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Sat. April 20, 2019
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Israelis, Palestinians must promote peace culture
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With shame, hopelessness and helplessness, many Palestinians see their dream for an independent state being dismantled by their own so-called national leaders. This evolving reality is hard to comprehend, and it has caused the majority of Palestinians, according to a recent survey from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, to blame both Hamas and Fatah leaders for what has happened to them under the Israeli occupation. Hamas claims to have "liberated Gaza," and in response Fatah leaders declared they are "managers" of the West Bank. As a result, there is no discussion of two-state solution of Israel and Palestine. Instead, Hamas and Fatah seem to support a two-mini-cantons solution in which each leadership can continue to protect its narrow self-interest in cooperation with its patrons (Israel, the United States, Syria, Iran). Again, the Palestinian leadership has failed its people. The competition between Hamas and Fatah, with each taking control of a portion of the bread crumbs that the Israeli government left when it pulled out of Gaza and agreed to elections in the West Bank, entails disastrous results for anyone interested in securing a free and democratic Middle East. The Palestinians have been set back several decades, to the time when they were fighting over who should represent them. Now there are too many leaders, voiceless people, and an internal culture of violence that has been nurtured by the Israeli occupation system and the creation and growth over time of various Palestinian paramilitary militias. Both Israelis and Palestinians paved the way by tolerating the corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Authority, thus giving it public legitimacy to operate. The illusion among certain Israeli and American political forces is that the two mini-cantons eventually will end the Palestinians' demand for a viable and independent state and will bring security or stability to the region. However, as the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many other colonial and post-colonial struggles has taught us, a cantonization of the Palestinian national identity will not end people's yearning for their own single country and likely will bring on only higher levels of violence. In this case, Israeli security will be further threatened by the proximity of Hamas and its allies in the region. And we can expect Fatah's leaders to have trouble maintaining legitimacy, meaning their own fighters are likely to turn against them. The United States loses in that it will be blamed for failing to push hard for the two-state solution endorsed by President George W. Bush, for encouraging a weak Palestinian leadership to fight each other and for collectively punishing Palestinians with economic sanctions after they democratically elected Hamas last year. How can the Israelis and Palestinians get themselves out of this hole? The answer, not easily achieved, is that they must adopt and promote a nonviolent political culture in which neither Israelis nor Palestinians tolerate their own leaders' decisions to launch military campaigns on the assumption that armed victory can lead to peace. A new culture could take hold if moderate Palestinians and Israelis, of whom there are many, are willing to step up and publicly reject the status quo and campaign and vote for political leaders who will move in this direction. Second, the Palestinians must begin a dialogue among themselves to re-evaluate national priorities. What do they want as a people? Is the two-state solution still the most viable option? Should the Palestinian Authority be dismantled, as many Palestinians argue, because it has failed to fulfill its mission to build an independent state? Third, since Hamas and Fatah both claim political legitimacy and support of the Palestinian people, new elections should be called to allow the people to select their leaders. Neither coup government is fully legitimate; the people need to decide. It should be clear to Israelis, Americans and Palestinians that this conflict cannot be settled by military means. But the steps I am recommending can be effective only when the Israeli and U.S. governments stop their collective punishment of Gazans. Further isolation of Hamas and its leadership from any negotiated settlement will drive Palestinians everywhere to hopeless alternatives. A lasting settlement of this conflict has to engage all parties, including the elements of Hamas that are willing to negotiate. BY MOHAMMED ABU-NIMER Mohammed Abu-Nimer is an associate professor at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C., and director of the university's Peacebuilding and Development Institute.

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