Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Palestine’s unified government can win peace, with a little help

By Daoud Kuttab

The rollout of the war-ending ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestine last month was impressive. With almost perfect synchronization, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the end of the war on Gaza in a televised broadcast from his Ramallah headquarters, while Hamas leaders called on Palestinians in Gaza to take to the streets to celebrate their supposed victory.

Of course, with more than 2,200 Palestinians — mostly civilians — killed and more than 10,000 injured, as well as thousands of homes, schools, mosques and other structures destroyed, the war’s outcome can hardly be called a victory.

Nonetheless, this is the first time that Palestinians have been able to create something close to mutual deterrence with Israelis.

Strengthening Palestine’s position further is the UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, which Palestinian diplomats can use to exert political pressure on Israel to take their national aspirations seriously. Palestine’s membership in UN agencies, not to mention the possibility of joining the International Criminal Court, has also boosted its leaders’ bargaining power.

All of these levers — not to mention the tremendous sympathy and support Palestinians have received from international observers — will be essential to ensure that the high price Palestinians paid during the 51-day war was not in vain. However, the levers will be useless if the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two dominant Palestinian factions, fail to maintain a united front.

The effectiveness of such a cooperative approach was apparent in the Egypt-sponsored indirect talks with Israel.

The unified Palestinian delegation was convenient for Egypt and Israel, both of which consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and for Palestine, because it helped to bring an end to the violence. And it was a political boon for Abbas, who was able to field a delegation headed by one of his confidants, Azzam al-Ahmad, and thus claim the right to announce the agreed-upon ceasefire.

Having withstood the test of war, the Palestinian unity government that was created less than two months before the conflict began is now to become the main vehicle for Gaza’s reconstruction. However, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will face considerable challenges — beginning with Gaza, where his executive authority is severely limited.

More broadly, the unity government’s success depends on the ability of the Fatah-led Palestinian government and Hamas — and, to whatever extent possible, Islamic Jihad — to cement their cooperation by agreeing on a path toward liberation and freedom. A clear, realistic strategy will be integral to Palestine’s efforts to win support from regional and international actors eager to end the decades-old conflict with Israel.

This would, of course, require compromises from all sides. Hamas must reconsider its refusal to recognize Israel. For its part, the Palestinian leadership must pursue active resistance alongside talks with Israel, while more vigorously defending Palestinians’ right of return, which it has often ignored in an effort to appease Israel.

However, establishing a unified strategy is only the first step. Ordinary Palestinians, who will undoubtedly have to make sacrifices, must be brought on board — especially given the heavy price they incurred during the recent conflict, in which they had no say.

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