Israel’s Tahrir Square is going up on Second Avenue in Manhattan, in the glass building of the United Nations. No Israelis will be protesting the occupation there, nor will the Palestinian Authority be doing so. The success will be chalked up entirely to Gaza, or rather, to Hamas. Because the great international sympathy for the “Palestinian problem” − at least 130 countries’ supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to Mahmoud Abbas – did not come about because of the shopping malls of Ramallah. Rather, it was born following Operation Cast Lead and the long closure on Gaza, which became a window onto the occupation.
Apparently, that “nest of terror” is a focus of international interest no less than it is the spring that activates Israeli politics and the military. Gilad Shalit is being held in Gaza, Iron Dome was developed and became successful − if that is success − thanks to Gaza, and the expected flotilla in May that is “threatening” Israel’s security is heading for Gaza. The supreme test of the relations between Egypt and Israel also goes through Gaza, as we tensely watch to see whether the new regime in Egypt will open the Rafah crossing and end the closure that symbolized Egyptian and Israeli security collaboration. As there is a lack of any other diplomatic process, Gaza and the Hamas leadership hold the veto over any move the PA will want to make.
If the United Nations decides to recognize the Palestinian state, Gaza will be an inseparable part of it. That is what the Oslo Accords say, and what Abbas will insist on, and no international body will claim differently. Any country that wants to recognize a Palestinian state and establish embassies there cannot avoid opening consulates in Gaza, and any country that wants to establish the foundations of its economy, free trade and freedom of movement will not be able to agree to Gaza’s continuing to be sealed off.
But Gaza, as a region of the Palestinian state, is also Abbas’ problem. He understood this very well, when, less than a year ago, he opposed Salam Fayyad’s vision of seeking UN recognition. For four years, since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Abbas has been trying to overpower the Strip and get it to agree to reconciliation − on his terms.
During those four years, Abbas had four powerful partners – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. The regime has changed in Egypt, and the new leadership is showing a willingness to listen to the Egyptian public, which wants to lift the Egyptian closure on Gaza.
Saudia Arabia has removed itself from the conflict; Israel is fighting Hamas but is not helping Abbas score a diplomatic victory. And the United States has become a problematic partner.
Events in the Middle East have proved that the concept of “traditional policy” is gradually being erased from the American lexicon. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was abandoned; Bashar Assad, in contrast, is enjoying Washington’s blind eye; the possibility that Washington could support recognition of a Palestinian state is no longer a fanciful idea.
If the Palestinian state is recognized, Abbas will be responsible for what happens in Gaza, if he does not resign first. There will no longer be room for two governments. Palestine is not Pakistan, which was divided into two countries, nor is it Sudan, built of two main cultures.
Palestinian nationhood is unified, as is its culture.
The historic dilemma that Hamas and Fatah will face will be whether to give up the tremendous achievement of international recognition of their country or to reconcile despite themselves. We may gamble that it will be reconciliation, especially because the main obstacle to reconciliation so far, recognition of Israel − not to mention Israel as a Jewish state and of the Oslo Accords − will become irrelevant in light of international recognition of a Palestinian state.
Israel cannot stop this move, even if it freezes construction or turns over additional areas to the PA, because the Palestinians will also be able to negotiate all conditions of an agreement with Israel as an independent state; that is, from a stronger position.
But Israel must ensure that the new state will not be an enemy, even with Hamas as a full partner in its leadership. The first step toward this will be the re-adoption of the slogan “Gaza first.” Lifting the closure on Gaza and opening the borders at Israel’s initiative will only speed up what will soon be dictated in any case. However, these steps could somewhat ameliorate Israel’s standing vis-a-vis the Palestinian state and certainly vis-a-vis the world.
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