Following yet another round of failed peace talks, Palestinian leaders have seized the initiative to create their own future.
Knowing that Israel has consistently demonstrated no interest in reaching a peace accord, Palestinian leaders defied pressure from Israel by signing their own reconciliation agreement.
The agreement is between the mainstream PLO faction, Fatah, and the Islamic Liberation group, Hamas.
Not only Palestinian leaders, but the Palestinian people appear ready for their own Palestinian unity, not one designed by Israel.
The unity government agreement was reached in Gaza City, April 23, after talks between Hamas leaders and a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party.
Immediately, Israel threatened to adopt “draconian measures” against the Palestinian Authority (PA) in case the latter dared implement the agreement with Hamas on the ground.
The punitive measures include (the usual) halting the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinians as well as a series of other restrictions and harassments.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying on Friday (May 16) that the PA would have to choose between Hamas and the peace process.
Veteran Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh describes the situation in the Voice of Palestine:
Israeli leaders repeatedly argued that the Jewish state could not make peace with the Palestinians as long as the Palestinian house remained divided against itself.
But when Fatah and Hamas reached the reconciliation agreement, Israel was visibly furious as Israeli officials reiterated long-standing but spurious arguments about resistance and terror as well as Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel.
So there we have it, Israel’s right-wing government takes yet another step into the depths of absurdity by informing divided Palestinian leaders that they cannot make peace with Israel unless they are unified.
Unified how? Unified only in the way Israel says they can be unified.
This is nothing less than Israel’s version of a Catch 22.
Travel back to 1970 and recall the Joseph Heller novel that inspired the Mike Nichols-directed film, Catch 22.
The title is explained, and it fits Israel’s current stance, in this exchange, from the film, which is set during World War II.
The dialogue is between “Doc” Daneeka (Jack Gillford), the base doctor, and Yossarian (Alan Arkin, above right), who insists he does not want to fly any more combat missions:
Dr. ‘Doc’ Daneeka: Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat isn’t really crazy, so I can’t ground him.
Yossarian: Ok, let me see if I’ve got this straight. In order to be grounded, I’ve got to be crazy. And I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I’m not crazy anymore, and I have to keep flying.
Dr. ‘Doc’ Daneeka: You got it, that’s Catch-22.
Yossarian: Whoo… That’s some catch, that Catch-22,
Dr. ‘Doc’ Daneeka: It’s the best there is.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come up with his own “best there is”, a Catch 22 which says that in order for Palestinians to talk peace they must be unified, and the unification must be Israeli-certified.
Yossarian could not be grounded unless he was crazy. And yet, if he wants to avoid combat he cannot be certified crazy.
This is the logic Israel uses, and despite its deliberate obscurantism, it continues to work in its favor. Or so the present Israeli government thinks. There are signs that Israel’s ability to dictate its own terms is slowly ebbing away.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who knows his way around the Middle East mediation front, wrote in the Washington Post:
With the suspension of U.S.-sponsored peace talks on April 29, dangerous unilateral steps are likely to continue. During the previous nine months of negotiation, 14,000 new Israeli settlement units were approved, more than 3,000 Palestinians were arrested and 50 were killed, provoking troubling examples of Palestinian retaliation, including the deaths of three Israelis.
Carter sees “Palestinians’ plans for the coming months to form a new unity government and expand involvement in the United Nations” as steps that could become “a positive development”.
He recognizes that “in the past, similar efforts have been abandoned because of strong opposition from Israel and the United States”.
But, he also sees a strong “resolve to succeed” by leaders in the West Bank and Gaza”.
“This reconciliation of Palestinian factions and formation of a national unity government is necessary because it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.”
Israel’s own special Catch 22 is a subterfuge that cannot sustain Israel forever. Next up, Israel must confront a new Vatican leader when Pope Francis arrives for a whirlwind 24 hour visit to Israel and parts of Palestine (not Gaza).
The new pontiff will return for his second visit to the region (he was last there in 1973) well aware that, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) Fact Sheet:
There are roughly 200,000 Christian Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, descendants of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
The majority of Christian Palestinians are Greek Orthodox, with smaller numbers of Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Maronites, Syrian Orthodox, and several other Protestant denominations.
There are no official figures on the number of Christian Palestinians in the occupied territories, but according to the Lutheran ecumenical institution the Diyar Consortium in 2008 there were 51,710 Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. They are concentrated mainly in Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, and Ramallah.
Israel’s official claims that all is well with the indigenous Christians in the Holy Land, will not fool this Pope. He knows poverty and oppression when he sees it. And he will talk with Christians on the ground.
The Pope will arrive in Tel Aviv four days after the start, on May 21, of yet another effort to find justice in the Israeli courts by the family of American (state of Washington) peace activist Rachel Corrie.
Israeli lower courts have absolved the IDF soldier who drove the bull dozer which killed Rachel Corrie in Gaza. She was there to protest the destruction of a Palestinian home.
The Israeli courts have shown no willingness to seriously consider an earlier decision which ruled that the IDF soldier was not responsible for her death.
The Pope will also arrive in Tel Aviv a few weeks after a prominent Israeli academic returned to Israel to receive an award.
His name is Saul Friendlande. He is a Jewish historian of the Holocaust, During a recent short stay in Israel, where he was being honored, Friendlande was clearly in distress over what he knows is happening there.
In an interview with Ha’aretz he spoke of his views of Israel today:
“For personal and family reasons I’m happy to see the captivating human fabric of Israel,” he says. “But it’s important to put aside this pleasant Tel-Aviv life and to go to Jerusalem where things are a bit more complicated. When you forget the pleasant daily life, think for a bit and read the paper, you get into an angry frame of my mind.
Professor Friedlander could be excused for sitting back and enjoying his vacation. The foremost Israeli and Jewish veteran historian of the Holocaust, he has been writing and teaching history for over 50 years in Switzerland and Israel, and since 1988, at the University of California. . . .
“I am connected to this country. My eldest son and grandchildren live here but I can’t call myself a Zionist. Not because I feel estranged from Israel but because Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right.”
“Kidnapped by the far right” are the words of a man who refuses to call himself a Zionist.
The Israel he had hoped would develop, has become a nation that has lost its moral compass, a loss which involves the arrest of Palestinian children from their beds at night and subjecting them to total isolation in Israeli prisons.