Among the many conflicts in the Middle East — Syria’s attempted destabilization of Lebanon, Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear program, and the war in Iraq — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the most emotionally charged issue. To this day, Muslims and Arabs continue to perceive Israel’s very existence as illegitimate: an entity serving the interests of the imperialist and colonialist West.
Since 1947, many nations have been born, and some members of the international community continue to hold Israel to a higher moral standard than any other country. Israel is expected to negotiate with the Palestinians to end the conflict and help establish a viable Palestinian state. How can Israel be expected to negotiate with the Palestinians when Palestine is not monolithic and there is a de facto Hamastan in the Gaza Strip and a de facto Fatahland in the West Bank?
As of August 2008, Hamas has launched more than 2,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. Human Rights Watch has condemned this act as a serious violation of humanitarian law. Since Hamas’s violent coup in Gaza in June 2007, Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence has claimed more lives than in the last 41 years of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis. Human Rights Watch added that “Palestinian infighting is tantamount to war crimes, as both Hamas and Fatah have participated in summary executions, torture, and decapitations.”
On Aug. 3, 11 people were killed and more than 90 others harmed in a violent clash between Hamas and the pro-Fatah Hilles clan in Gaza. More than 170 members of this clan received refuge and medical attention in Israel — the state the Palestinians are at war with — while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied West Bank asylum to his Fatah constituency. The violence between Hamas and Fatah has not abated, and each side continues to accuse the other of attempting to undermine and assassinate its leaders.
Who speaks precisely for the Palestinian people? Israel cannot expect to successfully negotiate with the Palestinians while this question remains unanswered.
Fatah supposedly adheres to a two-state solution, yet demands a “right of return” for 5 million Palestinians outside the West Bank and Gaza to live in Israel. Hamas does not believe in a Palestinian state living alongside Israel, calling instead for the destruction of Israel by replacing it with a purely Islamic Palestinian state.
Both Hamas and Fatah promote Palestinian unity and publicly vow to end factional fighting, yet each claims it is the true manifestation of the Palestinian people. So far, attempts at reconciliation have failed in spite of Egyptian, Saudi, and Yemeni mediation.
Despite Hamas-Fatah infighting, Israel has chosen to negotiate only with Abbas’s Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, thereby excluding the 1.3 million Gazans who elected Hamas. Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas, a terrorist group that denies Israel’s right to exist, rejects the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, and renounces the Oslo Peace Accords.
The best Hamas has offered Israel is a 10-year hudna “ceasefire” or tahadiyeh “quiet” if Israel withdraws to the June 4, 1967 borders. In this instance, Hamas employs the Islamic logic of tsaber “patience” and “endurance,” which permits Muslims to halt jihad against non-Muslims until they have attained a position of strength.
Most Israelis recognize that any ceasefire with Hamas is merely a ploy for the terrorist group to reorganize, re-arm, and bide their time for another day to carry on their fight.
This leaves Israel in a precarious situation. Yet the current disunity among the Palestinian people, factional violence, and chaos indicates a peace treaty would not resemble the peace seen with Egypt and Jordan. Egyptian and Jordanian peace proved successful because there was a clear, uniform voice emanating from Cairo and Amman respectively; indicating it was serious about ending its state of war with Israel.
In an interview on Jan. 30, 2007, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres underscored the ambiguity of the dual nature of the Palestinian leadership. Peres said that peace between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan was plausible because Egypt and Jordan have a single government, a single army, and a single address to be held accountable. He continued by saying, “The Palestinians, however, have many governments and no government. They have many armies and no army. They have many permanent addresses and have no permanent addresses. Their division is not only their problem, but Israel’s problem.”
If the Palestinians were united under one flag, one government, one army, and one address, a peace accord could be attainable. And if such a government recognized Israel, renounced violence, and dropped the unrealistic demand of a “right of return,” it could be a just and lasting peace. Until that time comes, however, any prospect of reaching a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians is nothing short of a shattered dream.
Michael Sharnoff is a research associate at the Jewish Policy Center