.

Indeed, the international community will remain largely indifferent to their pleas unless or until the Palestinians make a real difference on the ground, which requires them, first and foremost, to make amends and reunite their efforts.

The West Bank-based Fatah leadership and the Gaza-based Hamas leadership must stop sacrificing the national struggle at the altar of their power struggle. They must recognise that their factional friction is paralysing the popular struggle for freedom, that national unity is indispensable for national liberation.

If they must compete, it should not be over the manning of the open-air prisons of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rather over ending the occupation of Palestine altogether.

It has been more than a decade now since Fatah, Hamas and other factions met in various world capitals to end their 2006 friction. They have reached a variety of agreements, most recently in Algiers, that should pave the way to a true national unity. To no avail. Their personal, factional and ideological differences continue to trump their common struggle against the Israeli occupation.

Their pursuit of conflicting regional and international agendas has confounded their friends and comforted their foes. President Mahmoud Abbas may be lamented for having put all his eggs in Washington’s basket or later desperately seeking salvation in Moscow, but Hamas’s pursuit of relief and redemption in Damascus and Tehran is no less short-sighted – read disastrous.

Pursuing such relationships undermines, even betrays, the most basic value at the heart of the Palestinian struggle, namely, seeking justice. Bloody thugs and cynics do not make for good saviours. Never.

Both sides will need to transcend their opposite approaches to the conflict – nothing but diplomacy vs anything but diplomacy – in light of mounting Israeli intransigence that demands Palestinians surrender as a prerequisite to diplomacy.

None of that is to say that the Palestinian leadership should not pursue UN involvement and international support for their cause. On the contrary. But such support should be channelled and instrumentalised by a well-defined national agenda and strategy for liberation, one that is put to a national vote.

Since 2006, both Abbas and the Hamas leaders have ruled like incompetent autocrats, overly dependent on foreign powers. It is time that changes, but not by subjugating the Palestinians to another divisive election under occupation, rather by solidifying and strengthening their unity through a popular vote.

Once an overwhelming majority of Palestinians supports such a united agenda, no regional or international power, including Israel, would be able to ignore, divide or blackmail the Palestinians for their cynical ends.

United, national leaders could tap the infinite capacity and willingness of Palestinians to fight for their cause and the passionate and overwhelming popular Arab support for Palestine and opposition to Israel. Together, they will make the Israeli fanatics regret waging holy war against Palestine.

United, the Palestinians will be reinvigorated and better suited to stand up to the fanatics ruling Israel, using all means necessary to effect change. Lest we forget that it was Palestinian unity in the first Palestinian Intifada that forced both Israel and the United States to recognise and negotiate with the PLO and their unity in the second Intifada that forced them, albeit theoretically, to embrace the two-state solution.

United, they could build bridges to the Palestinians within Israel and reach out to other disenchanted Israelis and Jews who oppose fascism and support liberty and justice in Israel and Palestine.

United, they are better positioned to garner international support now that the new Israeli government faces greater scrutiny by its American and other Western backers. Where there is unity, there is victory.