New beginning

The most important sign of the impact of the ‘Arab spring’ outside the national boundaries where they occurred is the reconciliation between the warring Palestinian factions. The agreement signed last week in Cairo between the secular and moderate Fatah and the Islamist and hawkish Hamas would not have been possible under the earlier Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak which had clearly favoured Fatah. The new Egyptian dispensation claims to be even-handed between both Palestinian groups. It will also not be soft on Israel as earlier.

The Palestinian struggle had been weakened badly by internal dissensions. If this agreement holds it can mark a new beginning. The plan is to form a national unity government immediately and hold elections. One such government was formed after the 2006 elections and the constant clashes between the two factions. It collapsed in a few months. At present, Hamas runs the government in Gaza and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas runs the West Bank as president of the Palestine Authority. Hamas does not recognise Israel and both are in confrontation. Gaza is always under siege.

Fatah has near-friendly relations with Israel and envisages a two-state solution for the Palestinian problem. The important issue is whether the present unity will hold when there are such major differences and big external interference. Hamas is controlled by Iran. Palestinian unity, as it is envisaged now, would mean the emergence of new equations in West Asia. A stronger Palestinian leadership can negotiate its interests better. Only that it has to be realistic and reasonable.

But the peace process till now has failed because of the uncompromising positions of Israel and its refusal to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. Its view of the Palestinian unity plan is also not conducive to peace. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that Fatah must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas, and that peace with both of them is impossible. But Israel will do better to respond more positively to the Palestinian politics that might emerge from the agreement and the new environment in the region as a whole. Its supporter and patron, the US, has a responsibility to impress the point on a recalcitrant Tel Aviv.

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