Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, was in Israel on January 30 and 31, incorporating a quick trip on the 31st to Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in Ramallah.
Blinken arrived following a sudden flare-up in violence – an incident a day for three days running. On Thursday, January 26, the IDF mounted an operation in Jenin aimed at thwarting planned terror attacks. In a fierce three-hour exchange of fire nine Palestinians were killed. The next day, Friday, a Palestinian gunman mowed down seven people leaving a Jerusalem synagogue after Shabbat prayers. He drove off and, stopped by the police, he shot at them and was killed. The following morning, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two Israelis outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
In a joint press conference with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken, referring to the recent violence, reiterated the long-time staple of US Middle East policy – the importance of making the vision of a two-state solution a reality.
The US government, he said, has the “enduring goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity. We continue to believe the best way to achieve it is by preserving and then realizing the vision of two states. As I said to the prime minister, anything that moves us away from that vision is in our judgment detrimental to Israel’s long-term security.”
Throughout Blinken’s visit and his meetings with Netanyahu and PA president Mahmoud Abbas, the media reported every word he said in public. The one word that did not seem to pass his lips was “Hamas”. Yet the awkward truth is that, while Hamas rules over some 40 percent of the region’s Palestinian population, the two-state solution is a dead duck – a truth to which successive US administrations, and world opinion generally, have never faced up.
Ever since 2007, when Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian people have been split in two. About 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, about 3 million in Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians under Hamas’s control, or those supporting the Hamas agenda – of which there are many – will never subscribe to a two-state solution. Hamas regards Israel as an interloper on Palestinian land, and the very purpose of the organization is to overthrow Israel and gain control of the whole territory “from the river to the sea”. It totally discounts the age-old connection of the Jewish people to the Holy Land, or international agreement, first in 1922 and again in 1947, that the Jewish people have the right to re-establish their homeland there.
Hamas, founded in 1987, initially took its lead from the pronouncement back in 1970 by Yassir Arafat, then chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): “The Palestinian revolution’s basic concern is the uprooting of the Zionist entity from our land and liberating it.”
Hamas regarded the Oslo Accord of 1993 as a total betrayal, and broke with Arafat completely. On 5 September 1993, shortly after the terms were announced, Hamas issued its Leaflet 102 condemning both the agreement and the PLO leadership: “We will therefore insist on ruining this agreement, and continue the resistance struggle and our jihad against the occupation power… Arafat’s leadership is responsible for destroying Palestinian society and sowing the seeds of discord and division among Palestinians.”
Much, perhaps the major part, of Palestinian opinion shares the view that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land. The Hamas and PLO charters and the Fatah constitution are at one on the ultimate objective of removing Israel and gaining control of the whole of what was Mandatory Palestine, and indeed on the need to take up arms in support of it. It is on the tactics to achieve their common aim that the two main Palestinian parties diverge.
Hamas believes that the only effective way to achieve the desired outcome is through continual conflict and terror. Any pause in the battle must be temporary and provide a tactical advantage. The Fatah-dominated PA, however, continues to follow the tactical path set by Yasser Arafat. At the Oslo peace discussions in 1993 and 1995 Arafat – on the record as rock solid in his determination to overthrow Israel eventually – decided to woo world opinion by overtly supporting the two-state solution. Paying lip-service to a two-state solution would be an exercise in public relations, a stepping-stone to the real objective.
Hamas will have none of it, and the disagreement is so basic that it has ensured that Hamas and Fatah have remained at each other’s throats for decades. All attempts at reconciliation have proved fruitless.
Following Arafat’s death the PA, and its new leader Mahmoud Abbas, made a determined effort to convince world opinion that it supported the idea of establishing a sovereign Palestine within the boundaries that existed before the 6-Day War in 1967 – that is, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. But pressing for a Palestinian state within those boundaries inevitably meant acknowledging that a sovereign Israel would exist outside them. This is the pill that Hamas and like-minded rejectionists find impossible to swallow, even though the failure of the PA to sign up to any of the increasingly generous deals subsequently tabled demonstrated what a sham the ploy was.
None of this is secret, so how is it that the US administration, together with a vast swath of world opinion, knowing that at least half of the Palestinian people would never subscribe to a two-state solution, continue to advocate it? Indeed the Palestinian leadership is perfectly well aware that anyone signing such a deal, endorsing Israel’s right to exist on “their” land, would be denounced as a traitor to the Palestinian cause and would certainly be putting his life in jeopardy.
It is also odd that so little thought has been given to what sort of two-state solution could ever be signed in current circumstances. Since Hamas would never participate or be a signatory, Gaza would be excluded from the arrangement. What sort of sovereign Palestine would it be, shorn of nearly half the Palestinian population? In short, world opinion has never faced up to the uncomfortable truth that in order to achieve a genuine two-state solution, the Hamas organization must first be disempowered. That is clearly not a task that Washington is minded to undertake.