Analysis: Real 2-state problem is the Hamas-Fatah feud

Mitchell is pressing Israel, but prime obstacle is W. Bank-Gaza divide.

Abbas hung over 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas hung over 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Obama administration, through its special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, has launched what seems to be an aggressive campaign aimed at pressuring the new Israeli government into accepting the two-state solution. But even if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman do finally succumb to the American pressure, they, along with Mitchell, will find that the Palestinians themselves are still far from achieving their goal of building a viable and independent state. In fact, the Palestinians already have two separate political entities, or mini-states - one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip. These rival entities, controlled by Fatah and Hamas respectively, are acting and dealing with each other like two different countries. Fatah representatives who participated in the last round of "reconciliation" talks with Hamas in Cairo said upon their return to the West Bank that they felt as if they were conducting negotiations with representatives of another country and not with Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Repeated attempts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the past few months to persuade the two parties to end their differences and form a Palestinian unity government have failed, prompting Cairo and Riyadh to come up with the idea of establishing a confederation between the two "mini-states." However, both Hamas and Fatah have categorically rejected the confederation idea out of fear that it would perpetuate and consolidate the split between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian Authority officials said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would ask Mitchell during their upcoming meeting in Ramallah to put pressure on the Netanyahu government to accept the two-state solution as the basis for a "just, comprehensive and everlasting peace" in the Middle East. Abbas, the officials said, would also make it clear during his meeting with the US envoy that there was no point in resuming the peace talks with Israel as long as the Israeli government remained opposed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, continued settlement activity in the West Bank and demolished illegally built houses in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Abbas, they added, would also brief Mitchell on the failed attempts to persuade Hamas to form a unity government with Fatah. Spokesmen from both Palestinian parties have said over the past few days that only a miracle could lead to an agreement between the two sides. The gap between them remained as wide as ever, they noted, adding that the Egyptians were now considering canceling plans to host another round of reconciliation talks scheduled to take place in Cairo at the end of April. For now, it appears that the Palestinians (and the rest of the world) will have to live with the fact that the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not a temporary or passing phenomenon. If the Obama administration is serious about promoting the two-state solution, it must focus its efforts first and foremost on helping the Palestinians solve the dispute between the Fatah-run state in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled entity in the Gaza Strip. The divisions among the Palestinians, as well as failure to establish proper and credible institutions, are the main obstacle to the realization of the two-state solution. Less than half of the West Bank is controlled by the corruption-riddled Fatah faction, which seems to have lost much of its credibility among the Palestinians, largely because of its failure to reform itself in the aftermath of its defeat to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election. The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, is entirely controlled by the radical Islamic movement that has, through its extremist ideology, wreaked havoc on the majority of the Palestinians living there. The Obama administration is mistaken if it thinks the power struggle between these two groups is a fight between good guys and bad guys. This is a confrontation between bad guys and bad guys, since they are not fighting over promoting democracy or boosting the economy, but over money and power. Netanyahu and Lieberman need not worry about accepting the two-state solution, because Fatah and Hamas don't seem to be marching toward achieving the national aspirations of their people.