Dividing Palestinians Won't Work

Published on
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The Toronto Star

Dividing Palestinians Won't Work

by
Haroon Siddiqui

There is panic in Ottawa, Washington, Jerusalem and European capitals over Hamas's stunning military rout of Fatah in the Gaza Strip.

The 18-month-long Western policy — which the Stephen Harper Tories took pride in, having been first to announce it — of starving Hamas into submission is in ruins.

Yet Canada and others will try more of the same, only on a grander scale — showering greater favours on Fatah and strangling Hamas and the Gazans some more.

The new policy is no more likely to succeed than the old.

Where we are today is a function of where we have been.

Starting in the 1980s, Israel reportedly encouraged the Islamists in order to weaken the secularist resistance. Having done so, it and the U.S. said that Mahmoud Abbas was too weak to negotiate peace with. Now, they are going to prop him up. This attempt at dividing and conquering an occupied people will continue to fail.

Palestinians are one people, even if they are killing one another at this time, giving rise to glee in some quarters that they are a warped lot who fail to behave rationally after 40 years of a brutal occupation. The West used to complain, correctly, that Yasser Arafat was corrupt to the core, and also dictatorial. But we colluded with such corrupt and autocratic Fatah operatives as Mohammed Dahlan, the security chief, so he could crack down on Hamas.

That only helped Hamas win the January 2006 election, a result we refused to accept, even while paying lip serv ice to democracy.

And it was Dahlan's attempts at undermining the Palestinian government that prompted Hamas last week to finish off the Fatah militias, trash his villa and take over the Fatah security building where kidnapped Hamas operatives used to be held and tortured.

Make no mistake about it. Hamas is a terrorist group. It does not recognize Israel and won't forswear violence against the Jewish state. But Fatah's hands are also drenched in blood. Its Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has been involved in terrorism, including suicide bombings.

Having egged on Abbas to dismiss the elected government and appoint a new prime minister, we are calling him "the legitimate president of all Palestinians." But in many Palestinian eyes, Ismail Haniyeh remains the legitimate prime minister of all Palestinians.

Hamas has been successful not so much because it is "Islamist" but because it fights corruption, provides social services and offers resistance to the occupation.

Yet we are being fed a new line: peace can come sans Hamas.

As Alexa McDonough, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said Tuesday: "Peace cannot be achieved without Hamas at the table. It is a fraud to pretend otherwise."

Listen also to Daniel Levy. He is a former peace negotiator for Israel and is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, where I reached him by phone.

Hamas is "the new reality," he said. Ignoring it is to risk "a further radicalization of Gaza, whose young, unemployed, angry and armed people could prove a fertile ground for Al Qaeda."

Would boosting Abbas work?

"That may have worked in 2003 when he was prime minister and in 2005 after the death of Arafat. We are two years too late, at least."

What to do? "Prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Curtail the daily inconveniences in the West Bank. Pursue a two-state solution. But do it by bringing the Palestinians from both sides together, rather than trying the opposite." Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in World and Sunday in the A-section. Contact him at hsiddiq@ thestar.ca

©2007 The Toronto Star

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