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Empty threats, lost hopes

Empty threats, lost hopes

With reconciliation efforts stalled and being linked to negotiations with Israel, ordinary Palestinians are sinking deeper into despair, writes Saleh Al-Naami

 

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Tourists from Uruguay, left, hold up signs as they briefly join a protest against the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu outside of the White House in Washington

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With angry gestures, Mohamed Al-Odayy dumps ice cream boxes into the garbage bin around the corner from his shop. Electricity outages have been lasting more than 12 hours a day and much of the produce in his freezer has gone bad.

 

Leaning against the shelves in the grocery he runs at Al-Rimal section of Gaza, Al-Odayy tells Al-Ahram Weekly that he cannot sell frozen goods anymore. He has already called the ice cream distributor and told him to stop delivering. In the past month, Al-Odayy has lost 3,000 shekels ($750) and cannot risk losing more in an economy that is past the point of collapse.

 

Like most Palestinians in Gaza, Al-Odayy no longer blames Israel for the power outages. It is inter-Palestinian divisions that irk him most. The Hamas government in Gaza claims that the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah is withholding EU funds that should have been used to buy fuel for Gaza's sole power plant. The Ramallah government counters by saying that Hamas is not paying its electricity bills. Hamas says it cannot collect bills from consumers in the middle of a massive economic crisis. The accusations vary from one day to the next.

 

National reconciliation remains as distant as ever. At first, this was because Hamas and Fatah differed over the Egyptian proposal, which Hamas wanted to have amended. Now there are other complications.

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Fatah wouldn't sign any agreement with Hamas unless the latter recognises the Arab peace initiative and the provisions of the so- called roadmap. Speaking to journalists last Thursday, Abbas said that a peace agreement with Israel could be signed even with Gaza still in Hamas's hands.

 

President Abbas added that he was willing to submit a peace agreement with Israel to a public referendum. Reiterating his position on reconciliation, Abbas said that any amendment to the Egyptian proposal was out of the question. Hamas should sign first and then its reservations, as well as those of other Palestinian groups, would be taken into account. Again, Abbas accused Hamas of hindering reconciliation efforts, especially those made by Egypt.

 

Hamas officials took Abbas's remarks as a signal that the real problem was not about the Egyptian proposal, but about what they call a US-Israeli "veto" on reconciliation. Youssef Rizqah, political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas government, said that the remarks by Abbas were proof of the US-Israel demand that makes reconciliation conditional on Hamas's approval of the roadmap.

 

Rizqah said it was absurd for Hamas to recognise the Arab peace initiative at a time when the Kuwaiti parliament is asking its government to rescind its consent to the initiative. Abbas doesn't seem to have problem with Israel rejecting the Arab peace initiative and holding back on the roadmap, Rizqah said. Why cannot Abbas give Hamas the same rights he gives to Israel, he wondered?

 

"The debate over the Arab reconciliation paper is no longer relevant, for reconciliation is now hinged on conditions that are totally unrelated to the internal Palestinian situation," Rizqah said.

 

In another sign that hopes of reconciliation are fading, Munib Al-Masri, the Palestinian businessman, announced that the National Reconciliation Committee (NRC) he has chaired has disbanded, noting that the deadline set by President Abbas had expired. Hamas never warmed to the work of the NRC. As Fatah officials criticised the way Hamas dealt with the NRC, key officials in Hamas said that they refused to deal seriously with the NRC because it was formed in the aftermath of the flotilla events and was aimed to distract attention from the outpouring of sympathy worldwide with the people of Gaza.

 

A further sign that relations between Fatah and Hamas are deteriorating is that the two movements are clamping down on each other's supporters in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas said the Ramallah-based Salam Fayyad government was dismissing dozens of employees in Hebron for political reasons. More than 50 employees in the Education Ministry were dismissed earlier this month, according to Hamas.

 

Meanwhile, according to Fatah, the Hamas security services brought in more than 100 Fatah members for interrogation and "treated them like criminals". Hamas counterclaimed that Fayyad's police has arrested dozens of its followers, including key officials. According to Hamas, 150 people of its followers were arrested and 200 more were interrogated.

 

Amid claims and counterclaims, one thing is clear: the Palestinians are unclear about what to do next. Some call for fresh reconciliation efforts; others for the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself. Such call shave been made in the past. But when the calls come from PA officials, things are perhaps different. Saeb Ereikat, head of the PA Negotiations Department, said that the PA should disband. Is he serious?

 

Abdel-Hamid Sweilam, professor of political science in Birzeit University, said that the remarks by Ereikat were merely an attempt to embarrass Israel and make it rethink the consequences of its disdain for peace and international law. Sweilam said the PA couldn't be seriously thinking of disbanding. "The real reason for these threats is frustration and despair at a peace process heading nowhere, and that has allowed the occupation to continue and settlements to keep appearing all over the land."

 

According to Sweilam, the PA officials are making such statements to get the Americans and the West to force Israel to make peace. Those who are calling to disband the PA are actually threatening Israel that if it fails to make peace, it will be left with the "one state" solution, he said. Sweilam said that some opposition members are calling for disbanding the PA because it "obscures the image of the occupation, shackles the nation, and prevents the nationalist forces from resisting occupation through all means".

 

In reality, the threat to disband the PA is little more than "an empty threat without goal or practical purpose," Sweilam said. Indeed, instead of high drama, many Palestinians have resigned themselves to the continuation of their mundane ordeal.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1006/re04.htm

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