Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to say that Palestinian reconciliation is a blow for Israel. However, he was wrong to suggest that it is damaging to the prospects for peace. The agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas thwarts Israel’s ambition to prolong its illegal occupation of Palestine and deny Palestinians self-determination for as long as it suits the Israelis to do so; ultimately that result of Cairo has to be good for peace in the Middle East.
For decades Israel’s strategy toward the Palestinians has been rooted in the age-old colonial tactic of divide and rule. Netanyahu, the latest in a long line of conceited prime ministers, called arrogantly on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to choose between peace with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas. The answer came from revolutionary Egypt.
Both Fatah and Hamas, the central figures in the Palestinian split, had to respond, like the Egyptians, to the will of the people, not their parties or factions; this is, after all, the age of people power.
The only reason why Israel’s colonial divide and rule policy survived for so long was because of the staunch support it received from the now-deposed Mubarak regime. The former Egyptian president saw Hamas as a protégé of his political opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood, and therefore nurtured a visceral hatred for the Islamic movement. Driven by his ambition to install his son as his successor, he received unlimited support from Israel and its Western allies. The quid pro quo was simple: he gave support to Israel, and they provided backing for his nepotism. This is why the US, Britain and the EU did their utmost to keep Mubarak in power, maintaining their support right to the bitter end. It was obvious that he and his entourage had no qualms about selling the Palestinian cause to Zionist Israel.
In practice the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from beginning to end, has been viewed through the lense of Israel’s “security needs”. The legitimate struggle against Israel’s military occupation and for Palestinian self-determination was never a real concern. The corrupt Mubarak regime was a key player in the suppression of that struggle. As such, Mubarak’s overthrow must be regarded as the pinnacle of the Arab uprising. Under his watch over 40,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were imprisoned. Today, they are central to the realignment of the political map of Egypt and, indeed, the region.
It is against this background that the reconciliation agreement must be seen. In the era of people power, no one is marginalised; everyone untainted by corruption and theft has an equal place in the nation-building process. Mahmoud Abbas said as much at the reconciliation agreement ceremony in Cairo: Hamas are our brothers, he told the world; they are our relatives. They are sons of the soil, unlike the illegal settlers from Moldova, Ukraine and New York.
It is no exaggeration to say that without the revolution in Egypt, Palestinian reconciliation would not have taken place as fast as it has. Egypt has changed, as has the whole region. It has freed itself from the crippling clutches of despotism and nepotism and the heavy burden of foreign dictats. It has returned to its position of regional leadership, reflecting the will and aspirations of the Arab and Islamic states which is turning the tables on Israel.
That being the case, however, it is important to stress that the Cairo agreement is not “against” anyone; rather it is for the restoration of Palestinian rights. For decades now, the Palestinians have bent over backwards to secure peace, recognizing Israel on 78% of historic Palestine in the process. For the sake of peace, the political groups, including Hamas, conceded that they would have an independent sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; a normal state, with control over its borders, without illegal foreign settlers on its soil, with Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for refugees in accord with UN resolution 194.
This was too much for the Israelis to accept. That is why Mahmoud Abbas had no choice but to give Israel’s government his own ultimatum; choose between peace and illegal settlements on Palestinian land.
Abbas was right to do so, and he was even more justified to remind Netanyahu that the Palestinians never interfere in Israel’s affairs, even though 20 per-cent of Israel’s population are, in fact, Palestinians. What would be the Israeli response if the PLO was to insist that Israel afford more proportional representation, jobs and government services to its Palestinian citizens?
The Cairo agreement has sent a clear and resounding message to those who see the role of the Palestinian Authority solely as a guarantor of Israel’s security. After all is said and done, Palestinians also have national rights and aspirations, the foremost of which is the right to freedom and human dignity. Recognition of this right is the safest and shortest route to peace in the region which is why it is unfortunate that Israel has no intention or inclination to recognise it. It must be surmised, therefore that the Israeli government doesn’t want peace. Moreover, it is clear that it is still determined to fleece American and European taxpayers under the false pretence of “existential threats”.
The Cairo agreement has ended four years of abysmal animosity between Palestinians; it also marks a new beginning and the renewal of the Palestinian national project. There are many challenges ahead: the composition of the proposed new government; the reconstruction of the PLO and the administration of internal Palestinian security.
Equally important is the issue of Palestinian elections, which are set to take place within a year. Will the Palestinians in the diaspora be allowed to have their say on the future of their people? This would be a real test to see who supports the right of return genuinely and who backs more or less permanent exile.
No single faction has emerged victorious from the Cairo reconciliation agreement; neither Fatah nor Hamas, nor any other. Unlike previous agreements, this is not about quotas and shares of influence; it is much more profound. Hence, Cairo is a defining victory for the Palestinian people, as well as the Arab and Islamic nations who view the Palestine issue as their central cause. Only those motivated by ill-intent will seek to undermine and subvert it.
Like every hard-won prize, this agreement needs protection and the young people of Palestine have, like their peers across the region, shown that they are up to the challenge of makings sure of its success. They must, for the Cairo Palestinian reconciliation agreement is not only about their own future, but also the dignity and freedom of the whole region.