Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Israel Left and the Danger of Palestinian Civil War l

The Israeli left, with few exceptions, supported the two-state policy of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority under his leadership. The fact that the political formations to the left of Fatah supported this policy was yet an additional factor in shaping the views of the left in Israel.

As is well known, the recent democratic elections in the occupied territories resulted in a surprising but clear victory for Hamas, which proceeded to establish the Palestinian government. There are, of course, a broad variety of versions as to why Fatah’s prestige and influence waned. Moreover, the leftist parties in the Palestinian Authority did not do any better. It seems that they were seen by the Palestinian public as having been swallowed up by Fatah and the Authority. The Traditional

Orientation of the Israeli Left on Fatah

The major forces in the Israeli left, and specifically HADASH – the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (and its major constituent, the CPI (Communist Party of Israel) have a pronounced tendency to support Abu Mazen and Fatah in every aspect of the current crisis in the Palestinian Authority, a crisis that could deteriorate to the threshold of a full scale civil war between Fatah and Hamas.

But, as of now, one can hear voices challenging the traditional position. There are those who even demand a total reversal of policy on the Israeli left and call for support for Hamas in the current crisis. The arguments for this change are intertwined with reasons for withdrawing support from Abu Mazen. 1) There are more and more clear indications that Abu Mazen has lined up with the United States and the Bush administration; 2) Abu Mazen’s pro-US orientation so impresses the Israeli establishment that it is openly supporting Fatah in its struggle with Hamas; 3) Abu Mazen is ready for negotiations with Israel without insisting on any minimal concessions to alleviate Palestinian suffering, as witnessed in the recent unfortunate meeting with Olmert; 4) Despite its links with Iran and Hezbolla, Hamas has adopted a realistic position of readiness to negotiate a long-term cease-fire; 5) Abu Mazen bases his hopes on exclusive coordination with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But these very countries have turned their backs on the Palestinians for years and are now involved in playing the latest US game designed to build a Sunni front against the Shi’ite alliance.

However, these factors all of which certainly undermine the credibility of Abu Mazen and the Fatah leadership, do not and cannot justify support for Hamas in its struggle against Fatah. One cannot ignore the local or regional ramifications of Islamic fundamentalism. Moreover, the refusal to recognize Israel, even within the framework of a just solution of the conflict, would signify a Palestinian retreat damaging the hopes for peace. This sort of rejectionism can only help those who want to continue the conflict indefinitely.

Hamas’ support is considerable but its depth should not be exaggerated After all, Hamas gathered some, or even much, of its support because of internal Palestinian considerations such as Fatah corruption and the electoral system inflated the scope of its victory. There is still ample evidence that the majority of the Palestinians under occupation would support a just two-state agreement were it on the table. Moreover, there is no reason to see Hamas as a consistent anti-imperialist force. It is one thing to do successful welfare work with Saudi petro-dollars and a totally different thing to support the interests of workers and farmers in clear opposition to neo-liberalism and US domination of the region.

None of the Hamas failings justify the Fatah-Abu Mazen strategy. The attempt to exploit US-Israel support against their Palestinian rival is transparent and dangerous. Abu Mazen bears major responsibility for the grotesque squabble over portfolios in the envisaged new government.Is it necessary to emphasize that this is not really a sovereign government and that its main role is to lead the political struggle against the occupation. There is no shortage of honest brokers to work out a decent compromise on this and other related issues. Abu Mazen’s threat to call new elections seems like an act of desperation; it only increases tension without increasing hopes of an agreement between the sides.

The left in Israel should, in my opinion, refrain from supporting any side in the internal Palestinian conflict. Progressive public opinion should reflect the general aspiration of the Palestinians, as a whole, which is to overcome all the difficulties on the path to the establishment of a government of national unity. The confrontation between the two main Palestinian forces is horrendous. Civil war would be a catastrophe. Supporters and friends of the Palestinian cause should request from all sides maximum restraint, sincere moderation and genuine readiness for compromise. This is not the time for battles over prestige; this is the time for genuine, authentic statesmanship.