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The Palestinian street has spoken

Perhaps the most serious evidence that the reconciliation agreement signed last week in Cairo by Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian organisations, upsets the global status quo is the chorus of denunciation by Israeli leaders.

The Arab spring – from Tunisia to Egypt – has inspired and driven on young Palestinians themselves and the speed of events has surprised everyone. Since Fatah and Hamas signed the deal, which was endorsed by 11 smaller Palestinian groups and brokered by Egypt’s new government, Israeli leaders from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni have all expressed their hostility.

The outbursts from Israel politicians and intelligence agencies, who have worked might and main to divide and rule, are backed up by the withholding of $89 million worth of tax revenues which the Palestine Authority needs to pay 170,000 civil servants and their dependents. This is an illegal act to undermine unity and economically starve the Palestinians, which even the ever-so-tame United Nations general secretary Ban ki-Moon has criticised.

Israeli leaders are terrified that the reconciliation deal that follows years of bitter conflict between Fatah and Hamas – one controlling the West Bank and Hamas the Gaza Strip – will gather momentum for a sense of real Palestinian unity and strength.

Their anger is in sharp contrast to the jubilant feeling in Palestinian refugee camps in the occupied territories and in places like the Ain al-Hilweh camp, the largest in Lebanon, where Fatah and Hamas flags fluttered together and people celebrated over the weekend.

The cessation of hostilities between Fatah and Hamas goes some way towards realising – at least on paper – the demands raised by thousands of Palestinian youth in the March 15 Movement. Two months ago, Palestinian youth under occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – who make up over 65% of the population there – as well as those living as second class citizens in Israel, took to the streets with 20 of them going on hunger strike. Via Facebook and other means, they issued a call to the governments of the West Bank and Gaza, demanding:

This new generation seeks national unity independently of political factions. Students and school children on the protest, said they were inspired by movements in other parts of the Arab world to initiate a political movement that would go on until unity was reached.

But as night fell, armed groups in civilian clothes were backed up by the Hamas authorities who then sent in the police. The peaceful youth and many women, journalists and photographers were beaten with sticks and clubs, facts backed up by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Nevertheless, their discredited leaders have been forced to respond to their “street”. And the Palestinian street, is, as rights campaigner Noura Erakat has noted, a global one. Perhaps the most significant factor, however, is the ongoing Egyptian revolution. The overthrown Mubarak dictatorship worked with the Israeli regime to turn Gaza into the world’s biggest prison camp. Now Egypt is preparing to open the Rafah border crossing into Gaza, which the Israelis have said they won’t allow.

Many Palestinians interviewed on the streets of Gaza after the deal was signed, are keenly aware that the reconciliation has been made out of a position of weakness by both Hamas and Fatah. Neither the pursuance of a two-state “solution” by Fatah, nor the militant Islam demonization of all Jews by Hamas, has paid dividends. A secular, one-state approach is required. For that to succeed, new leaders will have to come forward.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
9 May 2011

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