Abu Mazen Should Go to Gaza

Article Summary
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must visit the Gaza Strip and meet with the Hamas government to capitalize on recent gains and speed the process of Palestinian reconciliation, writes Khaled Al-Houroub.

The major diplomatic and political victory that Palestinians achieved this week at the United Nations — when Palestine was accepted as a non-member observer state in the General Assembly — represents a historic opportunity. It creates additional impetus for a new and unified Palestinian strategy that ought to begin with a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

This political achievement has boosted the position of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Fatah movement. Also, the diplomatic victory at the UN came following Hamas’ political triumph when it managed to curb Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud.

Theoretically, we are facing a regional and international situation that is dramatically different from what we have experienced two years ago. The two main Palestinian rival factions have become more confident at the political level.

At the regional level, there has been a drastic change. Cairo has been quasi-neutral or marginalized. It even served as the launching pad for Operation Cast Lead, which was announced by Tzipi Livni against Gaza in 2008. Today, Cairo is no longer the same, even in spite of all the domestic confusion it has seen. During Operation Pillar of Cloud, Cairo served as the headquarters of Khaled Meshaal and Hamas’ leadership. Cairo represented a forum for the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Egypt itself, which was behind stopping the aggression.

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Israel, which was in the habit of deciding the beginning and the end of its wars, has realized that things have changed. It stopped the war without achieving its goals.

At the international and diplomatic levels, and in view of Israel’s growing arrogance over the past years (and the across-the-board settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem), Palestinians have won the world's sympathy. Indeed, this was reflected in the voting process at the UN, where Palestine won an overwhelming number of votes. Meanwhile, Israel’s isolation has become more apparent.

It must be also noted that the UN vote exposed the isolated and vulnerable position of Israel and America. The results dealt a severe blow to both nations, which stood alone against the world at the international organization. It is well known that the nine countries that abstained from voting are only echoing the foolish and farcical American position.

Even Germany — a country that is known for its biased position toward Israel due to the Holocaust crippling it politically — could not stand up against the power and logic of history and did not oppose the decision.

The Palestinian achievement has proven that an old strategy — that the best defense is a good offense — is still viable.

The longer the Palestinians remain silent as they receive continuous blows from Israel, the greater their losses will be. However, should they persevere with their quests and initiatives, they will achieve more goals and weaken their enemy.

The evidence on the ground and the imposition of harsh realities by Israel are countless, and this is being proven every day.

The Palestinian position and that of the Palestinian president, who remained steadfast in the face of mounting pressure (especially from the US) not to go to the United Nations, is the cornerstone here, and has yielded much success.

Based on this lesson — that is, the need to continue the attack and formulate a proactive strategy based on a continuous generation of momentum — the Palestinian president must head to Gaza sooner rather than later, and his achievement at the UN is not sufficient.

The purpose of the visit is to first achieve reconciliation, and then to use it to move forward. Relying on what has been accomplished and not building upon it would expose the gains to erosion and return things to how they were.

Israel's strategy in responding to the Palestinian achievement will be largely based on proving that nothing has changed on the ground. Israel will seek to return the Palestinians to a defensive and reactionary position, and exhaust them with endless unilateral Israeli policies and moves. These moves aim to deplete the efforts of Palestinians and deprive them of time to adopt any proactive offensive strategy.

Internally, concerning the Palestinian division, Abbas has missed more than one chance to visit Gaza and put an end to the continuation and reinforcement of the division. After Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, and the bloody and national bitterness that ravaged the Palestinian people, the writer of this article appealed to the president to visit Gaza immediately and divide his time between the presidential headquarters in Ramallah (al-Muqata’ah Compound) and the presidential headquarters in Gaza (al-Muntada) to be on top of things, and so the conflict between Fatah and Hamas would be contained to the political powers under the presidency and the Palestinian political system, not above it.

Back then, it may have been possible to limit, contain and address the division, and most importantly, not allow it to develop geographically, demographically and nationally. However, in the past few years, Abbas has had to find — or create — the appropriate circumstances to visit Gaza to promote the idea of ​​a unified Palestinian nationalism (rather than Palestinian unity, which is still absent).

Most recently, Abbas has missed two major chances to visit Gaza. He missed the chance to carry the file of national unity and reconciliation and provide a new image of Palestinian nationalism to others and the world on a collective basis. The first time was during the visit of the emir of Qatar to Gaza last October; Abbas should have received him there. The second was during Operation Pillar of Cloud; Abbas should have visited the Strip and greeted the Egyptian prime minister or any other official delegations alongside Ismail Haniyeh.

The situation is now ripe for another visit, which would mark the beginning of communications between the PA and the highest levels within the Gaza Strip, including Hamas’ leadership there. Once again, the great international momentum, cohesion and overwhelming Palestinian support for the step have pointed Abbas toward Gaza. This time, Hamas' position regarding the move at the UN was also mature and responsible, not divergent. The statements of Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas' political bureau, were and still are of great significance. According to Meshaal, the UN step is a strategic gain for all of the Palestinians and it paves the way for reconciliation.

Abbas’ visit to Gaza will save the Palestinian presidency from a set of imminent political embarrassments, which will accompany every upcoming official visit made to the Gaza Strip by a public figure, whether Arab or not.

Following the visit of the emir of Qatar to the Strip (a courageous step by all standards) and then the visit of the Egyptian prime minister, the Tunisian minister of foreign affairs and Arab League delegations, among others, many diplomatic restrictions have been lifted, leading many others to stop vacillating over whether to visit Gaza.

A common result of the failure of Operation Pillar of Defense and the UN's victory will be the further lifting of siege restrictions placed on Gaza, thus attracting new visitors of higher levels.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, has a visit on his agenda and is waiting for the right time. Others, in turn, will feel that the time is ripe for such a move.

Imagine Erdogan visiting Gaza and garnering diplomatic, media and popular momentum, while Abbas sits in his office in Ramallah. These visits to the Strip, which are certainly needed to break and put an end to the siege, may consolidate the separatist political legitimacy of the Gaza Strip led by Hamas.

Naturally, it would be unreasonable not to welcome those willing to visit the Strip, break the siege and support the Palestinians. However, it is possible to maximize the gains of these visits and channel them toward reconciliation rather than division. The ball is in the president's court.

This article was translated by Sahar Ghoussoub, Naria Tanoukhi and Sami-Joe Abboud.

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Found in: operation pillar of defense, operation pillar of cloud, gaza, fatah-hamas reconciliation
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