Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

The poisonous fruits of change

Revolutions in the region have profoundly changed the balance of internal Palestinian politics, and the conflict with Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Palestine

Al-Ahram Weekly

Most Palestinians reacted fairly enthusiastically to the “Arab Spring”, hoping that the removal from power of dictators in a number of Arab capitals would eventually auger well for the Palestinian cause.

Others were quite ambivalent. They supported the Arab revolutions in principle, but voiced certain consternation that Arab capitals would be preoccupied with their internal affairs for a prolonged period, perhaps until stability was restored. This, they argue, will reflect negatively on the overall Palestinian cause.

Still some groups, including some segments within Fatah, the Palestinian left and certain secularist-minded intellectuals, didn’t feel well with the fact that Islamists were at the fore and more or less reaped the fruits of the revolutions, albeit by democratic mechanisms.

Palestinian officials, whether in the Gaza Strip or West Bank, were quick to develop close relations with the new leaders in Cairo and Tunis. (Libya remains an exception probably due to instability in the internal situation in the northern African country.)

Tunisia voiced near unlimited support for the Palestinian cause. That was a clear departure from the policies of the previous regime of Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali, who sought to court Israel, mainly in order to obtain a certificate of good conduct from the United States.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh visited Tunisia in January, drawing negative reactions from the Ramallah-based Palestinian |Authority (PA) which viewed the visit as sidestepping the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

However, the new revolutionary authorities in Tunis were in no mood to be pressured by the PA leadership, which had maintained close relations with the previous regime. Tunis was the headquarters of the exiled PLO under Yasser Arafat before the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel granted the Palestinians limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Haniyeh was warmly welcomed by Tunisian officials, including Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali and the head of Al-Nahda, Rached Al-Ghannouchi.

Predictably, the visit infuriated Israel, which viewed it as signalling the sad end of many years of laborious efforts to normalise relations with Tunisia.


EGYPT: Egypt has always been viewed by most Palestinians as a kind of “big brother”. Even under the defunct Mubarak regime, the PA had good relations with president Hosni Mubarak, despite — some would say because of — the latter’s obvious efforts to appease Israel at every turn, even at the expense of the Palestinians.

Mubarak’s obsequious approach towards Israel infuriated the Islamists who accused the Mubarak regime of conniving with the Zionist state against the government in Gaza. Indeed, the perceived collusion with Israel on the part of the Mubarak regime was at no point clearer and more provocative than during the bloody Israel aggression in 2008-9, which angered most Palestinians with the exception of Fatah and the Ramallah regime.

With the removal of president Mubarak from power, Palestinian Islamists breathed a sigh of relief. More to the point, the election of President Mohamed Morsi in June drew almost euphoric reactions, with Palestinian Islamists deeming it the best news for Palestinian cause since the arrival of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

For his part, Morsi didn’t want to give the impression he was taking sides in the crisis between Fatah and Hamas. Nonetheless, Palestinian Islamists continued to view Morsi as “their man in Cairo”. The ideological affinity between the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and Hamas, was too important, and too dominant a factor, to be ignored or downplayed in any political calculations.

But warm relations between Cairo and Gaza suffered a brief setback in 2012 when Takfiri terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda murdered 17 Egyptian soldiers in August near the border crossing with Gaza. Initially, it was rumoured that Hamas might have been implicated in the killings, but subsequent investigations established that these rumours were false.

As opposed to Cairo’s behaviour under Mubarak, President Morsi adopted a proactive approach in support of the Palestinians during the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza in mid-November. In an unmistakable message to Israel, Morsi dispatched Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to Gaza in the midst of the bombing in a gesture of solidarity. Moreover, the Israel ambassador to Cairo was asked to leave while Egypt’s ambassador was recalled.

Although Egypt didn’t back the Palestinians militarily, it was due to the new geopolitical realities in the Middle East that Israel didn’t go “too far” in murdering and maiming Gazans, at least in comparison to the 2008-9 blitz that inflicted thousands of victims among Palestinian civilians.

It is widely thought that one of the main reasons behind the recent aggression was an Israeli desire to convince the Palestinians, especially the Islamist camp, that Israel would continue to behave characteristically — that is, gang up on them and murder their children — irrespective Islamists’ political achievements.

However, the Israeli reluctance and hesitation to launch a ground assault on Gaza seemed to have sent a certain message that the Israeli leadership is not indifferent to the political changes in Cairo.

Indeed, the failure to crush Hamas, despite the continuity of the blockade on the coastal enclave, ostensibly enabled the Palestinians to declare “victory” despite the immense death and destruction inflicted upon them. This situation, where the mammoth Jewish Goliath fails to crush the nearly helpless but determined Palestinian David, who was able to maintain his survival, should be viewed as a moral and political victory for Hamas, many observers argue.


SYRIA: 2012 saw a near complete collapse of relations between Hamas and the Syrian regime. Hamas, which found itself under immense public pressure to distance itself from the genocidal Al-Assad regime, closed its offices in the Syrian capital as its leaders — including Khaled Meshaal and Moussa Abu Marzouk — left Syria for good.

Infuriated by “Hamas’s ingratitude”, the Syrian regime openly attacked Palestinian refugees, especially in Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and injured as the Syrian air force bombed the camp.

According to the latest reports from Damascus, as many as 95 per cent of the estimated 175,000 Palestinian refugees who made up the total population of the camp have fled, seeking a safe haven elsewhere.

The Alawite regime in Damascus suspects that Sunni Palestinian refugees are sympathetic to the mainly Sunni Syrian fighters struggling to end decades of Alawite dictatorship. Palestinian officials said they were quite meticulous in pursuing total neutrality in the Syrian conflict. These officials say that while they support the Syrian people’s right to liberty, they are worried about the prospects of the regime and its brutal operatives, known as shabbiha or thugs, carrying out more wanton massacres against unprotected Palestinians.


STATEHOOD PROSPECTS: According to some political intellectuals, the Arab Spring may have made the prospects of establishing a Palestinian state more distant than ever. This prognosis is based on the assumption that the Arab Spring has emboldened millions of Arabs and Muslims around the world to reject Israel as an entity that doesn’t belong to the region.

One Palestinian writer from the Hebron region argued that the last thing he would expect was the Arab Spring awarding Israel recognition.

“I think the Arab Spring has made the prospects of creating an artificial Palestinian state more distant than ever before. This is not necessarily bad, since the creation of a deformed Arab state on a small part of historic Palestine would be a de facto liquidation of the Palestinian cause,” said Mahmoud Nammoura, a writer and historian from the town of Dura Hebron.

The conspicuous Islamist dimension of the Arab Spring is also likely to embolden the Arab and Palestinian masses to reject territorial and other compromises with Israel, including on such issues as the paramount right of return for millions of Palestinians refugees.

This is almost certain to give Israel an excuse to maintain a policy of intransigence against reaching a historical compromise with the Palestinians.


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