Monday, July 02, 2007

Wallerstein on Palestine

Commentary No. 212, July 1, 2007
"Winners and Losers in Palestine"
It's easy to see who are the losers. It's harder to see if there are any winners. During June, there was a dramatic confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. The sequence was as follows. President Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led government (of which Fatah was a part). Prime Minister Ismael Haniya said this was illegal and refused to recognize the dissolution. Each side used force against the other. Hamas won hands down in Gaza. All Fatah leaders left Gaza for the West Bank where Abbas named a new government led by Salaam Fayyad, a government without Hamas members. De facto, Hamas now controls Gaza completely. Fatah controls the West Bank, albeit a little less surely than Hamas in Gaza. In the West Bank, not only does Hamas exist, if somewhat underground for the moment, but the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, nominally affiliated to Fatah, acts autonomously and neither is really under the control of Abbas nor agrees with his current politics.

Abbas is in a weak position. He has turned to the outside world - the United States, the European Union (EU), the "moderate" Arab governments (basically Egypt and Jordan), and Israel - for four things: love, money, arms, and substantial progress towards an independent Palestinian state. So far he has gotten lots of love, some but not all of the money Israel owes the Palestinian Authority, no arms (but they may be coming in limited supply), and nothing in terms of the so-called final settlement with Israel.

Abbas needs to establish his authority in the West Bank. Tony Blair's new job is to help him do this (and that is Tony Blair's only job). Given the very small likelihood of serious final settlement negotiations, Abbas will have a hard time doing so. And he has a major dilemma on his hands - what to do about Gaza. If he ignores Gaza entirely, and doesn't arrange for any food or humanitarian aid for Gaza, he will be in effect renouncing the unity of the potential Palestinian state. If he does give assistance, he may be hurting his chances to get further money (not to speak of arms) from his outside supporters, and particularly from Israel. I count Abbas and Fatah as a major loser.

While the United States, the EU, and both Egypt and Jordan are trying to recreate a situation in which Hamas is excluded from the government of the Palestinian Authority, they may soon regret their success. For unless Abbas pulls a miracle, more warfare is on the horizon with an unclear outcome. Since this is happening at the very moment that Iraq is finally really collapsing and the Republican voices for immediate reduction of U.S. troop involvement are substantially increasing (by such powerful Republican senators as Richard Lugar and John Warner), more warfare in Israel/Palestine is not at all beneficial to the interests of the United States, the EU, or Egypt and Jordan. So I count this group as losers too.

Then there is the really big loser - Israel. To be sure, Ehud Olmert and his cabinet do not seem to agree. They are so fixated on isolating Hamas for its presumed terrorist qualities that they are unable to appreciate even their own self-interest. But look at Israel's situation. They have been in a conflict with the Palestinians for a very long time. One can count this conflict as continual since 1997 (the first intifada), since 1967 (the Six-Day War), since 1948 (the creation of the State of Israel), since 1917 (the Balfour Declaration). This is not the only such long-standing conflict, but look at how others have been resolved more or less.

We could compare the Israel-Palestine conflict to the Afrikaner-Black African conflict in South Africa, to the Unionist-Republican conflict in Northern Ireland, to the United States-China conflict after 1949. In each of these cases, the two sides had diametrically opposing objectives and rhetoric. In each of these cases, each side had its "hardliners" who called the "hardliners" of the other side "extremists" (or "terrorists"). In each of these cases, it seemed virtually impossible to bridge the gap between the two sides. Yet, in each of these cases, a political settlement was finally achieved, one that at the minimum brought the violence to an end.

How was this done? A political settlement was achieved only when what the French call interlocuteurs valables came to power in each of the two camps. What is an interlocuteur valable? It is a group, often incarnated in a particular leader, which has substantial support, is "hardline" in its politics, and therefore is in a position to guarantee a compromise settlement if they agree to it. In South Africa, the settlement was between F.W. De Klerk and the Nationalist Party on the one hand and Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress on the other. In Northern Ireland, the settlement was between the Rev. Ian Paisley and the Democratic Unionist Party on the one hand and Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein on the other. The U.S.-China tensions were brought to an end when President Richard Nixon went to Beijing to meet Mao Zedong.

Note something in each of these cases. Up to the very last minute, at least one of the two sides said that it would never compromise with the other because the other was untrustworthy and villainous. In each case, they both finally did just that. The reasons were manifold, but realism and exhaustion were major factors in the final agreement. And in each case, each side made painful compromises but was able nonetheless to keep their own followers in line.

Are there such interlocuteurs valables in Israel/Palestine now? On the Israeli side, Ariel Sharon could have played this role. Ehud Olmert is far too weak to do so. And for the moment, there doesn't seem to be a successor to Sharon. On the Palestinian side, Hamas could play this role now. Whether it could play it in the future is unclear. That is why it is hard to say that Hamas was a winner in the recent confrontation. And that is why it is hard to say that Saudi Arabia, which had engineered a joint Hamas-Fatah government just months ago, can be said to a winner.

What now? We are not merely waiting for interlocuteurs valables but we are waiting for the players to recognize that nothing else will bring closure to the struggle. We may yet wait a while.

Immanuel Wallerstein

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home