The winners and losers of Palestine's unity government
How does a football club choose its team? The simple way is the usual one: each side has a manager, who chooses his team. No problem.
Now the Israeli government has hit on a new way: Our manager appoints both our team and the adversary’s team. Simplifies the matter. I wonder if this method could not be refined. For example: each side’s manager chooses only the team of the other side. Could turn out interesting. Yet another way would be for the betting mafia to choose both teams. This would maximize profits in the spirit of modern market forces.
Seriously, the claim by Benjamin Netanyahu that he has a right to pick and choose the Palestinian government is rather astonishing. All the important Palestinian political parties have agreed on a new government coalition. This is a negative coalition: all the parties agree not to have their own members in the government. The government is composed of non-party “technocrats”. I hardly know a single one of them.
Netanyahu should be happy. No member of the “evil, terroristic, anti-Semitic” Hamas is included. But then, the fertile mind of Netanyahu invented a new gimmick. True, no Hamasniks in the government. But the government is supported by Hamas.
Terrible! Intolerable! If Hamas “supports” somebody, he must surely be a suicide bomber, a Jew-killer, and, of course, an anti-Semite (though a Semite himself). Ergo: such a government must be boycotted, not just by Israel, but by the entire civilized world. If Europe, or even the US, do not agree – well, it just shows, doesn’t it? A bunch of bloody anti-Semites, the lot of them!
An old Jewish question asks, half in joke and half serious: “Is it good for the Jews?” Whether an earthquake in Alaska or a flood in China, the question invariably arises. Good or Bad? An event much closer to us, like the setting up of a Palestinian unity government, poses this question far more urgently.
This is not a new question in this context. Already in the early 1950s, two important leaders debated it. David Ben-Gurion did not believe in peace. He was sure that “the Arabs” would never accept us in this region. In his view, the conflict would last for many generations, if not forever.
Please, don’t bring me quotations to prove the opposite. There are heaps of them. Historians love them. But quotations from statesmen are well-nigh worthless. They reflect at most the needs of the originator in real time to achieve a temporary goal. It’s the acts which count, and Ben-Gurion’s acts leave no doubt. At every stage he took what he could, and then waited for the next opportunity to gain more. No peace. Since he was certain that the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, would remain our enemies forever, the logical conclusion was to do everything possible to weaken them. And the best way is to split them. Divide et impera.
Ben-Gurion did everything possible to split the Arab world. When Gamal Abdel Nasser appeared on the scene with his pan-Arab message, Ben-Gurion sabotaged his efforts at every stage. He aggravated the conflict by his “retaliation attacks” beyond the border and, in 1956, invaded Egypt in collusion with the two ugly colonial powers, France and Britain.
His intellectual adversary was Nahum Goldmann, then the president of the World Zionist Organization. He believed in the exact opposite. The Arabs, he asserted, will only recognize us if they are united and feel strong. Therefore, every split in the Arab world was “bad for the Jews”.
In this respect, there is very little difference between Ben-Gurion and all his successors. The difference between Ben-Gurion and Netanyahu is that between a small giant and a large dwarf.
Needless to say, I was all for the Goldmann line. My magazine welcomed the Egyptian revolution of 1952, strongly objected to the Sinai war and supported the pan-Arab line.
The basic question was, of course, if one wanted peace at all. Was peace “good for the Jews?” Ben-Gurion obviously did not think so. Goldmann did. What about Yitzhak Rabin?
I believe that Rabin really wanted peace. But he never quite accepted the idea which is the essential basis for peace: a Palestinian state next to Israel. If he had been able to continue along his path, he probably would have arrived there, but he was felled before he could.Yet it was Rabin who took the fateful decision to split the Palestinians.
The Oslo agreement stated unequivocally that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute one territorial unit.To insure that, Israel undertook in the agreement to open four “safe passages” between the two regions. On the way from Jericho to Gaza, tri-lingual signposts were set up: ”to Gaza”, etc. Yet none of these passages was ever opened.
Today it is difficult to remember that from the beginning of the occupation, 1967, to the Oslo agreement, 1993, movement in Israel/Palestine was unfettered. Palestinians from Gaza and Hebron were free to visit Haifa, Israelis could easily buy food in Nablus or Jericho. Incredible as it sounds, it was the Oslo agreement that put an end to this paradise.
After Oslo came the Separation Wall and all the other measures which are turning the Gaza Strip and the West Bank into open-air prisons. The inevitable result was the split.
There are few instances in history of a state consisting of two or more widely separated territories. The most conspicuous in our time was Pakistan. When India was partitioned, large Muslim areas were located west and east of what became India. It did not work. It took only a few years for the East Pakistanis to resent the domination of the West Pakistanis. Mutual hatred raised its head. The Easterners broke away with the help of India and set up their own new state – Bangladesh.
Between the two Pakistani areas there was a huge distance, with the bulk of India in between. But between the West Bank and the Gaza strip, the distance is just some 40 km. In the beginning, there was lot of talk about how to bridge that distance. Quite literally. Ehud Barak played with the idea of building a giant bridge and shopped around the world for a model. Others thought about extraterritorial highways or railway lines. Nothing was carried out.
In the meantime, what was bound to happen, happened. In both areas free elections were held, supervised by Jimmy Carter, and Hamas won. A government was formed. Under immense Israeli pressure, Europe and the US boycotted it, and it fell apart.
The rest is history. A Fatah faction in Gaza, led by an Israeli-American collaborator, tried to stage a putsch in Gaza. Hamas reacted with a putsch of its own (if one can perform a putsch after winning an election) and became the government in the Gaza Strip. Fatah took power in the West Bank. Both sides vilified each other, to the delight of Israel and its supporters.
But history has its own mysterious ways. After some guns v. rockets duels, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip and after a lot of bloodshed, Egypt stepped in and arranged for a settlement. Both sides were happy to work together. Hamas even took concrete steps to stop the attacks of the smaller, more extreme Gaza factions. Israel also negotiated with Hamas about the return of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
US President Johnson once said that it was better to have your adversary inside the tent and spitting out, than have him stay outside the tent, spitting in.
Inclusiveness is better than exclusiveness. Hamas bearing the responsibility for a Palestinian Unity Government is better than Hamas attacking it, if you really want to make peace with the Palestinian people.
By Uri Avnery