TOPICS: Internal conflict corroding Palestinian credibility

There is no doubt that Israel’s occupation is the main reason for today’s misery. But Palestinians still need to take control of their own future. There was something both deeply sad and painfully predictable about last week’s scenes of renewed internecine violence on the streets of Gaza. For Palestinians everywhere, there is nothing worse than the spectre of a civil war, not only because it is so reprehensible in itself, but also because the moral grounding of the Palestinian cause is thereby undermined: if Palestinians are so ready to kill each other the question is inevitably raised, why should anyone feel sympathy for them in their struggle with Israel?

There is no doubt that Israel and its 40-year occupation are culpable beyond measure for what is happening today. Here are just a few facts: since 1967 Israel has annexed East Jerusalem (including the old city’s holy sites), unilaterally expanded its boundaries dozens

of kilometres into the West Bank, and settled it with some 250,000 Israeli Jews. Tens of thousands of housing units have been built for Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem; very few for the Palestinian Arabs on their own soil.

Yet it is not enough to blame it all on Israel. There are other factors at play. What was once a dedicated and vibrant Palestinian national movement is today almost bereft of effective leadership. Its negotiators appear incapable of rising to the vast national challenges ahead. The old nationalist-Marxist factions have become marginalised. Fatah, once the embodiment of broad national aspirations, is faction-ridden and incapable of reviving its lost glory in the absence of its founder, Yasser Arafat. Hamas is politically inexperienced and boycotted by the outside world. Its appeal is too narrow to replace Fatah or supplant the broad church of Palestinian nationalism with an Islamist discourse and goals.

Today, the moment is not for grand peacemaking, despite the optimism generated by the Arab peace initiative and the pretence of movement offered by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. The best that is likely to be achieved is a consolidated inter-Palestinian and Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire that will allow both sides to catch their breath and think again. In their own interests, the Israelis need to think hard about the corrosive long-term consequences of the occupation and its effect on their own future as a supposedly safe haven for the Jewish people. The Arabs cannot continue to claim sympathy for the Palestinians while subjecting the most defenceless of them to wanton violence.

The Palestinians have to think hard about their future prospects. The priority must be to revive their national political movement in the spirit of genuine partnership and achievable common goals. The alternative will not only allow for the perpetuation of the occupation but will feed the notion that the Palestinians, decades on, are somehow not “worthy” of the freedom they are rightfully due and so passionately desire. — The Guardian