But Palestinians Don't
By Saree Makdisi
21 June, 2007
the west, there's a huge sense of relief. The Hamas-led government that
has been causing everyone so much trouble has been isolated in Gaza,
and a new government has been appointed in the West Bank by the "moderate,"
peace-loving Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
So why then do Palestinians
not share in the relief? Well, for one thing, the old government had
been democratically elected; now it has been dismissed out of hand by
presidential fiat. There's also the fact that the new prime minister
appointed by Abbas — Salam Fayyad — has the support of the
West, but his election list won only 2% of the votes in the same election
that swept Hamas to victory. Fayyad and Abbas have the support of Israel,
but it is no secret that they lack the backing of their own people.
There is a reason the people
threw out Abbas' Fatah party in last year's election. Palestinians see
the leading Fatah politicians as unimaginative, self-serving and corrupt,
satisfied with the emoluments of power.
Worse yet, Palestinians came
to realize that the so-called peace process championed by Abbas (and
by Yasser Arafat before him) had led to the permanent institutionalization
— rather than the termination — of Israel's 4-decade-old
military occupation of their land. Why should they feel otherwise? There
are today twice as many settlers in the occupied territories as there
were when Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat first shook hands in the White House
Rose Garden. Israel has divided the West Bank into besieged cantons,
worked diligently to increase the number of Jewish settlers in East
Jerusalem (while stripping Palestinian Jerusalemites of their residency
rights in the city) and turned Gaza into a virtual prison.
People voted for Hamas last
year not because they approved of the party's sloganeering, not because
they wanted to live in an Islamic state, not because they support attacks
on Israeli civilians, but because Hamas was untainted by Fatah's complacency
and corruption, untainted by its willingness to continue pandering to
Israel. Fatah leaders were viewed as mere policemen of the perpetual
occupation, and the Palestinian Authority had willingly taken on the
role of administering the population on behalf of the Israelis. Hamas
offered an alternative.
Here in the U.S., Hamas is
routinely demonized, known primarily for its attacks on civilians. Depictions
of Hamas portray its "rejectionism" as an end in itself rather
than as a refusal to go along with a political process that has proved
catastrophic for Palestinians on the ground.
Has Hamas done unspeakable
things? Yes, but so has Fatah, and so too has Israel (on a much larger
scale). There are no saints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians, frankly, see
a lot of hypocrisy in the West's anti-Hamas stance. Since last year's
election, for example, the West has denied aid to the Hamas government,
arguing, among other things, that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel.
But that's absurd; after all, Israel does not recognize Palestine either.
Hamas is accused of not abiding by previous agreements. But Israel's
suspension of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority, and
its refusal to implement a Gaza-West Bank road link agreement brokered
by the U.S. in November 2005, are practical, rather than merely rhetorical,
violations of previous agreements, causing infinitely more damage to
ordinary people. Hamas is accused of mixing religion and politics, but
no one has explained why its version of that mixture is any worse than
Israel's — or why a Jewish state is acceptable but a Muslim one
I am a secular humanist,
and I personally find religiously identified political movements —
and states — unappealing, to say the least.
But let's be honest. Hamas
did not run into Western opposition because of its Islamic ideology
but because of its opposition to (and resistance to) the Israeli occupation.
A genuine peace based on
the two-state solution would require an end to the Israeli occupation
and the creation of a territorially contiguous, truly independent Palestinian
But that is not happening.
Fatah seems to have given up, its leaders preferring to rest comfortably
with the power they already have. Ironically, it is Hamas that is taking
the stands that would be prerequisites for a true two-state peace plan:
refusing to go along with the permanent breakup of Palestine and not
accepting the sacrifice of control over borders, airspace, water, taxes
and even the population registry to Israel.
Embracing the "moderation"
of Abbas allows the Palestinian Authority to resume servicing the occupation
on Israel's behalf, for now. In the long run, though, the two-state
solution is finished because Fatah is either unable or unwilling to
stop the ongoing dismemberment of the territory once intended for a
The only realistic choice
remaining will be the one between a single democratic, secular state
offering equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians — or
SAREE MAKDISI, a professor of English and comparative
literature at UCLA, writes often about the Middle East.
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