The high road to freedom

Ziyaad Lunat

Last week, Fatah and Hamas officials held direct talks for the first time since Hamas' June takeover of Gaza. Mediated by Yemeni officials in the capital, the talks led to the recently announced "Sana'a Declaration." However, it is unclear whether these talks, like those that preceded the Gaza takeover, will result in reconciliation and national unity. While there is general consensus among Palestinians that national unity is a matter of great urgency there are doubts whether a return to the troubled past is the only viable option. What guarantee do the majority of the Palestinian people have that the shameful spiral of violence will not return?

The prospect for Palestinian unity, under joint Fatah and Hamas leadership, is unfeasible due to a basic ideological gap between both movements and a US-backed framework that is overtly favorable to Israel. True unity and progress for the Palestinian cause can only be achieved when the US-backed Road Map and the Oslo Accords, designed to bypass international law and Palestinian rights, are replaced by a unified civil rights movement, motivated by universal values and free from party politics and exclusionary nationalist or religious rhetoric.

Both Hamas and Fatah have shown to act in detriment of Palestinian interests when power-seeking is in question. This is particularly true for corrupt Fatah, unabashedly colluding with Israel and the US to supplant Palestinian democracy. In light of this evidence a joint Fatah-Hamas leadership has little prospects to benefit the Palestinian people, and their quest for freedom, for two main reasons.

First, the ideological gap between Fatah and Hamas: Fatah favors unconditional talks with Israel under US-backed parameters whilst Israel refuses to talk to Hamas if it doesn't meet the so-called international Quartet for Middle East peace's demands. Hamas has shown pragmatism, having previously talked through third parties with Israel regarding recognition and cease-fire. Obvious tensions will emerge on a potential Hamas-Fatah partnership as Israel will refuse to negotiate with a coalition government that includes Hamas. Both Fatah and Hamas have different visions for Palestine, with Hamas committed to historical Palestine, an aspiration dropped by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1988. The premise is simple; for Hamas, the PLO's support for a two-state solution 20 years ago has done nothing for Palestinian aspirations. It was during the illusory "peace process" that the biggest atrocities against the Palestinians were committed, with the further colonization of the West Bank undermining the Palestinian state the peace process was ostensibly working towards.

Second, Palestine does not need a multi-party system. We were reminded in January 2006 when Hamas swept the legislative elections that Palestine is not a free democracy. The Palestinian Authority is not a state, but a service provision entity and a subcontractor for the occupation, and the post of Prime Minister is not a real post. Likewise, Mahmoud Abbas' presidential headquarters, the Muqata'a, is not the office a sovereign leader. Indeed, Palestine is under occupation. A multi-party system is a precondition of a democracy for a future Palestinian state, but until Palestine is free, sovereign and independent, the Palestinian people should focus on resisting the occupation through insistence on achieving their legitimate, internationally-recognized and universal rights. Israel will continue to thrive as long as there are factions rallying for power in the make-believe political system created by Oslo.

An alternative vision to the despotic enclaves of Fatah patronage or to Hamas' ideology that some fear excludes the true diversity of the Palestinian people is the emergence of a united nonviolent Palestinian civil rights movement. As the post-Annapolis peace process is yielding little results, with Abbas complaining that not enough progress has been made and the Israelis downplaying Bush's calls for a Palestinian state before year end, there is an emerging window of opportunity in which both Fatah and Hamas could become important players in a renewed Palestinian movement, albeit not dominant ones.

There have been signs of pragmatism within the ranks of Hamas and Fatah, perhaps in anticipation of what is to come. Hamas' breaking of the Gaza-Egypt border was the best example for many years of "people power." In the simple tearing down of the wall, Palestinians claimed their right to life and unashamedly crossed the border into Egypt. The nonviolent act provoked embarrassment to Israel, the US and Egypt and brought greater international attention to the plight of the Palestinians, albeit temporarily. Despite attempts by the US and Israeli press to undermine this achievement, they were unable to negatively spin the images of thousands of desperate Palestinians, showing to an international audience the reality of life under Israeli siege and occupation.

For Fatah's part, Ziad Abu Ein, Deputy Minister for Prisoners' Affairs in the Abbas-appointed cabinet has drawn a plan to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nakba. The plan calls on all Palestinians living abroad to converge on Israel by land, sea and air. According to him, the Palestinians have decided to implement UN Resolution 194 regarding the refugees (http://www.return08.com). The plan is called "The Initiative of Return and Coexistence," referring to Article 11 of the resolution that states "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible." The plan also calls on the Arab nations to facilitate the return by opening their borders and letting the refugees march towards Israel. One can only imagine the international impact of thousands of refugees from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and those in the West Bank and Gaza peacefully converging on their homeland, claiming their right to return.

The next few months will be crucial for the formation of a new movement. If Israel and the international community fail to grant the Palestinians their legitimate rights in the current round of negotiations, a new popular uprising will emerge, a nonviolent movement that will draw from the regular demonstrations against the wall at Bil'in village, the subverting of the Gaza-Egypt border, or from the "Initiative of Return and Coexistence." It is then that Fatah and Hamas will have the chance to start anew, leaving behind their power struggle, and working together for the benefit of the Palestinian people by taking the high road towards Palestinian freedom.

Ziyaad Lunat is a postgraduate student of the Government Department at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science, the President of LSE Student Union Palestine Society and a broadcast journalist. He is currently on the organizing committee of the Nakba60-London, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Palestinian dispossession. He can be reached at z.lunat A T lse D O T ac D O T uk.