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Reconciliation is the least that can be achieved

Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah delivers a press conference in Gaza on 2 October 2017 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah delivers a press conference in Gaza on 2 October 2017 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The conditions Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set before the Palestinians in the wake of the start of the reconciliation process and as a prerequisite to the resumption of negotiations, which include the recognition of Israel the Jewish state, disarming Hamas and severing relations with Iran, are reminiscent of the conditions set by Israel under Ehud Olmert’s government, supported by the International Quartet and the United States, following Hamas’ victory in the legislative elections in January 2006.

At that time, Israel demanded that Hamas recognise it and the signed agreements and began to impose a siege on the Gaza Strip in order to isolate Hamas, which formed the Palestinian government at the time. But after over 11 years, things are going back to the way they were in 2006, when there wasn’t a real reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, but there was dialogue between them. During these years, there was a great deal of bloodshed, because of the Israeli wars. These years also witnessed an internal Palestinian division that involved bloodshed and hostility amongst brothers. Several Arab and foreign parties got involved to fuel this hostility.

This disastrous experience should be an important lesson for the Palestinians, especially Hamas and Fatah, preventing them from repeating it. It seems that this division, which is a result of rivalry over authority, has led to harming both of their legitimacy, at least in the eyes of many Palestinian people. The two movements must reach an agreement regarding the greater interests of the people and working towards it while putting factional interests aside.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a TV interview [IsraelinUSA/Flickr]

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders from the government coalition, the vast majority of whom are from opposition parties, are apprehensive about the Palestinian reconciliation and openly hope it fails. Netanyahu stated that this reconciliation is a “faux reconciliation”; while his Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said there were reconciliation attempts in the past that failed. Furthermore, Head of the Jewish Home Party, Minister Naftali Bennett, called for punishing the Palestinian Authority by stopping the transfer of tax funds.

These statements reaffirm the current Israeli government’s refusal to resume negotiations because of its refusal to establish a Palestinian state. It always uses the argument of “Israel’s security” to try to convince the West, especially the United States, of the danger a Palestinian state would have on Israel. However, this argument has become tired and cliché and the world sees no place for it, even though the world believes that any agreement between the Palestinians and Israel must take into consideration the security considerations of the latter. However, these considerations should not be a hindrance to the resolution of the conflict.

This is evidenced by the words of US President Donald Trump, reported by Haaretz today, regarding his intentions to continue seeking a peace initiative between the Palestinians and Israelis. Netanyahu has recently confirmed that Trump insists on pushing a peace initiative forward. The newspaper quoted Trump telling UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that both leaders were being “problematic”, but the Israeli leader was “the bigger problem”.

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Despite the importance of Trump’s statements, they are not expected to affect Netanyahu and the members of his government. Lieberman told the Walla website today that he does not know of a US peace plan. A few days ago, Minister Ze’ev Elkin, one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants, slammed Trump, saying that he, like former US President Barack Obama, was restricting construction in settlements.

What is clear in the Israeli policy is that talking to the outside world is directed in a specific direction, such as the continuous talk about the outstretched hand for peace, while actions in the occupied West Bank are directed in another direction, such as the announcement of expansion of settlement construction. Israel’s political performance is also characterised by self-restraint, such as the Nationality Law, which only recognises the Jews’ right of self-determination in historic Palestine, i.e. the territories between the river and the sea.

Therefore, we do not expect Israel to agree to abandon its refusal to resolve the conflict along with its continued imposition of radical facts on the ground in the territories occupied in 1967. In this case, the Palestinians’ imposition of a reconciliation amongst themselves is considered the bare minimum of what needs to be achieved.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 4 October 2017

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