The recent Hamas-PLO agreement is long overdue and either terribly misunderstood or willfully misrepresented by Israeli and American politicians. The PLO-Hamas deal is about bringing back democracy for Palestinians. That is a goal Americans and Israelis alike should support. Instead, they have grown accustomed to pointing out Palestinian flaws while overlooking the overt support for colonization and domination that pervade Israeli politics.
Currently, we have one-party rule in the West Bank (Fatah) though overall rule and control is clearly exercised by Israel. And in the Gaza Strip we also have one-party rule (Hamas) with Israel keeping 1.7 million people there under lock and key. This national consensus government, comprised of technocrats from neither Fatah nor Hamas, will be formed over an initial five-week period with legislative and presidential elections scheduled for six months from now. We are determined to right the terrible internecine struggle of the last seven years and return to a path of pluralism and power-sharing with a peaceful transition to a routine system of democratic elections with a functioning and strong legislature.
One reason why the new agreement was achieved is because both Hamas and Fatah finally realized they were running an authority without authority. Instead of wasting 90 percent of their energy on fighting for a left-over authority controlled by the Israeli occupation, they realized they need to work together and with other Palestinian groups to end the occupation itself.
From a Palestinian perspective it is vital to end internal divisions between the West Bank and Gaza that leads others -- and too often ourselves -- to view us as Gazans and West Bankers rather than Palestinians. The exchange of ideas, family relations, and business contacts between the West Bank and Gaza is essential if we are to be a whole people rather than divided and conquered by Israel. Shunted into West Bank and Gaza bantustans, our Palestinian culture will become insular and rather than contributing our educational know-how and business acumen to our neighbors and the world we will struggle to survive and put food on the table. Separation is Israel's policy; we should play no part in abetting such divisions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued Fatah must choose between peace and Hamas. This is brilliant rhetoric, but false through and through. Quite simply, Netanyahu is playing games. When we were divided, he (and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman) argued President Mahmoud Abbas didn't represent all Palestinians and that he could not make a deal with Palestinians because we were divided. Yet now that we are unified he (and Lieberman too) is switching the argument to say this reconciliation represents an obstruction of peace. Which, Mr. Netanyahu, is it?
Far from running against the interests of Israeli-Palestinian peace, this internal agreement should be seized upon by Israel as it calls for sustaining the ceasefire, provided Israel does, and for nonviolence. Were Israel interested in an historic deal and in a just peace it would be embracing the Palestinian rapprochement. Yet Israel has proved very adept at using both peace talks and conflict as an excuse for expansion of its settlement enterprise. If there's negotiating, build, and if there's conflict, build. It never ends. The only thing such non-stop building clearly accomplishes is to make the two-state solution less feasible, leaving only apartheid or one state with equal rights for all as alternatives.
Israel's punishing response of withholding taxes it collects from Palestinians on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- in return for a three percent commission - is an act of piracy and a violation of international law. This is our rightful money as agreed in both the Paris Protocols and the Oslo Accords. If the PA collapses as a foreseen -- or unforeseen -- consequence of Israel's actions then what will come next? It is one thing if the Palestinian Authority decides its usefulness has run its course and dismantles itself due to Israeli intransigence regarding a sovereign Palestinian state, but it will be something very different if the PA collapses unexpectedly and chaos envelops us. Either way, Israel would have responsibility as the occupying power and the mammoth job of feeding while subjugating millions would again be crystal clear to the world.
Beyond taxes, Netanyahu shut down peace talks ahead of the original April 29 deadline. But Netanyahu never really was for these talks. He argues we must choose between peace and Hamas but the real choice is his: Settlements or peace, occupation or peace, apartheid or peace? Netanyahu has consistently chosen settlements, occupation, and apartheid. Now he is just telegraphing to the world what has long been clear to Palestinians living the grim on-the-ground reality.
I have long maintained that the only peace that can last is between democracies. Israel has long claimed to be the only democracy in the Middle East, but this is belied by its control over the lives of millions of Palestinians who have no say in the real governing decisions. We Palestinians have chosen a path putting us back on a democratic course. When will Israel, after decades of dominating and disenfranchising us from the decisions that affect our everyday lives, choose a similar path?
Permanent occupation and subjugation is a recipe for eventual disaster that Israel's leaders seem incapable of addressing or even fully acknowledging. Astute American leadership would steer Israel rapidly away from the current disastrous path yet the American Congress seems incapable of recognizing the violent settlement imposition as the danger to stability and democracy that it represents. Congressional intransigence makes the White House and State Department more inclined to dither and attempt to muddle their way through looming trouble.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have just three more years to act. Will they publicly express the very grave concerns they surely must hold as thinking adults regarding Israel's seemingly permanent occupation? If the Americans bow out, I fear they will lack the good sense not to interfere with overdue European and United Nations mediation.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is a former presidential candidate and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative.
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