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Rami Khouri: "The vital need for unity" (IHT)]

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TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

Transmitted below is the latest wisdom from Rami Khouri, as published
in the International Herald Tribune.


The vital need for unity

By Rami G. Khouri

Published: November 20, 2007


Mahmoud Abbas's call on Nov. 15 for the Hamas "gang" to be ousted from
Gaza is understandable but misguided. The members of Hamas are no
angels, and the recent shooting by the group's police of seven
Palestinian demonstrators from Abbas' Fatah faction during a rally in
Gaza is the sort of act that blackens its name. Yet for the
Palestinian president to refer to Hamas as a "gang" and ask for its
ouster is only going to worsen the tensions between Palestinians at a
time when precisely the opposite is required.

The Fatah-Hamas discord is a distinctly Palestinian problem, but also
a reflection of a trend throughout the Arab world, where single states
or societies are increasingly being governed by multiple authorities.
These authorities are often proxies for the regional and global powers
that face off in the Middle East, especially the United States, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel.

Such dual authorities within a single sovereignty make up one of the
more bizarre Arab contributions to modern history, as seen in Lebanon,
Iraq, Sudan and Somalia - and with others likely to follow.

The dilemma in Palestine is the most severe because both Hamas and
Fatah were legitimately elected by the Palestinian people. It is
unlikely that one can defeat the other militarily in all the
Palestinian territories, and we certainly do not wish to see that sort
of clash happen. The brief fighting in Gaza earlier this year that
resulted in Hamas taking control of all of Gaza was a sad spectacle,
but probably an inevitable one. Hamas' claim that it had to defeat the
Fatah security forces because they were planning to attack Hamas, with
Israeli and American backing, will be verified or discredited in due

This is not an isolated matter, though. Throughout the region, groups
reflecting the two main ideological camps in the Middle East stare
each other down politically - as in central Beirut - - or clash in the
streets with guns, as in Palestine. Pushing this confrontation further
with calls to remove one side or the other is naïve and fuels the

Abbas' problem is that widespread concern about Hamas' takeover in
Gaza is offset heavily by disdain for Fatah's performance. If Hamas is
a "gang," as Abbas calls it, Fatah is not seen as much better, and
indeed it has a much longer track record of incompetence and

These intra-Palestinian tensions are being exploited by the United
States and Israel to try and destroy Hamas by supporting Abbas and
Fatah, and by pushing a bizarre new peace process that is supposed to
kick off with a meeting at Annapolis, Maryland, in the coming weeks.

This U.S.-driven peace process is unlikely to achieve either
credibility or success if one of its main purposes is to deepen the
Fatah-Hamas split, and then to link the intra-Palestinian clashes with
the resumption of peace talks. Trying to defeat Hamas in this way runs
the additional risk of turning Abbas and Fatah into discredited
collaborators with an addiction to power.

The solution in Palestine is to merge Fatah and Hamas, rather than to
turn them into gladiators who fight to the finish as foreign emperors
watch and cheer. The bottom line for dealing with groups like these
must be a combination of two things: Their local legitimacy in the
eyes of their own people, and their international legitimacy in terms
of their willingness to abide by prevailing global norms and relevant
UN resolutions and legal conventions. On both counts, Hamas and Fatah
have strong and weak points.

Together, though, they represent the collective identity, legitimacy
and strength of the Palestinian people, and that combination of assets
is something that all Palestinians should work to enhance and assert.
The American-Israeli approach, backed by increasingly spineless
Europeans and a few frightened Arab governments, is to foment discord
and a fight to the finish between Hamas and Fatah. This is a
catastrophe by any measure.

Hamas is not going anywhere, because it is the organic response of
many Palestinians to three cumulative burdens: The failure of the
Fatah-led elite, the continuing aggressive policies of Israel and the
United States and the discord, dysfunction and degradation of
Palestinian society. Trying to destroy Hamas by force after it was
democratically elected would only strengthen the very forces of
defiance, resistance and self-assertion that brought it to power in
the first place.

It is astounding that leaders of Fatah, Israel, Europe and the United
States refuse to see this simple reality and the corresponding
conclusion that Fatah and Hamas must renegotiate the formation of a
national unity government, rather than fight it out on the streets of
their shattered society.

Rami G. Khouri is a syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam
Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut and
editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star. Distributed by Agence
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