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Will Palestinian unity government survive?

March 30, 2007 | Page 2

ERIC RUDER explains the ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions in Gaza.

DAYS AFTER the March 17 announcement of a unity Palestinian government, armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters broke out again in Gaza, taking the lives of three Palestinians and wounding a dozen more.

For months, Hamas and Fatah had negotiated the shape of a unity government, which large parts of the Palestinian population support. The renewed hostilities, however, show that underlying differences between the rival factions have yet to be resolved.

Since Hamas' victory in January 2006 elections, Israel has punished Palestinian voters for choosing representatives who vowed to fight for Palestinian rights instead of conceding them in negotiations with Israel.

Throughout the last year, Israel has deprived the Palestinian Authority (PA) of some $600 million in tax revenues and used its military control of the borders of the Occupied Territories to strangle the Palestinian economy. Israel also organized an international aid boycott of the PA on the grounds that the Hamas-led government is nothing more than a "terror regime."

Instead, Israel extended support to Fatah leader and former PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as a counterweight to Hamas. The so-called Quartet--the U.S., European Union, United Nations (UN) and Russia--backed up Israel's position, demanding that the PA renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by prior agreements between the PA and Israel.

The Quartet made no such demands of Israel, however--as Israel carried out brutal military operations in Gaza and expanded its colonial settlements in the West Bank.

In truth, Israel has no interest in peace, and its "support" for Abbas is a cynical attempt to hold off indefinitely the creation of anything resembling a state for Palestinians. When Abbas was president, Israel placed an impossible set of demands on him, too--insisting that he disarm all Palestinian militants as a precondition to any progress towards "peace," effectively bringing negotiations to a halt.

Effectively, Israel's "conditions" for resuming the desperately needed flow of money to Palestinians living in poverty would require Palestinians to surrender.

"The truth of the matter is that for Israel, the Quartet's demands are a convenient red herring concealing its own intransigence," writes Palestinian journalist Khaled Amayreh. "Israel doesn't want the Palestinians as 'equal partners' in peace, but rather vanquished supplicants begging Israel for everything--from a permit to travel to the next town to a permit to take an ill child to hospital in East Jerusalem."

Right now, armed supporters of Hamas and Fatah are still engaged in settling scores. But if this subsides, the unity government could prove an important development--allowing Hamas to improve its international standing through a pact with Fatah, and drawing Fatah away from its collaboration with Israel against Hamas.

Cracks are finally emerging in the international boycott of the PA--with Norway, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden making overtures to the new unity government.

But as long as Israel's occupation deprives Palestinians of their land and their livelihood, there can be no lasting peace. Organizing an opposition in this country to U.S. support for Israeli apartheid is one part of ending this occupation.

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