A historic anomaly
The rift between Fatah and Hamas is far more damaging to Palestinians than to their enemies
Tuesday July 17, 2007
It's a pity that no one learns from history. This truism is nowhere better illustrated than in today's savage rift between Fatah and Hamas. What a nadir in Palestinian fortunes for one side in Ramallah to trumpet western support while the other starves in Gaza. This shocking spectacle is a sad echo of an earlier scenario, then as now, infinitely more damaging to the Palestinians than to their enemies. "The Arabs have been so misguided in the conduct of their case that I sometimes wonder whether Jewish agents are not at work inside the Arab camp," wrote a British Foreign Office official following the bungled Arab rebellion against Britain in 1936. For two years the Arabs fought valiantly, suffered enormously and were brutally punished by the British in ways reminiscent of the Israeli army's methods today. They ended up starving, their leaders killed or exiled, and the fruits of their struggle vitiated by internal splits.
These splits went back to rivalry between two Jerusalem families, the Husseinis and Nashashibis, during the 1930s. The latter wanted compromise and accommodation with the British mandate authorities, while the Husseinis refused to deal with a government so blatantly pro-Zionist. In today's terminology, we might call the former "moderates" and the latter "hardliners". Or, roughly speaking, the Nashashibis might stand for Fatah and the Husseinis for Hamas. The British appointed a Husseini as head of the supreme Muslim council, hoping he would gain them Muslim support. But they also appointed a Nashashibi rival mayor of Jerusalem. In a classic divide and rule strategy, the British played one family off against the other.
Having unified in 1935 through the Arab higher committee, set up to lead the uprising against British-Zionist manipulation, they soon fragmented. The committee split, each side intimidating, and even killing members of the other. The British punished the Arabs by arming the Jewish settlers, and scholars later speculated that without Arab mishandling of the 1936 rebellion, Zionism might still have foundered.
Today's rift between Fatah and Hamas has equally distracted them from the elephant in the room, Israel and its US sponsor. The anomaly of Fatah, shunning its natural partner, Hamas, in the struggle against Israel, and turning instead to the western camp, the authors of Palestine's misfortunes, recalls another historical parallel. When, in 1915, Sherif Hussein of Mecca pledged Arab support for the war against the Ottomans in return for British help over gaining Arab independence, he too believed their promises. Britain's cruel betrayal should have been a lesson for Arabs never to repeat the error. Yet the Fatah leadership today has discarded resistance against Israel in favour of "peace" with an enemy that has never reciprocated; hoping that the western powers and their regional proxies, who have failed so far to give the Palestinians their state, will now do so.
Without confronting the contradiction at the heart of the equation, there can be no Israeli-Palestinian or regional peace. Creating an independent Palestinian state against Israel's wishes, while simultaneously supporting Israel unreservedly, cannot work. Palestinian demands for an Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 territories, the return of refugees and full state sovereignty are all rejected by Israel. The western powers, which could have countered this rejection, are fatally compromised by their devotion to Israel's regional supremacy. To resolve the impasse, one of the sides of the equation must fall. On past evidence, it will not be Israel's. So what does Fatah, having excluded Hamas and obeyed western diktat, hope to gain from this incompatible situation?
Tony Blair's recent appointment as Middle East peace envoy is indicative. Rather than face the basic contradictions fuelling the conflict, the Quartet preferred another pointless gesture that substitutes process for substance, hoping to convince the Arabs that something is being done, but in reality postponing the moment of reckoning. Palestinians, who will pay the price for this prevarication, must expose the basic contradiction in the western position that perpetuates the conflict. They must confront the west with the inconvenient truth: that trying to meet Palestinian demands and indulging Israel are incompatible, doomed objectives. Only by shedding their differences and regrouping to fight their real enemy, and not each other, will the Palestinians have finally learned the lessons of history.
· Ghada Karmi is the author of Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine