Palestinian Unity – Israeli War

What are the reasons for the apparent dead-lock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Can the reasons be found in internal Israeli conditions?

The Palestinians have for years been divided - physically between the West Bank and Gaza, but also politically between Fatah and Hamas. While Hamas won the first free parliamentary elections and formed a government, Fatah has held presidential power. After internal conflicts and lack of communication between the two parties, the Palestinian territories have been divided with Hamas in power in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank.

For Israel, Hamas has been the main argument for not going ahead with the peace process. Regular rocket firings from Gaza have also been the central rationale every time Israel has bombed Gaza.

If Israel wants to get rid of Hamas (without a war of annihilation) the following must in effect happen: The Palestinians must be allowed the peace and freedom to establish a bare minimum of a functioning state structure, enabling them to hold free elections under fairly stable conditions both in Gaza and the West Bank. Polls amoung Palestinians suggest that Hamas would lose such an election (although support for Hamas increases every time Israel commits violent acts in Gaza).

An essential first step to get to hold elections on both the West Bank and in Gaza is a collaboration between Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinians have also seen the problems the internal split creates and repeatedly tried to set up a unity government.

The problem is that every time this happens, Israel stops all forms of cooperation with Palestine, and sets into effect various forms of punitive measures, including military action, and imprisonment of parliamentarians and government officials. The Israeli rhetoric is that Hamas is purely a terrorist organization and that Fatha must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.

"The PA must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both", Netanyahu said after talks of Palestinian unity started again in 2011

Israel has thus given the Palestinians a choice of a civil war, or war with Israel. This is not much of a choice. And it's obviously not a choice that will give Israel peace.

The negotiations between Fatah and Hamas succeeded anyhow. 2 June 2014, a new Palestinian unity government was sworn in.

July 8. Israel then began a new round of bombings in Gaza.

The pretext was Hamas should have been behind the killing of three Israeli youngsters, as well as the recurrent rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel.

The problem with the first explanation is that it has now emerged that Israeli intelligence was aware that the three youths were dead long before the bodies were found, and that an Israeli spokesperson has subsequently admitted that the persons behind the kidnapping and killings was a group that likely operated independently of Hamas.

The problem with the second explanation is that Israeli security sources have admitted that Hamas, before this last war, has not fired rockets at Israel since the ceasefire in November 2012. Even if this was to be proven wrong, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of rocket attacks against Israel comes from other groups, and that Hamas repeatedly on these grounds actually have arrested members of other Palestinian factions. When Israel's blockade and repeated military action makes it impossible to maintain a functioning state apparatus, this is thus not something that strengthens Israel's security.

So how rational is actually Israel intransigent opposition to any approach towards Hamas? It is often the Hamas Charter of 1988 that is promoted as proof of how extreme Hamas are. This Charter does not recognize Israel and wishes to form an Islamic state in all the historic Palestinian Territory.

But already a draft program for the Hamas government of 2006 said that "the question of Recognizing Israel is not the jurisdiction of one faction, nor the government, but a decision for the Palestinian people."

In the subsequent attempts at coalition Governments Hamas has recognized Israel, and in 2010 Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that the Charter is "a piece of history and no longer relevant, but can not be changed for internal reasons."

It is obvious that a large organization like Hamas have different wings - both more radical and more moderate, and the trend shows that they have moved in a more moderate direction.

If Israel really wants peace, their attitude towards Hamas seems both odd and counterproductive. But maybe the answer lies in internal Israeli matters. If the Palestinians have become more moderate, the same can unfortunately not be said of the Israelis.

When Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud came to power in the 2009 elections, this happened in an electoral alliance with the more extreme Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Liberman. The Government Coalition otherwise consists of Yesh Atid (which appears moderate but supports settlements on occupied land), Jewish Home (religious party that believes Jews have God-given right to all the historical Israel, and has spearheaded the establishment of many illegal settlements) and Hatnuah (perhaps a tiny moderating force in this company, headed by Kadima defector Tzipi Livni).

Such a coalition does not give much hope for peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The Palestinians may have moved in a more moderate direction politically, but the Israeli side has unfortunately become more radical and extreme. Thus, Hamas is a very useful enemy to have for the Israeli right. The Hamas Charter has become straw Israeli rulers today are clinging to, not to bow down to an overwhelming majority in both the UN and world opinion. Thus, Israel's conservatives have no interest in the Palestinians having a state functional enough to hold democratic elections, and maintaining internal security.

Those who bleed for these headless policies are of course primarily the Palestinians who die as a result of Israel's military actions but also of blockades and checkpoints that prevent, i.e. necessary health care. Unfortunately, it also results in an effective Israeli blockade of Palestinian unity, so the Palestinians do not get the opportunity to establish a functioning state structure, and therefore also no internal security. Ultimately, this naturally creates only more insecurity also for the Israeli civilian population.

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