For quite some time the Palestinian issue has been relegated to a secondary importance as the ISIS, the Arab Spring, the wars in Syria and Iraq, and basic instability throughout the Arab World has edged it out of the International attention. This has been a basic departure from the mind- numbing torrent of news, opinions, analyses, that characterized the Palestinian issue for decades, as the Fedayeen guerrilla fighter, or terrorist, was gracing the covers of European and American publications. It was an era in which it became an axiom that “freedom fighters” were destined to win, in that journalists conflated the struggle in Palestine to that being waged against colonialists throughout Africa and corrupt dictatorships of South America. The Franz Fanons and Che Guevaras of the world were lauded as the men of the future. The sentimentality in which the Western intellectuals, aided by a generally ignorant media- confusing fashion for facts- viewed the guerrilla wars throughout the world, generally distorted the reality of these wars. Often led, as they were, by upper class elitists who scrupulously avoided any combat themselves, they fitted in with the zeitgeist of the era. They were won, not by insurgent superior proficiency in strategy , tactics, or will to win, but more often through the weaknesses and lack of will of the colonial, and despotic regimes. The British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese simply decided the colonial possessions were not worth the cost in casualties or money.
Now the issue is re- emerging as the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the Palestinian “state” in the West Bank are trying to mend fences and present a more united front to bargain (or war) against the Israelis. To be sure there has been no diminution of feeling or desire among the Palestinians for an independent state, and as the opinion surveys always show, there is little enthusiasm for a Palestinian Arab state alongside a Jewish state. So the existentialism of the struggle, Muslim versus Jewish, continues unabated, despite the pathetic attempts of every American administration to broker some sort of lasting “peace.” Many Israelis see the famous Oslo agreements as the crux of todays problem, giving away too much of Israeli concerns, and Palestinian activists see it as only a veneer covering the objective of a united Arab Palestinian state, built on the ruins of a Zionist state.
Realistic analysts of the struggle try to inject reality, generally to deaf ears, depicting the picture of a political and cultural environment in which Palestinians and Israelis live in separate worlds. There is no real common ground, despite occasional human interest stories to the contrary. At a conference a few years ago, a young Palestinian scholar pointed out that every square yard of the contested land has a Jewish name and a Muslim Arab name. They have no common vocabulary, even if some Israelis speak Arabic and some Arabs speak Hebrew. In certain urban area areas, Israelis and Palestinians live cheek by jowl but have minimal, if any neighborly communication. They avoid each other like the plague.
Since the early days of the Jewish – Arab conflict, the Palestinians have always been divided into clans , political factions, and hitching their fortunes to fickle or unstable bigger Allies, like the USSR, Iraq, or Nasser’s Egypt. An early clan rivalry, the Nashabhibi-Hussaini battle divided the Palestinians just as the Gaza – Palestinian National Authority (PNA) conflict does today.
The two Palestinian enclaves have been divided since 1948 war of Israeli independence. They have been separated for a half century. While the Gaza enclave has been virtually isolated with only minimal contact with an unfriendly Egyptian government, most recently virtually fenced off from any contact at all, the PNA segment has been more exposed to Western influence through the Israelis, and a number of international agencies and a more westernized Jordan.
Despite their physical separation the PNA regime governed Gaza until the battle of Gaza in 2007 in which the corrupt PNA government was bloodily ejected by the HAMAS and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ). HAMAS is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot and the PIJ is an even more radical offspring of the Islamist movement. Since that time Islamic law has been the governing legal environment of Gaza- a sort of Sunni version of the Shi’a rule in Iran. The ejection of the PNA was the inevitable result of the endemic corruption of the Palestinian Liberation Organization ( PLO) under Yasir Arafat. In 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected president for a five year term but it has turned into a “president for Life ” job as reconciliation efforts always failed.
Under the benevolent auspices of the new ottoman Sultan of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, this past fall, the two enclaves were encouraged to mend fences and as a result new elections have been set up with the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)on 22 May 2021, and the presidency on 31 July 2021. The PLC like most Arab parliaments have very little power, which is mostly placed in the presidency.
Hamas will win the presidency and probably the PLC as well as the Palestinian folks are fed up with the corruption and incompetence off the PNA. Public opinion surveys quite definitely say that compromise with Israel is a non starter and almost half say they want war again. But of course, they say many things which fit into the mode of Palestinian politically correct language. Almost all say they must return to 1948 borders ( West Bank) which was in the hands of Jordan ( they have subsequently washed their hands of ruling Palestine again).
So What will this mean in practical terms? Very little for a number of reasons; political, cultural ,and outside influences.
- Political. As one of my favorite writers, Malcolm Muggeridge observed, “I have never really been able to understand how anyone can believe in the possibility of compromise in the matters of power , which is an absolutist passion.” An integral factor in the eternal conflict of the Arabs, which Rapheal Patai ( The Arab Mind) described as their dualism and proneness to conflict, is evident in Palestinian history. An important factor here is the Palestinian Security Forces ( PSF). This internal security force is lauded by the liberal observers as a force for peace in the occupied PNA areas. However, this notion is severely tested by the fact that in Ifitadah II, (Palestinian Uprisingsagainst the Israelis in beginning in 2000) the primary force used by the Palestinians was the PSF. Since that time the PSF has been primarily a domestic security force to keep President Mahmoud Abbas in power, killing and detaining sympathizers of the Islamist regime in Gaza. The US has had a prominent role in training and financing the PSF in the belief that this favored the peace between Israel and Palestine. In that 15 years has passed without another bloody intifada, there is a good argument for this role of PSF. However it bodes poorly for any integration of Gaza and the PNA. It has been a force tied to the fortunes of the PNA and for the last 13 years has been mostly employed in eliminating rivals to Mahmoud Abbas. How they will accept an Islamist president from Gaza is a very critical question. My opinion is they will not! I base that on the two years I did briefings for American trainers ( mostly ex-law enforcement people) going to monitor training given to the PSF. The PSF, with about ten battalions including a “presidential guard battalion” is a force for the PNA, by the PNA, and of the PNA.
- Culturally. From biblical times were has been a cultural and to some degree ethnic difference between the Arabs of Gaza and those of the West Bank ( or Galilee , Judea, and Samaria as the Israelis choose to call it) . Some research points to a definite difference in origins of the two groups of Palestinians. The West Bank Palestinians were referred to as “mountain Arabs,” the original inhabitants of the region while the Arabs of the Gaza were referred to as “coastal Plains Arabs,” who are a collection of clans that at some point emigrated into the Gaza Strip from other parts of the Middle East. Hence , according to these scholars, they have a weaker social structure and less cohesiveness than those of the West Bank. Obviously, the half century of isolation from the West Bank and and the pervasiveness of Islamist thinking in the education system has had an imprint of considerable importance on society.
- Internationally. The Islamist regime of Gaza has been a favorite of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood regime of Erdogan but at the same time, The Iranians have made inroads into the Sunni Arab Gazan military forces. Admiration for the Iranian successes …real or imagined…have had an impressive effect on Arab imagination, spurred by the Qassem Solemani effect. The West will be primarily pushing to keep the PNA breathing and hopefully keeping the peace , however tenuous it may be, with Israel. So as usual, the Palestinians will use and be used by contending outside Arab and international interests.