All roads may have once led to Rome, but, for the Palestinian people, all roads lead to checkpoints. The latest checkpoint to block the Palestinians is not manned by Israel but the ostensible mediator of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Quartet (which is composed of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations).
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came to this latest checkpoint on behalf of the Palestinian people in hopes of passing through it and finding an extension of the peace process on the other side. The reason Abbas wasn’t permitted through: for the first time since the passing of Yasser Arafat, he refused to leave the interests of the Palestinian people behind. The 86 million dollars the US planned to transfer to Abbas was nothing more than a bribe to sell out his people. The formation of a unity government of Hamas and Fatah, based on the Mecca agreement, was the right step for the Palestinian people, and the right decision for Abbas.
The first goal of the unity government was to end the factional strife between Hamas and Fatah. The second goal was to end the blockade starving the Palestinian people, imposed by the West and Israel subsequent to the overwhelming election of Hamas in last year’s parliamentary elections. The Palestinian government cannot properly function if it lacks the funds to pay the salaries of the Palestinian workers and their malnourished families.
Given the US’s rhetoric and its initial rejection of the unity government, however, there is no reason to believe that there will be significant economic improvement in the occupied territories. Therefore, unrest will continue to be the status quo, and, unity or no unity, the occupied territories will continue to fall apart at the seams.
Abbas has yet to fully learn a fundamental lesson: the more willing the circus animal jumps through the ringleader’s hoops, the more hoops the ringleader will demand the animal jump through. While many have viewed Abbas as a moderate alternative to Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has found little use for him. For Olmert, Abbas is the man to turn to only when the US needs him for a rejuvenation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unfortunately, the only time the Bush administration remembers the peace process is when a fresh debacle sparks increased debate on the Iraq war (i.e. Bush’s stunning failure to sell the troop “surge” to the American people). The other players in the Quartet have done little to exert their influence on the US or Israel. Independently, British Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted that there are “sensible” players in Hamas with whom the West can talk. Convincing the US that moderate forces exist within Hamas, however, is not simply an arduous task — it is a mission Blair is unwillingly to take on. This lack of backbone is a problem thatplagues the European Unionandthe United Nations as well as Arab states in general.
The latest talk of the peace process, therefore, was nothing more than a few photo-ops for Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and an official reaffirmation that the Palestinians must renounce “terrorism and violence.” What remained entirely missing from Rice’s and Olmert’s speeches as well as the news outlets that covered this latest development were Israel’s responsibilities under the first phase of the Roadmap. Phase One of the Roadmap does call upon the Palestinian people to recognize Israel and renounce violence. But it also calls upon Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including settlements’ “natural growth.” Israel, however, has done quite the opposite: it has accelerated settlement activity and refused to tear down settlement outposts. Furthermore, even after a dramatic decrease in Palestinian violence — and a marked increase in Israeli violence — Israel has done nothing to improve movement conditions throughout the West Bank and continues to use collective punishment against the people of the occupied territories.
Moreover, under international law and multiple UN resolutions, what Phase One of the Roadmap demands of the Palestinians is not a prerequisite for ending the Israeli occupation. Israel has no right to the occupation, and its duty to end the occupation will not go away, whether or not the Palestinian people officially recognize Israel and its right to exist, whether or not they verbally renounce violence.
That is on top of the fact that, in principle, Hamas has already met the three conditions set forth by the Quartet. Since 2005, the group has abided by a self-imposed cease-fire and has called for a long-term hudna (truce) between Israel and the Palestinians on several occasions. While Hamas does not verbally “recognize Israel,” it has admitted that Israel exists and has not sought its destruction, a point which is reinforced by its calls for a long-term hudna. Besides, Hamas has repeatedly said it is willingly to negotiate with Israel through an interlocutor such as President Abbas. Both parties, Hamas and Fatah, base their political platforms on the two-state solution — the internationally recognized path to an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas is not the same organization that it was in 1988, and pretending that it still is only serves the agendas of those who have no interest in peace and prefer domination and the continuation of the status quo.
The besiegement of a people can only erode moderation, foment hatred, and bring Palestinians and Israelis back to darker times. This may be the plan for many in the Israeli administration, and it surely suits many in the US administration, too, but it does nothing for peace and only dims the prospects of a future that must be brought about by an end to occupation, an end to economic sanctions, and a beginning of reconciliation based on justice for both peoples.
Remi Kanazi is the co-founder of the political website www.PoeticInjustice.net. He is the editor of the forthcoming book of poetry, Poets for Palestine — for more information about the book, please visit Poetic Injustice. He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.