Palestinian unity movement’s goal strikes at heart of Israeli occupation strategy of divide and conquer

The slogans are simple enough: “the people want an end to the division,” tens of thousands of young protesters in Gaza and the West Bank chanted as their protest movement demanding Palestinian political unity kicked off March 14.

But beneath the simple slogan is an audacious goal that would strike at the heart of a key Israeli strategy used to maintain their 44-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The goal, if realized, of a true united political front against the occupation is one giant step toward ending Israeli dominance over the lives of Palestinians.

“We want democratic representation first and foremost and then move to nonviolently challenging the occupation,” Fadi Quran, a Palestinian youth activist, notes on the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s profile page of activists involved with the pro-unity movement. “We’re trying to move toward that goal. March 15th is seen not as an end in itself but the beginning of a new generation of struggle.”

Quran and his cohort are going to have to contend with some major forces working against them.

The deep divide between the West Bank and Gaza is something that is an official Israeli goal. As Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf reported in September 2010, an Israel Defense Forces document states that a “security and diplomatic objective” of Israel is to separate Gaza from the West Bank. Israeli journalist Amira Hass has documented how “the total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics”–an achievement that closes the door on the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

This territorial split–which began in the 1990s, according to Hass–has been compounded by the political split between the Islamist movement Hamas, which is in control of Gaza, and the Western-backed Fatah, which controls the West Bank. And while the division was cemented in 2007, following the Hamas rout of Fatah forces in Gaza after a U.S.-backed Fatah coup failed, its roots run deeper.

When the Palestine Liberation Organization was still seen as the major threat to the occupation regime during the 1980s, Israel and the U.S. “encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement,” according to Stephen Zunes, the chair of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the University of San Francisco. For example, Zunes notes, “while supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station.”

The situation is reversed now, but the classic colonial principle of “divide and conquer” remains. When the PLO was co-opted as a result of the Oslo peace process, Hamas began to be seen as the major threat to the Israeli occupation.

The political split, encouraged by Israel and the United States, reached its zenith when Hamas, following the 2006 Palestinian elections, took over Gaza after winning what amounted to a brief civil war there following a U.S.-backed Fatah attempt to overthrow Hamas.

The fact that Israel and the U.S. have sought to sow the seeds of division in Palestine throughout the past three decades attests to the importance of the strategy. The occupation regime would be under real threat if there was a united Palestinian intifada aiming to kick Israel out of the occupied territories–something that the youth movement in Palestine recognizes.

The March 15 movement to end the division has to contend with two separate power structures (not including the Israeli occupation) seemingly intent on holding on to the perks of power and privilege as long as they can. Both the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas have cracked down on the pro-unity protests.

It remains to be seen if the youth protesters will be able to persevere over the next few weeks and force their political leadership to take heed of their calls for unity. What is clear, though, is that the road to a free Palestine runs through a united Palestinian front.

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist based in New York City, blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia at alexbkane.wordpress.com, where this post originally appeared.  Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
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{ 50 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Whatever the history, and attributions of conspiracy, a unified Hamas/Fatah will have to either reconcile with Israel or war with Israel, very very much hopefully reconcile.

    • Donald says:

      “Hamas/Fatah will have to either reconcile with Israel or war with Israel, very very much hopefully reconcile.”

      False dichotomy. They could also surrender to Israel, something that the PA has arguably tried to do, but Israel won’t take “I give up” for an answer. Or they could come to the bargaining table and demand Palestinian rights in a one state solution. Or they could go for two states, but ask for much more than has ever been offered.

      • fuster says:

        Donald, surrender comes under reconcile and Israel certainly would accept the PA’s “I give up” terms if the PA represented more than a single faction.

        • Mooser says:

          Yes fuster, if there’s one thing we know about states that are ready to reconcile, it’s that they invariably precede the reconciliation by sending settlers to squat, build, and terrorise the residents of Occupied Territory, under the protection of the army. Yes sir, that the first sign of reconciliation, for sure.

        • Donald says:

          “Israel certainly would accept the PA’s “I give up” terms if the PA represented more than a single faction.”

          And the evidence of this would be?

    • Mooser says:

      If there’s one guy I would depend on for predictions about the parameters of Israel behavior, it’s Richard Witty.
      I’m sure Richard will tell us how goddammed eager the Israelis are to reconcile.

      • Shingo says:

        I’m sure Richard will tell us how goddammed eager the Israelis are to reconcile.

        And reform!! Don’t forget abotu reform, which will magically unfold all on it’s own.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      “Attributions of conspiracy.” They were US State Department documents, you sanctimonious fraud.

    • Avi says:

      and attributions of conspiracy,

      Which attributions, exactly?

      very much hopefully reconcile.

      You do realize that you are asking victims of occupation to reconcile with a state that refuses such reconciliation. From a logical perspective, you are asking one party to do that which is physically and politically impossible.

    • thetumta says:

      The “war” option is looking more attractive Richard. No?

    • Shingo says:

      Whatever the history, and attributions of conspiracy, a unified Hamas/Fatah will have to either reconcile with Israel or war with Israel, very very much hopefully reconcile.

      Witty is already making demands and laying out conditions for the surrender of the Palestinians.

    • pjdude says:

      and by reconcile you mean give up all their rights as refugees and say that Israel’s crimes against them were both justified and not crimes

      • fuster says:

        no pj, reconcile means no such thing. the Palestinians don’t have to believe that there were no crimes committed by the Israelis.

    • “Whatever the history, and attributions of conspiracy, a unified Hamas/Fatah will have to either reconcile with Israel or war with Israel, very very much hopefully reconcile.”

      The ongoing stupidity of these comments is tedious. What makes you think it is their choice to ‘reconcile’ or war? Haven’t you read anything? Whatever the Palestinians do, in whatever guise, Israel repeatedly and consistently refuses to negotiate seriously or ‘reconcile’. Israel holds all the cards, and is more than happy to exist in a state of permanent war with the Palestinians. That’s right, war exists now. Typically Zionist, you think that it is all up to the Palestinians and they ‘choose’ war, when the opposite is true. You choose to believe the Zionist myths, yet come to this site, and apparently understand none of the mountains of evidence and eye-witness accounts of the lying aggressiveness of Israel which refuses peace and a two state solution. When will you ever understand, instead of mouthing platitudes. (Don’t answer that)

  2. eljay says:

    >> … a unified Hamas/Fatah will have to either reconcile with Israel or war with Israel, very very much hopefully reconcile.

    You seem to forget that Israel, too, will have to either reconcile with a unified Palestinian entity or war with it, very very much hopefully reconcile.

    So far, however, Israel has shown itself to be a dishonest partner in peace. With any luck, this will change.

    • Well,
      At some point, Israel will exhale and shift to a more benign government.

      And, as Palestinian disunity was one of the themes that supported Netanyahu’s ‘they can’t deliver on their peace commitments’ theme, that argument would be dashed if the unified Palestinian government sincerely approached Israel with proposal anywhere close to the Abbas/Fayyad ones.

      Right now the argument still has substantive support.

      There are three viable Israeli attitudes/strategies:

      1. Likud’s right-wing opportunism rationalized by risk-aversion
      2. The center right’s risk aversion
      3. The liberal-left’s willingness to risk to advance peace

      The center-right is where the Israeli populace is now. There is no leader that can articulate a more courageous advocacy of peace, and partially because of the fruitlessness of dealing with both Fatah and Hamas triangulating.

      So, if obstacles/threats are removed from the formula, then a center-right government could complete a negotiation. And, ironically, the conditions of Palestinian unity could give rise to another Rabin, but now three steps further towards acceptance of Palestinian rights.

      • eljay says:

        >> So, if obstacles/threats are removed from the formula …

        If Israel really wanted to remove obstacles/threats – if it really wanted to indicate that it is a sincere partner in peace, it would halt ALL aggression, oppression, land theft, colonization, destruction and murder. Israel is capable of doing this unilaterally, immediately, and completely.

        But it chooses not to. Instead, it continues to undertake aggression, oppression, land theft, colonization, destruction and murder and it uses the blowback that these immoral and unjust actions generate to justify its victimhood and to perpetuate its intransigence.

        And you continue defend it and to blame ‘the Other’.

      • Mooser says:

        “At some point, Israel will exhale and shift to a more benign government.”

        Ah, of course, I should have known. And of course, should the Israeli government become more “benign” (whatever the hell that means, I notice he can’t get to ‘law-abiding’) all the previous crimes of the Israelis must be immediately fogotten. Sure, that makes sense.

        Ya see folks, that’s why the world today is filled to the brim with small colonial-settler states which practice ethno-religious supremacy policies, take land by conquest and ethnicly cleanse it, and disdain international law. It’s cause when the time comes, they always “exhale” and become “benign” (whatever that means)

        Richard, can you forgive me if I categorically state I am not willing to suspend voluntary respiration until this happens?

      • Mooser says:

        “And, as Palestinian disunity was one of the themes…”

        Yeah, Palestinian unity, the Israelis are praying for it. If the Palestinians achieve unity, all Israel will do is wail loud and long about the threat it poses. And so will you, right on cue.

        • Inhaling/exhaling is around homeostasis (balance).

          Tides come in and then go out, all around a balance at sea level.

          The stock market goes up and then it goes down, all around a balance.

          Rational political approaches go from left to right and back, from fanatic to moderate and back. The fanatic is by definition unstable, fanatic left and fanatic right.

        • eljay says:

          >> Rational political approaches go from left to right and back, from fanatic to moderate and back.

          This applies to ethnic cleansing:

          - Fanatic:
          “Ethnic cleansing is an evil that was necessary to create a greater good, a viable Jewish state.”
          “If I was an adult in 1948, I probably would have supported whatever it took to create the state of Israel, and held my nose at actions that I could not possibly do myself.”

          - Moderate (or “humanist”): “Currently [ethnic cleansing is] not necessary.”

          - Fanatic: “I cannot consistently say that ‘ethnic cleansing is never necessary’.”

        • Chaos4700 says:

          I hope you have a lot of stocks, Witty. I hope you have a nice big 401k.

          Because you’re going to get exactly what you deserve in your station as a middleman.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Good luck with that rising stock market, yeah. The rest of us who learned real math in physical sciences know better.

        • LeaNder says:

          RW: Inhaling/exhaling is around homeostasis (balance).

          RW: At some point, Israel will exhale

          could you explain how this homeostasis exactly happens in Israel’s case? I never thought about countries in- or exhaling. But maybe I don’t understand, since I dont get the bris, only a holy country can do it? With the Almighty’s help? Some kind of collective exhaling, when God snips his fingers?

        • Saleema says:

          He must have watched Waiting to Exhale and that’s how he came up with that line.

        • Shingo says:

          Tides come in and then go out, all around a balance at sea level.

          Has anyone noticed how Witty turns to poetry when he can;t think of anything worthwhile to say? It’s hardly surprising though, seeing as most of the diatribes and theories he offers up as fictional.

        • Citizen says:

          It’s interesting that Dick Witty uses the stock market analogy. Sure, why not use Wall Street’s robotic math as the index to the real economy–and so, Witty, who will bail out Israel? And, as far as the sea & tides go, why not track the winds?

          Who’s watching the actual reliability of Israel’s mortgage, and who’s burying this dirth in paper praising securities?

        • Right wing governments come and right wing governments go and to those who set their sights on governments interested in “true” reconciliation, there is no difference between Rabin and Netanyahu or Barak and Netanyahu or between Sharon and Netanyahu or between Olmert and Netanyahu. But to those who see a difference between the different parties and personalities, there is hope in the fact that even in the case of Sharon there was adjustment to reality that is missing in the Netanyahu personality and thus party and personality switches are the basis of hope.

        • I think that the best path for change is electoral.

          The Israeli right-wing is substantively very exposed politically, having presided over the devolution of relations with basically all of Israel’s neighbors, and as a result of his administration’s actions.

          Turkey, Jordan, PA, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, UAE, Bahrain, all with formerly some diplomatic contact and agreement, all finding it impossible to work with Netanyahu/Lieberman on really any theme.

          But, there is no left political organization in Israel capable of campaigning effectively. There would be fundraising money available most likely, as there are wealthy liberal businesspeople in Israel that are appalled by Netanyahu’s policies and find them personally repugnant.

          This is the time for electoral change. This could be 2008 relative to George W, but there is no Obama.

          The difference between likud/Israel beitanhu and Kadima/labor is stark.

          Akiva Eldar wrote an article a couple days ago that described the liberal Israeli electoral prospects as hopeless.

          There are paths though.

          I believe that Israel in the world is important. Liberal “enough” Israel, not expansionist, not paranoid, not harmful Israel.

      • thetumta says:

        But will they be 10 days too late?

      • Shingo says:

        At some point, Israel will exhale and shift to a more benign government.

        Ten days too late.

      • pjdude says:

        Well,
        At some point, Israel will exhale and shift to a more benign government.

        and your rationale for this is what? because it makes your support of such in illegal and thuggish enterprise easier?

  3. Rafi says:

    This territorial split began when jordan annexed the west bank and egypt decided to create a strip in the area they conquered in the 48 war. both territories united after 67 and in the oslo accord it is stated that both Israel and the PLO recognize the WB and GS as one political unit, but hass is right that oslo began the modern political divide as one of the first steps israel did post oslo is to build a fence from phildelfi to erez, around the strip.

    the chances of a fatah-hamas peace are slim to none.

    • Who would have thought that a people’s revolution could overthrow Mubarak? Back in December nobody thought it. Although in the case of the overthrow of Mubarak the key player (besides millions of people) was the army. And are the Palestinians willing to die by the hundreds in their attempt to overthrow the lethargy of Hamas (and Fatah)? And what kind of unity can there be when Fatah is willing to advance peace as indicated in the Palestine papers and Hamas has no willingness for those sorts of compromises (quisling compromises as far as this blog is concerned).

      Would they be willing to give up their respective fiefs to please their people, with the realization that their unity would only last until Netanyahu (or someone to his left) would offer something akin to the Olmert offer (or better) and then they would have to part ways again?

      I agree the odds are poor.

    • Avi says:

      Rafi March 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      This territorial split began when jordan annexed the west bank

      Jordan annexed the West Bank under an agreement with Golda Meier, then Israel’s Foreign Minister. In addition, under the provisions of that agreement Jordan gave Israel territories that which Zionist forces did not capture during the war. Those territories later became known as the Triangle region of Palestinain towns extending from Kufur Qassem in the south (East of Tel-Aviv) to Umm Al-Fahem in the North.

      and egypt decided to create a strip in the area they conquered in the 48 war.

      The phraseology is deceptive.

      In 1948, all the Arab forces that engaged Israeli Zionist forces totaled 7,000, while Zionist forces totaled 60,000.

      In 1948, Egyptian forces managed to retain territory around Gaza (The Gaza Strip) as part of their attempts to liberate Palestine from the newly established Israeli state, a state whose forces had already been ethnically cleansing Palestinian towns in the December (1947) prior.

      By May and June (1948), Palestinian residents from Jaffa and Haifa had already been forced out by Zionist forces and had found refuge in Gaza.

  4. yourstruly says:

    now, while the ME is being rocked by popular uprisings

    add a third intifada to the mix and what do we have?

    more than a people united who cannot be defeated

    a mideast tremor that reshapes the world

    • fuster says:

      either that or merely a big bunch of people trying to catch up to the world, although they’re still little united and suffering some defeats.

      • Chaos4700 says:

        Fuster, their children are starving, their fathers are imprisoned their fields are alternatively burned and shat upon, their women are strip searched and their children are targeted by the military.

        It’s a bit more complicated than your “the savages are trying to catch up.”

      • Sumud says:

        merely a big bunch of people trying to catch up to the world

        Can you clarify what you mean by “catch up to the world”? Who constitutes “the world”? By your assessment who is on the leaders board in this race to…somewhere?

        • fuster says:

          very roughly,
          the leaders are the people who aren’t living in deep poverty and are literate.

        • annie says:

          so you don’t think palestinian gandhis are imprisoned or living in deep poverty? i think most palestinians are literate.

        • fuster says:

          are we discussing Palestinians, annie or is the discussion more about the Middle East in general?

          Palestinians are highly literate compared to most others around and literacy for women is near to that of men, which is not all that usual.

        • pjdude says:

          they were also strongly pro western until we sold them out to zionism

        • fuster says:

          pj, they’re still pro-Western enough to deal with us.

        • Sumud says:

          the leaders are the people who aren’t living in deep poverty and are literate.

          fuster ~ so rich literate countries like UAE and Qatar and semi-rich literate countries like Algeria, Libya, Kuwait and Iran are the leaders? (I almost included Iraq since it used to be rich and literate – the education centre of the Gulf in fact – until the US waged war on it for 20 years, and counting) You didn’t really define who is “the world” that the citizens of the ME are catching up with…

  5. seafoid says:

    There are 5 separate Palestinian groups in the Zionist space. The Gazans, the East Jerusalemites, the West Bankers, the 1948 Palestinians juwa (inside Israel) and the refugees barra (outside the space, never allowed in). Bringing them together is a massive challenge. Israel treats them all separately as part of its divide and rule strategy but the internet throws up some very interesting dynamic potential.

    • Avi says:

      In addition, Israel used the same strategy to divide Palestinians inside Israel. There are Druze, Bedouin and Muslims and Christians. All are Palestinians, but Israel treats the Druze and Bedouin as two separate groups, separate from the remainder of Arabs inside Israel.

    • fuster says:

      it will be a challenge because they are separate groups with divergent interests and having different obligations.

  6. thetumta says:

    I recently read an article about IDF Special Forces training. Apparently, cherries are inducted by invading civilian homes at 3:00 AM in the morning and you know how it goes? Not pretty. A male ritual, I know well. I also have always feared the victims of such stupidity. Laying awake at night or dreaming and waiting for pay back.
    Hej!