Why is Arafat’s legacy being revived now?
Why and how social media platforms have resurrected statements by Khaled Meshaal, the former head of Hamas political bureau, is still unknown.
In May 2018, Meshaal praised the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and recognised him as a militant leader who had proven himself to be a great patriot in politics and on the ground. With those statements, Meshaal invalidated Hamas’s gloomy anti-Arafatist discourse. His words betrayed his concern about what was being orchestrated, in collaboration with Hamas itself for the purpose of burying the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
Palestinian reconciliation is no longer being sought. All sides -- inside the Palestinian camp, in the Arab world and in the region -- seem to be taking for granted that the Gaza Strip is completely and definitively separate from the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is no longer hiding Israel’s intention to bury the connection between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the two bases for the envisioned independent Palestinian state. He’s gladly opened the gates for Qatari money to flow to Hamas so the distance between the two wings of the “state of Palestine” increases.
The media considered Netanyahu’s game as a campaign tactic. The idea was to show Israel as being open to Palestinian entities (two entities so far) and that the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) behind it -- is just one element in the process. This element is being marginalised in Washington, Tel Aviv and perhaps other capitals to put forth the situation in the Hamas-led Gaza Strip as a fact.
Paradoxically, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been suspended, while negotiations are being conducted, perhaps daily, with Hamas. There are no negotiations between Israel and the PA even though there is no military conflict between the two sides to suspend the negotiations. Talks between Israel and the Gaza Strip are in full swing.
Israel treats Hamas as a partner. A few weeks ago, the Netanyahu government was quick to describe the rocket attack on Tel Aviv as “an unintended technical mistake.” When other attacks of the “non-technical mistake” type are launched, the negotiation table is quickly laid out between Israel and Hamas.
The Gaza Strip has become a priority in what leaked of the US plan being marketed by Jared Kushner’s team. When he spoke about the economic aspect of the “Deal of the Century,” he used the Gaza Strip as an example without referring to other places.
With Hamas, Israel is willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire provided Hamas recognises the current border status, meaning that it implicitly accepts the borders specified in the international resolutions that did away with the historical Palestine. These borders are the essence of the Oslo Accords and the subject of the initiative adopted by the 2002 Arab summit.
Israel does not want an independent Palestinian state and neither does Hamas. It has never been mentioned in Hamas’s literature that it intersects with what the PLO has been demanding for decades. Israel also does not accept the one-state option and Hamas has never hinted at that fact, not even in the form of a threat as it is the case with some factions in the West Bank that demand the elimination of the two-state solution in favour of the option of one state for both Israelis and Palestinians.
This is why Israel considers Hamas a real partner with which it can reach understandings that are not intended to be a final solution. These understandings, however, would consolidate a reality in which a given status quo that does not pose a security threat to Israel is maintained under control. That way Israel makes sure that there won’t be any interest in the Gaza Strip that would require a reconnection with the West Bank.
Egypt is also pursuing the protection of its strategic security by seeking to control the Strip and overseeing any development there related to security, politics and economy, even if the money coming from Qatar via Israel is one of the rules of understandings being arranged.
It was said that the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had once wished to wake up and find Gaza engulfed by the sea. This seems to be the same state of mind shown these days by the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his team seem as though what is being elaborated in Gaza with Hamas does not concern them. Azzam al-Ahmad, the member of the Fatah Central Committee officially responsible for following up on the reconciliation process, limited himself to informing the public that the "Egyptian brothers" are doing as if the PA is part of the negotiations and understandings being elaborated in the Strip. Gaza has become an Egyptian affair, with arrangements being made according to the political and security visions of the Egyptian state.
Hamas has neither the ability nor the legitimacy to change the course of the Palestinian conflict towards mechanisms outside the context of the Palestinian path agreed on since the establishment of the PLO but what is procedural may be diverted by malicious stimuli and if major agendas call for it.
The PLO, with its representations all over the world, remains the original reference for the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the diaspora. This organisation, if resuscitated and not domesticated, is capable, thanks to its historical legitimacy, of rectifying the course of the Palestinian cause despite Hamas’s and Fatah’s malicious and cynical behaviour.
Perhaps the Arafatism that Meshaal was celebrating nearly a year ago may have been a ploy from the current Palestinian leadership (Fatah and Hamas combined) but it may also be the expression of a painful process inside the Hamas movement seeking to revive Arafat’s legacy, as part of the needed constitution and methodology, a return to the basics of his actions.
Mohamad Kawas is a Lebanese writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.