Will Palestinians renounce political cannibalism?

Israelis do not need to have a fifth column in Palestine. When everything is weighed in the balance, no clandestine operation conducted by fifth columnists could obtain as high a level of success as that resulting from the present internecine fighting. This success has been surrendered to Israel by way of blind self-destruction which permeates in the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

A unity government, or a unity in government, is simply not enough. Only a strong unity in purpose, superimposed to ideology and party politics, can and will save the day for the Palestinian National Authority. Palestinian society won’t be able to achieve its goals unless it goes forward with both a single voice and a single aim; not as a people seen at the verge of civil war. The two factions which represent the Palestinians are evidencing to the world at large that there is lack of critical wisdom at the fractionalized top.

There seems to be a consensus among long-standing international observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the two Palestinian factions are so self-absorbed in their own fight for preeminence in the struggle, that neither is sufficiently concerned with how the world’s public opinion may be viewing them. But that lack of concern may end up costing all Palestinians dearly, having already exacted support from many quarters.

Have the Palestinians forgotten that their struggle is apolitical? That it goes beyond loyalty to secular nationalism or the prospect of an Islamic state… or malfeasance in government, corruption or even gross incompetence? The aspirations made known to the world during six decades of struggle are far loftier than all of that.

Yet, for the last five months both Fatah and Hamas have been jointly, and wastefully, frittering away the vast fraternal capital that Palestinians have enjoyed in the hearts and minds of people most anywhere in the world; outside, perhaps, the United States. Such waste is at least evidenced by the results of a survey that a political scientist friend of mine, a professor at a major university in the EU, has been taking since 1998 (early in May) – a sampling of about 650 opinions on the popularity of the “Palestinian cause.”

For nine years the favorable overall opinion of the Palestinians stood in a narrow range of 82% to 87%; however, this year it descended to 57%. And the culprit wasn’t Hamas, as some might suspect, but the infighting among Palestinian factions. In fact, the prior survey in 2006, four months after Hamas had won the elections, had resulted in an 86% favorable figure, second highest in the nine years.

President Mahmoud Abbas cannot simply meet with Israel’s Olmert as representative of all Palestinians if he is de-facto representing only the policies of his party. And, for that matter, neither could PM Ismail Haniya even if the Israelis would talk to him. Unlike any Israeli representation to negotiations, assumed to be conducted under the imprimatur of the Knesset, such is not the case with the Palestinians because of a perceived lack of representative legitimacy. Belligerence between factions validates such perception.

If unity of purpose cannot be achieved, in fact not just in appearance, by leaders of Fatah and Hamas, Palestinians’ future may be better served through the efforts of an apolitical group of wise and learned Palestinians, aided perhaps by counsel from other quarters. This noble and respected body could mediate internal political disputes and, if properly empowered, could negotiate peace with Israel. It could provide the proper vehicle to put an end to shibab al-nakba and bring about the transformation of children of the catastrophe into the builders of a new and great Palestine, a nation in permanent peace with itself and its neighbors.

It’s commonly accepted that unity is strength and division is weakness. No place is that more evident than in Palestine. If the current political discord in the Palestinian National Authority can not be bridged completely and permanently, perhaps it’s about time that logic prevails and a new moral authority can be found to overview the present political realm. Success for peace, and the existence of a full fledge Palestinian state, rests on that; and how people in the world identify with the rights and needs of the Palestinians.

Political cannibalism is certainly no way for either Fatah or Hamas to achieve “victory.” It’s certainly no way to bring about a better life, or human dignity, to Palestinians.