As the Arab spring jumps borders, Palestinian leaders play catch up

“THE PEOPLE want Tahrir in Palestine”—this was the chant unifying the thousands attempting to march on Israel’s borders from Lebanon and Syria and protesting in the Palestinian Occupied Territories on May 15. Sixty-three years since 750,000 Palestinians were killed or expelled from their homes in “al-Nakba” (the catastrophe) that marked Israel’s birth, the apartheid state is facing a renewed challenge from the spreading Arab spring. And so are the two factions that lead the Palestinian movement in the Occupied Territories, Hamas and Fatah.

Last issue Solidarity reported on the mobilisations, inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia, demanding unity between Hamas and Fatah, which control Gaza and the West Bank respectively. Now the two factions have signed a unity agreement, promising to form a national unity government, co-ordinate security forces, and to hold elections for the Palestinian Authority within a year.
Israel and the US have long played on the divisions in the Palestinian movement, cosying up to Fatah while maintaining Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. So many have welcomed their unity. But everything suggests that the deal represents no real shift in Palestinian politics. In fact, it has all the hallmarks of a desperate act of two organisations whose political strategies are disappointing Palestinians.
In recent times, Fatah has pursued a disgraceful strategy of collaborating with Israel and the US. Their 30,000 strong police force, trained by the CIA, keeps control of the Palestinian street.
Hamas’ opposition to these capitulations has won it support. It opposed Fatah’s decision to recognise the Israeli state in 1988, which paved the way for negotiations.
This was the beginning of the so-called “peace process”. But while Fatah made concessions, Israel continued to expand its settlements and checkpoints in the Occupied Territories.
Leaks from recent negotiations, revealed in the Palestine Papers, show Fatah even offered to give up any right of return for refugees expelled by Israel in 1948. Israel has a “law of return” that means any Jew can become a citizen—but 5.5 million Palestinians and their families expelled from Israel in 1948 cannot return.
Hamas opposed these historic concessions. That is why Israel and the US have so fiercely opposed it. However, there is no sign that the unity deal means Fatah has shifted approach.
It is trying to maintain US funding, threatened by the unity deal, by promising that Hamas will never share authority in the West Bank. Its security coordination with Israel will not end.
Israel, unsurprisingly, is fuming at the deal, but the more circumspect reaction of the US is revealing. They are welcoming unity and demanding that Hamas “renounce its extremist policies”. They understand that this could be an opportunity to tame Hamas.
Hamas’ strategy is similar to that pursued by Fatah in an earlier era: seeking support from “anti-US” leaders in the region. Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, now facing a revolt against his authoritarian rule, has provided Hamas with arms in the past.
Palestinian armed struggle alone cannot defeat the military might of Israel. But allying the Palestinian movement with Arab rulers rather than the Arab masses was what weakened Fatah and led them to the negotiating table. During the 1987 Intifada, Fatah tried to stop solidarity demonstrations across the Arab world, lest they offend their rich Arab backers.
Lining up with the Arab rulers means not supporting struggles against them, and even actively opposing them.
Instead of urging on Egyptian workers to deepen the country’s revolution, Hamas and Fatah entered secret negotiations with Egypt’s military, which now rules the country.
That same military killed one demonstrator and jailed 100 others who demonstrated in Egypt on May 15 to support Palestinians. The army are no friend of the Palestinians. For 30 years they have worked with Israel’s closest ally in the Arab world, Mubarak.
There is deep support across the Arab world for the Palestinian struggle against Israeli aggression. Since January’s revolution in Egypt, protests have demanded the closure of the Israeli embassy and the axing of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and for an end to gas exports to Israel.
Egypt’s working class has the power, when organised, to cripple the Israeli state. It could shut off the gas exports, which provide 40 per cent of Israel’s gas consumption and stop traffic through the Suez canal. A deepening of the revolution in Egypt could also see practical solidarity to the Palestinians through a full opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt, to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, which the Egyptian military is only now tentatively easing.
It will be the struggles waged by ordinary Arab workers to deepen and spread their revolutions that can bring Tahrir to Palestine.

Amy Thomas


Solidarity meetings

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