[Published 7 September 2012]
The political rift between Hamas and Fatah arising from their struggle to control the minds and the hearts of the Palestinian Arabs has continued unabated and unresolved for the last six years.
Gaza and the West Bank have become two separate and distinct political fiefdoms that have materially contributed to making the attainment of the “two-state” solution envisaged in the Oslo Accords and the Bush Road Map impossible to achieve.
The divide is so wide that the areas themselves have been dubbed “Hamastan” and “Fatahland” - signifying the utter hopelessness of reconciliation between two very polarized forces.
Political commentators Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff have succinctly summed up the position in their recent article - “Palestinian unity can wait - discord still growing between Hamas and Fatah”-
“Both entities – the West Bank (Fatahland) and the Gaza Strip (Hamastan) - continue their bizarre dance: endless negotiations on the need for unity with zero actions or results, and a reality that only proves how wide the internal Palestinian divide is.”
The results of a recent survey indicate that there is also deep division between the “1948 Arabs” - those who did not flee the 1948 War between the Jews and six invading Arab armies - and those Arabs who did - identified as the “1967 Arabs.”
The survey was undertaken by Professor Shifra Sagy, director of the Conflict Management and Resolution Program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev - with funding from the German research foundation DFG.
The study came at the initiative of some of Professor Sagy’s Palestinian students. It was co-directed with her postdoctoral student Dr. Adi Mana, and PhD students Anan Srour and Serene Madjali.
The survey was taken among 1104 Israeli Arabs and 948 West Bank Arabs - who were all personally interviewed.
Views were expressed by each group on the following matters - and commented on by Professor Sagy:
1. Loyalty to the land:
“We asked Arabs of ’48 about their narrative, which is that they were loyal to their land when they didn’t desert it and stayed. The ’67 people look at the same issue, and they say the ’48 Arabs stayed on their land because they gave up and succumbed to the occupation without any resistance,”
2. The relative well-being of the 1948 Arabs as compared to the 1967 Arabs
“The ‘48 Arabs say this is our right as citizens of Israel, but in the West Bank, the popular narrative is that this relative affluence is because Israel co-opted them into being loyal,”
3. On marrying each other
60 percent of Israeli Arabs surveyed said they would not want their daughter to marry a West Bank Arab, while 41% of West Bankers had the same attitude to their daughter marrying an Arab with Israeli citizenship.
Prof. Sagy concludes that:
“Both groups think of themselves as Palestinians, but narratives are different regarding very crucial issues. What it reveals here is that over the past 60 years, this has really become two distinctly different groups.”
One does not have to look very far to ascertain the reasons - which can be put down to the following:
1. the unification of the West Bank with Jordan and the granting of Jordanian nationality to the West Bank Arabs between 1950-1967 - with Jordanian citizenship continuing to be enjoyed until 1988,Researcher Anan Srour commented:
2. the West Bank Arabs being under Israeli occupation between 1967-1993 and
3. the grant of civil administrative autonomy to the Palestinian Authority bringing 95% of the West Bank Arab population under its control since 1993
“Perhaps there are some radicals who see this survey and will think it’s too controversial. We heard this occasionally in comments from the participants, in both directions. Some said that it’s really an issue, that we are two groups.”
Professor Sagy further noted:
“It is possible that the ’48 Arabs’ status as a small minority, at times threatened, both within Israeli society and the Arab world, has strengthened their group cohesion and their need to protect their unique collective narrative. Despite feeling that their common connection and identity with the ’67 Arabs is very important and significant, that connection could come at a heavy price, according to respondents, by bringing into doubt their connection to Israeli society. It is possible that it is for this reason that they distance themselves from the ’67 Arabs more than the ’67 Arabs do, and stress their unique potential as a “bridge” between the two nations,”
Gazan Arabs were not included in the survey because it was deemed too risky an undertaking. One suspects that their viewpoint would be very different to each of the two groups surveyed.
Indeed it would be very interesting if the same survey was conducted among Palestinian Arabs living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - where their experiences have been entirely different to those of the three Arab populations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The results of this research herald the need for both Hamas and the PLO to give up their declared political aim of wiping Israel off the face of the map - the only thread they have had to unite Palestinian Arabs since the formation of the PLO in 1964.
Are we indeed witnessing the genesis of a people movement not marching in step with the declared political aims of either Hamas or the PLO - as evidenced by the easing of entry restrictions enabling 120000 West Bank Arabs to visit Israel during the holy month of Ramadan?
Israel’s decision last month elicited the following comment from Daoud Kuttab:
“Naturally, Palestinians were delighted to be able to pray in Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque and visit relatives and friends in Jerusalem and inside the Green Line. Many had not been in Jerusalem for decades. Parents took their children (some teenagers) to see a Jerusalem they had never seen. Many flooded West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other locations.
Palestinians shopped (the Malha mall is said to have sold goods worth 2 million shekels in one weekend). They hit the beaches and stores, enjoying a rare occasion to get out of the closed area of the West Bank.”
Denied any vote for six years - the West Bank Arabs had voted with their feet - indicating to their political masters that the time had come to narrow the divide between the 1948 Arabs and the 1967 Arabs - not by trying to eliminate the State of Israel but co-existing peacefully with it.