Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 12:13 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Anna Lekas Miller
Watching “The Arab Spring” unfold has been a remarkable and awe-inspiring experience. Something that was once impossible to imagine suddenly became inevitable as Tunisia sparked a revolutionary fire that spread to Egypt, eventually inspiring the entire Middle East to rise up in varying degrees of revolt against even the most repressive of their regimes. It seemed like only a matter of time before justice prevailed, and each dictator would fall like dominoes giving way to a democratic, liberated Arab World.
Those of us who closely follow Middle East politics were uncharacteristically excited and hopeful for the future.
This quickly changed when Libya’s protests escalated into a full-scale civil war, making the movement become an unfortunate victim of foreign military intervention. Instead of Muammar Gaddafi’s imminent, and at that point expected overthrow, it felt as if we were watching a slow, painfully reminiscent re-institution of the Iraq war.
However, amidst the heartbreaking bloodshed and painfully worn out excuses for military intervention, one of the least expected, and (dare I say) hopeful regime changes has finally come to the Arab world in Palestine. After several weeks of carefully orchestrated, non-violent unity protests throughout Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian political factions, and long time rivals Hamas and Fatah have finally agreed to set aside their political differences and unite as one political regime. This is undeniable political progress.
Hamas and Fatah have been bitterly divided since Hamas (fairly and democratically) ousted Fatah from power in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to unseat Hamas, causing more political controversy and eventually dissolving their short-lived unity government. Since then, Palestine has been divided into the West Bank and Gaza, respectively governed by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Ismail Haniya of Hamas.
These political divisions made Palestine even more vulnerable to the Israeli occupation. Not only was Palestine divided into smaller, easier targets for military occupation, but the very act of characterizing Palestine as “Gaza and the West Bank” or “Hamas and Fatah” helps to erase “Palestine” and “Palestinian” from the international political conscience. In addition, Hamas and Fatah’s occasional violence and deep-seated rivalry has redefined Palestine and Palestinians by this circumstantial political violence, rather than their culture. As Israel’s notorious practices seize Palestinian land, and erase all traces of Palestinian presence, Hamas and Fatah’s political conflict has historically divided and defined Palestine and Palestinians by internal and external violence from their political factions, rather than their universal culture.
Although those of us who are close to Palestine often mentally conceptualize it as Gaza and the West Bank (robustly drawn at their ’67 lines) it is important to remember that geographically, sixty-eight percent of the West Bank has been carved into illegal settlements and Gaza is little more than a shrinking sliver of land. What is left of “Palestine” is defined by military occupation. Palestinians in the West Bank must wait for hours at military checkpoints, often only to be incessantly questioned and rejected, even if they are trying to travel somewhere only fifteen minutes away. While Israel technically “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians living there remain economically choked by a siege that forbids all imports and exports to and from Gaza. As a result, more than half of the population is not only trapped in Gaza, but also uneducated, unemployed, and living below the poverty line. With the combination of checkpoints, travel restrictions, and the ongoing siege, it is nearly impossible to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
Currently, there is no formally recognized Palestinian state at the United Nations. There is no Palestinian flag in front of the building. While there are Palestinian representatives, they are only allowed to observe, rather than vote during the decision making process. This epitomizes what it currently feels like to be Palestinian: present, but voiceless.
September of this year will mark Barack Obama’s “deadline” for a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Though the embarrassing leaked Palestine Papers in January exposed, and halted, the infamous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Palestinian Authority is still plans to meet its deadline and campaign the UN Security Council for statehood and recognition this fall.
It is impossible to predict whether or not this unity government will successfully lay the foundation of Palestinian statehood. However, it is undeniable that the alliance between Hamas and Fatah reflects a significant political change.
Palestinians have demonstrated for sovereignty and recognition for years, but only recently shifted their demands towards unity as a strategy towards statehood. Inspired by activists in Tunisia and Egypt, last month Palestinian youth activists organized and networked Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan to hold protests demanding Hamas and Fatah to unite not as political parties, but as Palestinians. Though these protests were barely reported in any media outlets, and were often quickly dispersed by Hamas officials, it seems that their demands have miraculously been met.
As Hamas’ deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, remarked, “Our rift gave the occupation a chance. Today we turn a new page.”
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