Palestinians Closer to Implementing a Confederation System

by Gedalyah Reback

Negotiations Likely to Fail

“With hopes of a unity government fading, Egypt has proposed that the two sides instead coordinate their rival administrations in Gaza and the West Bank through a joint committee.”

It has been reported by the Jordan Times that Egyptian intelligence head, Omar Suleiman, might force the two factions to create a joint steering committee for mutual issues if they fail to create a unity government. This might be the basis of a confederate system, much like the Egyptians and Syrians agreed on in the late 1960s when they tried to unify their two countries.

Diplomats from Egypt, the United States and both Palestinian factions are alluding to an inevitable failure in unity talks, mostly because Hamas refuses to recognize the legitimate existence of the State of Israel. Hamas representatives have accused Fatah of pushing a “pro-Israeli American agenda,” at previous negotiations, alluding to recognition of Israel in any fashion as too liberal.

Fatah Would Benefit Politically

Fatah would likely be the most to benefit from a unity government right now, because the failure to create one in the current political climate might tilt more Palestinians into the right-wing camp. But the options the two parties leave their constituents are few and far between. A unity government would probably be ineffective, much like the last one created in March 2007 that disintegrated in the Gazan mini-civil war that June.

But a steering committee might give Fatah even more clout politically than a coalition government. Hamas recognizes Fatah’s de facto control over the West Bank, allowing it to maintain funding, have more influence in the Gaza Strip (and thus control either aid disbursement or border crossings there), and stymie the growing popular support for Hamas. Elections would also probably be held off longer since the two parties would be too insecure on the sharing of power.

Obama Administration Continuing Open Door Policy

Even if the Obama Administration pushes through amendments to standing laws that regulate funding organizations associated with terrorism, it would fail to create an environment conducive for negotiations, since any new government would not recognize the legitimate existence of the State of Israel. At best, there would be detente between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even more optimistically, maybe political moderates and liberals would take over Hamas. But this would still be years away. Any deal would be years away under such an optimistic scenario.

A steering committee would create a permanent forum for the PA and Hamas to negotiate on divisive issues. It would be a semi-permanent negotiating table for them under the ideal scheme that sees the committee working.

Congressional Opposition to Obama Plan

The administration’s proposal is akin to agreeing to support a government that “only has a few Nazis in it,” Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a House hearing last week.

This is not simply a stubborn refusal to be more moderate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has not met any conditions set as a benchmark by the world for recognition – recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas’ charter still is replete with anti-Semitic and genocidal references to Israelis. As its defining characteristic, it might be impossible for the organization to ever meet the three conditions without practically disbanding the organization and creating a new one.

But in a related issue, the Obama Administration is already solidifying ties with Lebanon. The Lebanese government includes Hizbullah, which likens that situation to the potential situation in the Palestinian Authority. But arguing to apply such a young model for diplomatic support without seeing the results of the policy is incredibly dangerous. The administration is already playing with fire, considering they will have to completely reconsider support for the Lebanese government is Hizbullah makes any gains in the upcoming elections.

Hillary Clinton’s visit was meant to show American support for the current Lebanese government. But if that government falls in the upcoming elections, the Obama Administration will likely have to mirror the Bush policy on the Palestinian Authority post-election in 2006 – a Hamas victory meant an American boycott.

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