There is little in the Middle Eastern political scene these days more shameful than the sheer incompetence and irresponsibility of both leading Palestinian political groups Hamas and Fateh in moving ahead to implement their national reconciliation government, — a move critical for any real improvements in the lives of Gazans.
Allowing the seven-year-old stalemated and stagnant situation between Hamas and Fateh to persist is not a viable option. It is reported now that over 40 percent of Gazans seek to emigrate, and hundreds have died trying to flee to Europe by sea. Some say it is better to die suddenly at sea while trying to leave than to die slowly inside Gaza. Over 16,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and some 60,000 Palestinians still shelter semi-permanently in converted UNRWA schools.
At the current rate of cement imports that are allowed by the Israeli siege, Gaza will need 18 years simply to replace the housing that was destroyed in the war. Of 3000 children injured in the war, around 1000 will suffer lifelong disabilities. Gazans directly or indirectly live on charity from the international community. Gaza has become a cross between a food kitchen, a homeless shelter, and a prison.
Juxtaposed against this grim reality is the pride of many, probably most, Palestinians in the ability of the armed resistance (mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad) to fight Israel for 50 days and not surrender or be destroyed. This sense of one’s ability to fight back and inflict some pain on the enemy that torments us — we are not helpless, we are not invisible people — is a meaningful political reality, but it comes at a high cost that is not easily quantifiable. We really do not know if the majority of Palestinians in Gaza would accept another round of warfare and destruction next month, in order to affirm their ability and insistence to fight for their liberty.
The wider prevailing political and economic conditions suggest that Hamas, Gazans, Fateh and all Palestinians suffer increasing vulnerability at all six levels of analysis that matter to them: Hamas-Gaza, Palestine, Israel, the Arab World, the Middle East and the world.
Hamas enjoyed a post-war boost in its public opinion standing but it remains stuck in its inability to muster enough money or legitimacy to govern on its own; it also faces the repeated expressions of the Palestinian people’s desire for a unified government, and for the unified reconciliation government to take charge of Gaza and its border crossing points. Hamas has proven its ability to fight effectively and restore some Palestinian honor — but in all other governance categories it fares poorly.
The Palestinian political arena remains fragmented and weak. The Mahmoud Abbas-led, Fateh-anchored Palestinian Authority does little more than serve its employees and Israeli security concerns, while the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that should represent all Palestinians in the world remains dormant. Mahmoud Abbas’ plans to take the Palestine issue to the UN will not make any headway if he only represents himself and not the entire Palestinian people. Forging real Palestinian unity and a revived PLO are the number one priority for Palestinians now, in order to make progress on other fronts, like diplomacy, popular resistance, or economic revitalization.
The Israeli political scene is depressing for Palestinians, as it continues to drift to the militant, religious and nationalist right. The vast majority of Israelis enthusiastically supported continuing the war against Gaza. The robust debate in Israel is not between right and left, but among militant right-wingers. Israel’s populist politics, like its militarism, are a catastrophic nightmare for Palestinians.
The Arab world for the most part is badly split between its people and its governments, and in some countries order has collapsed completely. Where Arab governments do hold sway, most of them seem to have quietly sided with Israel in its war on Gaza and Hamas. Populist Arab support is comforting for Palestinians, but does not translate into political power or socio-economic gains.
The wider Middle East that includes Iran and Turkey is equally problematic for Hamas and all Palestinians. The region is caught in existential crises and battles that mirror several overlapping ideological struggles and have relegated the Palestine issue to the waiting list of political priorities.
The situation for Palestinians across the world mirrors that of the Arab world: Palestine enjoys strong popular support, but governments are mostly indifferent or, as in the United States, structurally pro-Israeli.
The most important immediate antidote to all these weaknesses would be a unified Palestinian government that reflects a consensus among political factions. This is within reach. The fact that Hamas and Fateh do not consummate this does not only reflect irresponsibility and incompetence on their part, but in view of the difficult context for Palestinians as a whole it is nothing less than a crime.
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global