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Two Palestines

Hillel Frisch
SOURCEJerusalem Post

Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine
By Jonathan Schanzer

In a world where making peace with the Palestinians is the bon ton of international society, it is important to address the question of exactly which Palestinians, policymaking elites from US President Barack Obama downward and the Europeans eastward are talking about. Jonathan Schanzer’s account of the latent and then open civil war between the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah faction and Hamas is a long-overdue account of the importance of Palestinian politics on the politics of making peace.

Reading Hamas vs. Fatah, one realizes that if peace is only achieved between two sides, each possessing the ability of give and take, each with a high probability of keeping its commitments, then the Palestinians have long ago ceased to be partners in a peace process. A house divided spells disaster not only for the Palestinians but for the peace process as well.

The experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon all demonstrate the folly of expecting that a coherent state able to keep its commitments will naturally evolve after “peace” is achieved. Peacemaking has to be preceded by effective state-building, a process that the civil war between West Bank Fatah and Hamastan Gaza hardly allows.

The book consists of 16 short and crisp chapters beginning with overall distinctions between (secular-oriented) Palestinians and the Palestinian variant of Islamic fundamentalism rooted in the 1940s and 1950s, through the Oslo years. There are chapters covering the political and social wear and tear after 2000, to the present almost unbridgeable ideological, political, economic and geographic division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Schanzer documents the slide into the most ominous division Palestinians, in their long history of divisiveness, have ever faced.

Rending as the division between a nationalist and fundamentalist force almost always is in the fabric of any political community – it is doubtful whether even the State of Israel would have come into being had the political movements with military wings in the Yishuv been so divided – in the PA it is exacerbated by being a part of a larger regional and international fault line. The PA and Fatah are neatly aligned with moderate Arab states regionally and the United States internationally, just as Hamas is clearly aligned with Iran and Syria regionally and Islamic fundamentalism internationally.

Missing in the book is a broader analysis of the importance of the PA-Fatah and Hamas standoff.

From a comparative perspective it should be asked how long in the history of other movements and state-creation efforts it takes to get over such divisions – a considerably long time.

Another issue is to reflect on the costs of assuming the existence of a Palestinian political community that might not exist, create a Palestinian state based on that assumption, and what security threats would arise from such a state, based on the Lebanese experience.

Lebanon had been formally a state long before Israel came into being but the fact of its almost virtual existence is no boon to Israeli security. The crucial difference is that Israel came into being after the creation of “virtual” Lebanon – a state that never was one. Allowing the Hamas nemesis to expand into the West Bank under the cover of a virtual Palestine presently headed by Mahmud Abbas, will be dangerous, if not deadly.

Schanzer’s book is an easy read – a must for the advisers to the Barack Obama administration who are probably short on time but long on politically ambitious projects, one of which is achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. The dangers of making peace on the fault line Schanzer has exposed should be essential reading.