Gaza and the Arabs / Putting the Palestinian House in Order

Two voices were heard over the weekend in Egypt. One was that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who called what happened in the Gaza Strip, "a rebellion against Palestinian legitimacy." The other was that of Al-Ahram, the government newspaper, which announced in its editorial that Egypt was continuing its efforts with all of the Palestinian factions to reach a unified position. King Abdullah of Jordan made similar statements after meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "Putting the Palestinian house in order," "Palestinian unity" and a "Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza" were central themes in his statements.

The two Arab leaders who will meet with Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today in Sharm el-Sheikh largely represent the current feeling in Arab countries: Taking power by force is not something the Middle East can agree to since this concept has not been part of the region's lexicon for almost 30 years (except for the U.S.-sponsored military coup in Iraq).

At the same time, the division into those for whom Israel is responsible in the West Bank and those whom it wishes to wash its hands of in Gaza, is unacceptable to the Arab leadership.

Thus a formula must be found to jump-start a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah.

Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries understand that Gaza cannot remain outside of consensual Palestinian control. This is the case not only because agreements between Israel and the PA define Gaza as an inseparable part of Palestine, but because no Arab country wants to relieve Israel of dealing with Gaza as long as the occupation continues, and no Arab country believes Abbas can rule Gaza under present conditions. Responsibility for the needs of 1.5 million people imprisoned in Gaza might end up on their doorstep either through the need to make donations or domestic public pressure to save Gaza.

Egypt and Jordan want to return the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian problem to the Palestinians and go back to acting as advisers, mediators or exerters of pressure. Thus, they need Hamas and Fatah to reconcile. They feel the most direct way to do this is to aggrandize Abbas by emphasizing the gestures Israel is making, which will highlight the gap between those governed by Hamas and those governed by Fatah. The assumption is that such gestures will create public pressure on the leadership in Gaza that will in the end agree to move toward reconciliation.