This week’s fresh initiative for a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement is bound to be viewed with scepticism, given the depressing history of previous attempts to reconcile the rival Palestinian factions. It may be different this time, though, given that Hamas’ willingness to compromise is fuelled by sheer desperation.
Its Gaza Strip administration — established in the wake of a civil war, after the various powers-that-be had decreed that Hamas’ success in the 2006 Palestinian Authority (PA) elections deserved to be honoured in the breach — has seldom been on shakier ground. Egypt has collaborated with Israel’s blockade of the territory, particularly since Cairo’s waltz with democracy ended in tears, while Qatar’s value as a rich ally has diminished since it was ostracised by key Gulf neighbours.
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all came in June from Ramallah, when the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israel to sharply reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza. One of the consequences has been a drastic drop in the territory’s capacity for sewage treatment.
Much of the raw waste has been redirected into the sea, further polluting the 25-mile coastline that for most Gazans is their only outlet for recreation.
If Abbas was determined to make life even more miserable and poisonous for Gazans as a means of twisting Hamas’ arm, he may have succeeded.
Israel and its allies in the West could scarcely conceive of a more pliable Palestinian leader than Abbas, yet even he is prone to expressing his frustration over the absence of credible negotiations towards ending the 50-year occupation, recently referred to by Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel as “an alleged occupation”. A US official clarified the comments did not signify a change in American policy. That is easy to accept.
Late last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations, declared at an event celebrating the half-century of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, “We are here to stay forever. There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace.” That, too, is easy to accept. After all, as a senior aide of his predecessor Ariel Sharon admitted more than a decade ago, Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip was intended precisely to forestall the prospect of having to do the same in the West Bank. In that respect, everything is going according to plan.
The plan was hatched long ago, and initially bore fruit with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, in which the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, informed a leader of Britain’s Jewish community, Lord Walter Rothschild, and through him the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
The statement was intended, in large part, to gain Jewish support for the Allied war effort.
A century ago, Jews comprised less than 10 per cent of the population in what became Mandatory Palestine. The demographics are very different today, yet still insufficiently weighted for latter-day Zionists. Hence the open-ended occupation and its awful consequences, which are bound to be broadly disregarded at this week’s session of the United Nations General Assembly.
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