By Stephen Gowans
Question: Why has Hamas, an Islamist party, so much sway among Palestinians?
Answer: Because on matters central to the Palestinian struggle it’s better than the alternative.
Here’s the alternative: Fatah leader, and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on the Palestinians’ right to return to the homes Zionist settlers drove them from and have blocked them from returning to—a fundamental right that is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle.
Israeli TV news correspondent, Udi Segal asks Abbas whether he wants to return to Safed, the town from which Abbas’s family was driven but is prohibited from returning to because it is now part of Israel.
Abbas: “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
Segal: “Is it Palestine for you?”
Abbas: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever. This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Palestine, and the other part is Israel.” (1)
Hamas’s supporters took to the streets in Gaza, carrying banners reading “Abbas does not represent me” and “Pioneer of concessions, it’s time to quit.” (2) Or to put it another way, Palestinians who are enraged by Abbas’s willingness to capitulate on fundamental points are supporting Hamas.
In 2005, Abbas said “it is illogical to ask Israel to take five million (the number of refugees descendent from the 750,000 who were driven from their homes by Zionist settlers), or indeed one million.” (3)
Conceding more ground to Hamas, last year, Abbas said “that the Arab world had erred in rejecting the United Nations’ 1947 plan to partition” British mandate Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. (4)
It was, however, the UN that erred in approving the partition plan, not the Arabs in rejecting it.
• At the time, Arabs—who favored a unitary state—made up two-thirds of the population, and Jews, who owned only 6 percent of the land, made up one-third, yet the plan allocated 56 percent of the territory to a Jewish state.
• The plan was imposed over the objections of Arab Palestinians—the majority.
• Arab voices were ignored. Not a single Arab was consulted on the plan.
On moral, democratic, and legal grounds, the plan was an abomination. Failing to reject it would have been intolerable, stupid, and criminal.
Still, had the Palestinians meekly accepted the injustice the UN had in store for them, would they be living today in a state comprising the 42 percent of British mandate Palestine the UN was willing to give them, rather than scattered across the globe or living in two non-contiguous territories (Gaza and the West Bank) making up less than 20 percent of their original territory?
If we assume that Zionist leaders would have settled for the 56 percent of mandate Palestine the UN partition plan assigned them, the answer is yes, but the assumption is untenable.
Historian Ilan Pappe points out that for Zionist leaders in 1947, a valid Jewish state comprised most of Palestine, and allowed only a small Arab population. Zionist ideology demanded that Jewish settlers seek as much territory as they could capture militarily, and drive as much of the Arab population off the territory as they could. (5)
It’s doubtful that Arab acceptance of the UN plan would have given Palestinian Arabs more than they have today.
Revolutionaries, it is said, would rather die on their feet than live on their knees. Not Abbas. He’d rather cede title to the family home in return for being allowed to live on his knees in a cramped corner of its attic.
1. Joel Greenberg, “Israel’s Netenyahu cool to Abbas’s hint at waiving Palestinian ‘right of return’”, The Washington Post, November 4, 2012.
2. Jodi Rudoren, “Palestinian’s remark, seen as concession, stirs uproar”, The New York Times, November 4, 2012.
4. “Arab rejection of ’47 partition plan was error, Palestinian leader says”, The Associated Press, October 28, 2011.
5. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, One World, 2006.