The Jasmine Revolution that has swept through the Middle East has taken a very different turn in the Palestinian Territories. Instead of advocating democracy or peace with Israel, the primary focus has been internal unification and reconciliation.
After four years of infighting, Fatah and Hamas have struck an accord.
At a news conference in Cairo, Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah delegation, said, "We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections. Elections would be held in about eight months from now."
Alongside this sudden and remarkable development, the United Nations has expressed accolades of its own. Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process released a report that stated, "In six areas where the UN is most engaged, governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state." The report continued to say that “the Palestinian Authority (PA) has successfully built some institutions and public services required for a future state … the government in the West Bank is largely ready to govern a Palestinian state.”
However, celebrations will be premature until the security issues and the mechanics of governing the Gaza Strip and West Bank are worked out. The most crucial question at hand for Fatah and Hamas is how to effectively govern a land split apart by Israeli territory.
For the West and Israel, the pressing issue is how to deal with Hamas. In the past, Israel and the international community dealt expressly with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), comprised of the Fatah political party. Moving forward, Hamas could integrate into the government forcing all players to recognize their political legitimacy.
If peace is a serious priority, this could be a great opportunity for Israel and the U.S. Already Hamas “has raised the possibility of a long-term cease-fire if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank and Gaza.” This is a remarkable development for an organization who in the past has been vehemently against Israel.
In the end, a Palestinian state could only sustain a true peace agreement if the majority of the population backs it. This will only be possible with Fatah and Hamas on-board. If the PLO can accomplish this great task, then the more moderate layers of Hamas will be peeled off and the radical elements marginalized.
Therefore, the U.S. should continue its current policy – except with a more open mind towards Hamas. As the U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor stated: "The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace.”
Recognizing Hamas as a legitimate player will be tough for the U.S. and Israel; however, by doing this Hamas can be brought into the peace process and be pressured by all sides – including their constituents – to become moderate.
Palestinians want peace now. Many are frustrated with Fatah’s inability to bring peace through non-violence; on the other hand, many are frustrated with Hamas’ violent tactics that equally fail. If Palestinians can unite under one moderate voice, the peace process would gain traction and momentum; Hamas would be pushed in a moderate direction; and the Jasmine Revolution would bring momentous change, as it has in Egypt and Tunisia.
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