Although it is artificial, the end of a year is usually a good time to take stock and to think ahead. Some Palestinians evaluating where they are and assessing their future are cautiously optimistic. Others are downright pessimistic. Like any good debater, one can argue both sides. The reality on the ground, the absence of international will and the potential of a return to an even more right-wing government certainly support pessimistic outlooks.
However, these very same facts as well as some others can give opportunity for a different point of view. The chances that 2013 might witness a political breakthrough in the stalemated Palestinian-Israeli conflict is slim but the Holy Land is where miracles take place, so why not go for an optimistic outlook for a change?
Internally, while the Fatah-Hamas split continues to be reflected in two separate governments in Ramallah and Gaza, important positive signs are being felt politically, rhetorically and on the ground. The leadership of Hamas has supported President Abbas’s bid to the UN to raise the stature of Palestine based on the 1967 borders to that of an observer state. This support, which also included Khaled Meshaal’s public statement in Gaza that his movement will be joining a reformed PLO, has continued despite clear public differences of opinion between Meshaal and Abbas regarding tough words against Israel and calls for a Palestinian state from the river to the sea. Abbas has publicly attacked Meshaal, stating he and Meshaal are committed to the two-state solution.
In addition to the political rapprochement, Palestinian reconciliation efforts are being seen on the ground as gaining ground. Both parties have begun releasing political prisoners from the other side. Fatah leaders attended the 25th anniversary of Hamas in Gaza, and Hamas was for the first time in five years allowed to carry out a public event in the West Bank. The celebration of the Hamas anniversary in Nablus went on without a hitch or obstacle. Fatah has been promised that they will be allowed for the first time since Hamas took power in Gaza to celebrate their 48th anniversary in the Gaza Strip. And while the location of the Fatah event in Gaza almost divided the two sides, agreement was finally reached to allow it in the location chosen by Fatah activists, namely the Katibeh Square in the center of Gaza.
While the internal political scene is improving (although slowly), there is good reason to be hopeful that the regional and international scene is also improving the prospect of Palestinian reconciliation. The Sunn-Shiaa tug of war that reflected largely on different patrons of the Palestinian political players is no longer a source of conflict. Syria’s Assad is out of the picture and Shiite Iran has been replaced by Sunni Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. Both Hamas and the PLO are now in agreement as to these Sunni regional powers for support.
The Arab Spring has meant that leaders will no longer be able to simply pay lip service to the Palestinian cause. As was demonstrated in the most recent violence in Gaza, Mubarak-less Egypt played a much more direct role in supporting Palestinians. As one Palestinian from Gaza reflected, for the first time Egypt is a partner and not just a mediator.
With Palestinians putting their house in order and with the Arab/Muslim axis war over, the Palestinian demands for implanting their state on the ’67 borders is sure to take a much more serious path in the new year. Europe has shown that it can act independently of the US, as was demonstrated when the Netanyahu government moved to punish Palestinians by announcing the intentions of revising the E1 settlement plans in the West Bank areas that would have provided the natural growth and connectivity between the Ramallah and the Bethlehem areas.
Washington of course remains key to moving the peace process. After a two-year hiatus in which the Obama administration has been spinning their wheels, there is hope that Washington in Obama’s second term will retake its leadership position. Palestinians recall the energy that Obama gave in his first term and are hoping that once his national security and foreign affairs teams are in order that the US will have a robust effort in moving the process forward.
Naturally the elephant in the China shop remains Israel which will have its general elections on Jan. 24. If re-elected for a third term as prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu — like Abbas, Meshaal and Obama — will start looking for his legacy rather than just posturing for better results in a future elections.
The stars maybe lining up for Palestine in 2013 but as has happened so many times in the past, anything can happen to derail the process, which means that all parties must be vigilant and steadfast in keeping their eyes on the big prize.