The Palestinians' choice

June 22, 2007|By Saree Makdisi | Saree Makdisi,Los Angeles Times

In the West, there's a huge sense of relief. The Hamas-led government that has been causing everyone so much trouble has been isolated in Gaza, and a new government has been appointed in the West Bank by the "moderate," peace-loving Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

So why, then, do Palestinians not share in the relief? Well, for one thing, the old government had been democratically elected; now it has been dismissed out of hand by presidential fiat. There's also the fact that the new prime minister appointed by Mr. Abbas - Salam Fayyad - has the support of the West, but his election list won only 2 percent of the votes in the same election that swept Hamas to victory. Mr. Fayyad and Mr. Abbas have the support of Israel, but it is no secret that they lack the backing of their own people.

There is a reason the people threw out Mr. Abbas' Fatah party in last year's election. Palestinians see the leading Fatah politicians as unimaginative, self-serving and corrupt, satisfied with the emoluments of power.

Worse yet, Palestinians came to realize that the so-called peace process championed by Mr. Abbas (and by Yasser Arafat before him) had led to the permanent institutionalization - rather than the termination - of Israel's four-decade-old military occupation of their land. There are twice as many settlers in the occupied territories today as there were when Yitzhak Rabin and Mr. Arafat first shook hands in the White House Rose Garden. Israel has divided the West Bank into besieged cantons, worked diligently to increase the number of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and turned Gaza into a virtual prison.

People voted for Hamas last year not because they approved of the party's sloganeering, not because they wanted to live in an Islamic state, not because they support attacks on Israeli civilians, but because Hamas was untainted by Fatah's complacency and corruption, untainted by its willingness to continue pandering to Israel. Fatah leaders were viewed as mere policemen of the perpetual occupation. Hamas offered an alternative.

Here in the United States, Hamas is routinely demonized, known primarily for its attacks on civilians. Depictions of Hamas portray its "rejectionism" as an end in itself rather than as a refusal to go along with a political process that has proved catastrophic for Palestinians.

Has Hamas done unspeakable things? Yes, but so has Fatah, and so too has Israel (on a much larger scale). There are no saints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians see a lot of hypocrisy in the West's anti-Hamas stance. Since last year's election, for example, the West has denied aid to the Hamas government, arguing, among other things, that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. But that's absurd; after all, Israel does not recognize Palestine either. Hamas is accused of not abiding by previous agreements. But Israel's suspension of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority, and its refusal to implement a Gaza-West Bank road link agreement brokered by the United States in November 2005, are practical, rather than merely rhetorical, violations of previous agreements, causing infinitely more damage to ordinary people. Hamas is accused of mixing religion and politics, but no one has explained why its version of that mixture is any worse than Israel's - or why a Jewish state is acceptable but a Muslim one is not.

Let's be honest. Hamas did not run into Western opposition because of its Islamic ideology but because of its opposition to (and resistance to) the Israeli occupation.

A genuine peace based on a two-state solution would require an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of a territorially contiguous, truly independent Palestinian state.

But that is not happening. Fatah seems to have given up, its leaders preferring to rest comfortably with the power they have. Ironically, it is Hamas that is taking the stands that would be prerequisites for a true two-state peace plan: refusing to go along with the permanent breakup of Palestine and not accepting the sacrifice of control over borders, air space, water, taxes and even the population registry to Israel.

Embracing the "moderation" of Mr. Abbas allows the Palestinian Authority to resume servicing the occupation on Israel's behalf, for now. In the long run, though, the two-state solution is finished because Fatah is either unable or unwilling to stop the ongoing dismemberment of the territory once intended for a Palestinian state.

The only realistic choice remaining will be the one between a single, democratic, secular state offering equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians - or permanent apartheid.

Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, writes often about the Middle East. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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