Dr. Nathan Brown, author of the recent study Palestine: The Schism Deepens, recently headlined a discussion of the inter-Palestinian divide and US foreign policy toward it at the Washington, DC-based Palestine Center.
Brown, who’s a professor of US foreign policy in the Middle East at George Washington University, started by discussing the divide between the West Bank and Gaza. He emphasized the need to accept the realities on the ground, arguing that it is important to recognize the political legitimacy of Hamas and the impossibility of elections in the near future. He then addressed US foreign policy towards the Fateh-Hamas split, arguing the Obama’s policies are no more than a continuation of Bush’s policy of ‘West Bank first’. Obama has continued to squeeze Gaza and strengthen the PA in the West Bank, hoping that Gaza’s people will follow the West Bank ‘example’ and move away from Hamas.
Brown looked at some possible future scenarios regarding the Fateh-Hamas split. He said that two different “happy endings” have been talked of; but he considers both unlikely. The first is that elections will fix the problem. The second is that diplomatic negotiations with the PA will reopen the peace process and make Hamas less relevant. But elections, according to Brown, are impossible until the split is resolved. As for re-energized peace negotiations, he considers them both unlikely to happen, and unlikely to be accepted by all parties. Instead, he argues that the current policy is likely to lead to a political stalemate, or another war in Gaza.
Brown concluded with a discussion of alternatives to the current policy. He suggested using incentives, like lifting the siege on Gaza and a Shalit deal, to encourage negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Then interim agreements, involving Hamas, could be used to create a more sustainable situation, moving slowly towards reconciliation, and eventually elections.
Brown’s rather grim forecast on the possibilities of reconciliation and any kind of peace deal left me, and most of the audience, frustrated and discouraged. Basically, he does not foresee any change in US policy in the near future. And without any change or any incentives, it is highly unlikely that any reconciliation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza will occur… And without such a reconciliation, there is little chance of successful peace negotiations and little chance that the lives of ordinary Palestinians will improve.