Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Hamas Division

There is much discussion about the potential outcomes of the continued failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. With increasing fragmentation among the Palestinians, who, despite flowery language, hugs and warm embraces, remain bitterly divided between Hamas and Fatah, new divisions are emerging within Hamas, especially between Khaled Mashaal's Syrian faction and Ismail Haniyeh's Gaza faction. The former, now fleeing Syria for a new base in Qatar was in favor of a unity deal with Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority, likely saw such an agreement as a way to stay relevant in Palestinian politics as his Syrian benefactors in the Assad regime became preoccupied with far more pressing matters. Haniyeh, on the other hand, sees agreement with Abbas are traitorous and senseless, seeing Abbas simultaneously as a weak figurehead by also for who he is: a man who seeks complete control over Palestinian politics. Internal divisions among the Palestinian leadership have made any compromise largely impossible as it is not even clear who the Palestinian government is or who represents the Palestinians as a political entity.

The division within Hamas has significant ramifications. There is already significant resistance to certain aspects of the Palestinian unity government proposal brokered in Qatar, primarily focused on the amount of power that Mahmoud Abbas would have, the identity of the unity prime minister and, most significantly, the fact that the Hamas leadership in Gaza wants nothing to do with a unity government. While many news stories have overlooked it, the fact remains that Khaled Mashaal, Hamas' leader in exile, was the primary driving force of the unity deal, while Gaza-based Ismail Haniyeh. There are, of course, more significant issues. Mashaal had spent a decade cultivating ties with Syria, and its benefactor in Iran, but abruptly reversed course and threw his lot in with the Syrian resistance and fled to Qatar. Haniyeh, on the other hand, sees the 800 gorilla, Iran, and has spent significant time expanding Hamas-Iranian ties, including visiting Tehran recently, where he denounced the Qatari brokered unity deal. Mashaal, for his part, has moved to secure support from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, seeking some sort of geographic proximity edge (and Sunni counterbalance to Iran's Shia influence), at least in part to compensate for the fact that he does not spend any time in the West Bank or Gaza.

The complexity is more significant. Because Mashaal exercises no functional control over Gaza, his entrance into the unity agreement is largely meaningless for two reasons. First, the Hamas members in Gaza will never allow the PA to conduct political activities there, as there is still significant bad blood from the 2005 elections that led to Hamas' bloody takeover of Gaza. Second, Israel will not allow Hamas to establish a significant political or military presence in the West Bank, which would pose a far more grave strategic problem than Hamas' presence in Gaza. If nothing else, Mashaal needs some way to remain relevant and he gets pushed further and further from Israel. Indeed, the unity deal largely harkens back to Yasser Arafat's successful maneuver to become relevant after its 1982 expulsion to Tunis by piggybacking on the First Intifada and become the center of attention at the Oslo Accords. For Mashaal, the unity deal with Abbas, from a pragmatic standpoint, presents his last best hope to remain relevant in the Palestinian political scene while potentially outflanking Haniyeh by riding Abbas' coattails in the international arena, where the PA has a substantial advantage over Hamas.

Even in the Mashaal-Abbas unity group, there is still significant discord. The PA's proposed prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, is almost universally disliked because of his perceived moderate politics. But, he remains popular with many international organizations because of his historically moderate rhetoric and long history of government service. However, it is unlikely that the far more militant Hamas will accept Fayyad. The unity government faces the significant problem that the most internally popular candidates (more radical Hamas members) are the least likely to garner Western support. Moreover, Mahmoud Abbas himself, who has engendered many enemies despite his relative political weakness, consistently threatens to resign and is himself an old man. More interestingly, the bulk of the PA's leadership is still divided between old Arafat followers and persons who could be best described as secular nationalists who subscribe more closely to Fatah's nationalist ideology (modeled off Nasserism). Whenever Abbas leaves the scene, there will be an open question of whether the PA will even be able to put forth a leader who can stem the Hamas tide or if Fatah will be swallowed up wholesale.

While it is very easy to blame Israel for the failure of the peace process, an analysis of the Palestinian political scene makes it abundantly clear that no Palestinian politician or faction can even make peace on behalf of the vast majority of Palestinians or even Palestinian leadership. Hamas, the stronger political force, is extremely fragmented, while the Palestinian Authority, the West's peaceful darling, becomes less and less politically relevant and more politically desperate (willing to partner with Hamas, which massacred Fatah members in Gaza a short seven years ago) by the day. All of this, coupled with the fact that any of these factions or politicians would be significantly weakened and made extremely unpopular for making significant concessions or agreements with Israel, it is very difficult to imagine why any would take significant steps to seek peace instead of first consolidating power, however long that will take.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

From One State to Two States and Back Again...

It is said that Israel's intransigence and unwillingness to evict all Jews from the West Bank has torpedoed any chance of creating the two state solution. It is also said that Israel's fears of losing its Jewish majority has caused it to resist the creation of a binational, single state West of the Jordan river. Various people claim that one state or two states are the key to peace between the Jews and the Arabs is. The fact of the matter is much, much simpler: Arabs will not accept any level of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East in any territory that the Arabs claims belongs to them.

As I am prone to do, I look backward to figure out who came up with these so called "Peace Plans." Originally, there was a One State Solution: the British Mandate of Palestine, established at the conclusion of World War I. As part of Britain's promises to British Zionists, the Mandate was promised as a future Jewish National Home in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The idea would be to create a Jewish homeland while granting the local Muslims political rights. Of course, as we well know, things did not work out that way. Arabs, and more importantly, Arab leaders in Palestine were rabidly opposed to the increased presence of Jews living in Palestine. However, the core of the problem was not the mere presence of Jews, it was the presence of Jews under British rule with the intention that Jews would be granted self-determination and more significantly, political control of territory that the Arabs regarded as their own. Even after Transjordan was excised from the Jewish National Homeland, the era between 1917 and roughly 1937 can be properly characterized as the "one state solution." Jews and Arabs lived together under a single (though often ineffectual) British government. Large scale Arab revolts shock the region in 1923, 1929 and 1936. Jewish underground and defensive organizations developed, which struck against both Arab and British targets (most famously at the King David Hotel). What was abundantly clear after twenty years of binational rule was that peaceful co-existence was out of the question. Whether the reason for that was Jewish over-aggression in buying up land and establishing decidedly Jewish institutions and governance or Arab unwillingness to live under any Jewish sovereignty (which at that time did not exist) or to see a foreign power (Britain) oversee and condone the large scale immigration of Jews (a policy that Britain would dramatically reverse) into Palestine, the fact was quite simply that the Arabs and Jews could not live as a binational state due to fundamental inconsistencies in their ideas of governance, social organization and the role of the other group in society.

So, the British and later the UN, seeing the horrific violence that rocked the region, especially in 1936, came up with a new idea: partition. In 1937, the British Peel Commission recommended that the British Mandate west of the Jordan be partitioned in response to large scale Arab violence against the British and the Jews. The Arabs rejected this plan out of hand, with Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini stating that not an inch of land should be granted to the Jews and that all Jewish immigration into Palestine must cease at once. Husseini famously claimed that the British had betrayed the Arabs, which is a strange assertion considering that the British promise to the "Arabs" was actually a promise to the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca to grant him a unified Arab Kingdom, which would have denied autonomy to the "Palestinians" and placed them under the very Hashemite rule that have resisted to this day. In any case, the Arabs were against partition, while the Jews were mixed on it. By this time, they had already lost over 70% of the territory originally promised to them (i.e. Jordan) and were now going to lose 40% of the remaining territory to a presumptive second Arab state. The Peel Commission partition plan was not endorsed by the British government and was never implemented. David Ben-Gurion later lamented that had the Peel Commission been put into action, many Jews would have been saved in the Holocaust because a Jewish state would have existed before 1941.

Partition was deemed unworkable a short two years later, when the British Government issued the White Paper of 1939, which favored creating a binational state in Palestine (and also severely restricting Jewish immigration). After World War II however, the United Nations went back to the idea of Partition, which led to the outbreak of civil war before May of 1948 and the Israeli War of Independence after May 14, 1948. When that war ended in 1949, there was neither a binational state nor two states, there were simply Israel, Egypt and Transjordan.

The thirty years between the end of World War I and Israel's creation offer significant lessons. The two state solution came about, but was never implemented, because of the violence that a binational state brought almost as soon as World War I ended. To now believe that a binational state could solve problems between Jews and Arabs that became violent almost immediately in the 1920s and 1930s is simply ignorant of history. Now, given the long history of bad blood between the sides and the likely influx of "Palestinians" that Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon would send to this new binational state, civil war far bloodier than the 1948 War is the most likely outcome.

But what of the two state solution? The original idea was to have two states and use population exchanges similar to those agreed to by Greece and Turkey in 1923 to create significant majorities in each state.  The Arabs have historically rejected this idea. Even Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat (in his later years), agreed to the idea of two states but only if Arabs were allowed to return to the Jewish State while Jews were forbidden from living in the Palestinian state. The reason that the two state solution was never successfully implemented was because (1) the Arabs were fundamentally unwilling to accept any Jewish controlled state in the Middle East and relatedly, (2) Arab leaders could never feel comfortable with the idea that they were permanently ceding territory to the Jews. Indeed, the partition plans in 1937 and 1947 offered Arabs significantly more territory than they would receive under the "1967 borders." And yet, the fundamental issues are the same in 2012 as the were in 1918: there is simply no place for Jewish self-determination in the Arab lands, except to the extent that Jews create that self-determination by force. Until Palestinian nationalism ceases being synonymous with the absence of Jewish sovereignty and self determination, neither a one nor two state solution has any chance of creating peace.