This article also appears in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka
The democracy-heralding Arab Spring has turned violent in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, but in the Palestinian territory, the people are witnessing a different spring where a rare unity blooms.
What was only a month ago an impossible dream came true in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, which has become a source of Arab hope. Yes, the two main rival Palestinian factions — Fatah and Hamas – have buried the guns and embraced each other for a greater cause.
For years, peace activists have made umpteen efforts to bring the two factions together. But the gap between them only widened and sometimes led to armed conflicts to the delight of Israel, the usurper of the Palestinian land and their dignity.
Many wondered whether both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mishal were unknowingly facilitating an Israeli plot to balkanize the already divided Palestinian territory. Some blamed Hamas and others the Palestinian Authority for the deepening disunity which only helped Israel to prolong the occupation and annex more Palestinian land.
To a Palestinian observer, Israel’s game plan was obvious. Israel thrived on Palestinian disunity. In the 1980s, Israel tacitly favoured Hamas but cracked its whip on Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group, thus generating distrust between the two. After the 1993 Oslo agreement, Israel flirted with Fatah and urged Arafat to disarm Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups. Arafat, a seasoned campaigner, did not fall into this Israeli trap apparently aimed at creating a fratricidal conflict even though Palestinian independence was dangled before him as an inducement.
But after Arafat’s death, Abbas agreed to do Israel’s bidding and the outcome was a Palestinian civil war and the splitting of Palestinian territory — with Hamas, which won the last legislative assembly elections, governing the Gaza Strip while the Palestinian Authority controlled the West Bank.
Then came another blow to Palestinian unity in January this year when the pro-US Qatari-government funded Al Jazeera television did a Wikileaks and released secret Palestinian documents. According to the so-called Palestinian Papers, the Palestinian Authority has allowed Israel to annex much of East Jerusalem, forego the Palestinian exiles’ right to return to their homeland, collaborated with the Israelis to kill Palestinian activists, and backed out of cooperating with the UN and bringing war crimes charges on Israel for the 2006 Gaza war.
The Palestinian papers, though dismissed by some in the Abbas administration as an Israeli-Al Jazeera plot, only underscored the Palestinian Authority’s desperation for independence and the extent to which it would go to satisfy Israel.
But it now appears that the Palestinian Authority has realized that no matter how pliable the Palestinians are in making compromises, Israel has no genuine intention to resume peace talks or stop building Jewish settlements on grabbed Palestinian land.
The Palestinian Authority has now embarked on a course to declare an independent Palestinian state during September’s United Nations sessions. Already more than 130 countries have recognized Palestine as an independent state.
The unity deal which Fatah and Hamas reached last week indeed gave a fillip to the move to unilaterally declare independence. Under the deal, an interim government comprising independent technocrats chosen by both Fatah and Hamas will be set up. The interim government will set a date for the long overdue presidential and legislative elections while the Palestinian Liberation Organisation will enroll Hamas as a member. The two groups have also agreed to release political prisoners in each other’s custody.
But a greater fillip is a turnaround in Egypt’s Palestinian policy. One wonders whether Egypt has returned to the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the legendary Arab and third world leader who was an inspiration and hope for the oppressed Arab masses.
The new Egypt has agreed to reopen the Egyptian-Gaza border at Rafah, improved its relations with Iran and is reviewing the sale of gas to Israel at a concessionary price. It is also broaching an idea of convening an international conference to solve the Palestinian problem. The new policy is a marked shift from ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak’s policy of pleasing the US and Israel even if it meant death to thousands of Palestinians.
So this year on Nakba Day on Sunday when Palestinians mark the 63rd anniversary of the forced expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from more than 400 villages in what is now Israel, the unity deal will come as a soothing balm to ease their pain. Incidentally, this day is also Israel’s Independence Day.
Nakba — meaning catastrophe — is the Palestinians’ holocaust. Sixty three years after the creation of Israel on the Palestinian people’s tears and blood, justice eludes nearly 11 million Palestinians. Nearly half of them live outside Palestine with most of them being refugees in camps in the Palestinian territory, Lebanon and Jordan. They still carry the keys of their houses which have since disappeared to give way to luxury residencies of European migrant Jews. They are denied the right to return. Neither Israel nor the United States — the confirmed defender of the Zionist state’s war crimes — shows any sympathy for these stateless people. When it comes to land robbery, there is little difference between the Americans and the Zionists: The former robbed the land of native Americans after killing millions of innocent people while the latter continues to annex Arab land killing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. No wonder one robber cooperates with the other. Neither has welcomed the unity deal.