The end of the war in Lebanon will have a very strong effect on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This effect goes over and beyond the general and always correct observation that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land are at the core of the hostile relations and problems between Israel and the Arab world.
Many analysts, including some Palestinians, have tried to highlight possible linkages between the Israeli-Lebanese escalation and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the similarity between the Islamic Hamas and Hezbollah movements.
But in spite of the superficial similarities, there is actually little substantial in common in the two cases. Although they are both part of the Israel-Arab conflict, in the Palestinian case the escalation is simply a continuity of a conflict that has been going on for a long time and is characterized by being a legitimate struggle of an occupied people to get rid of an illegal occupation. In Lebanon, the conflict is between two independent and sovereign countries, a significant difference already, and it includes strong regional factors and agendas that are not all genuinely Lebanese.
On the immediate political level, there are several sometimes contradictory consequences. The war in Lebanon detracted attention from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. The war showed that the Hamas-led armed Palestinian resistance is much less impressive than that of Hezbollah. But at the same time, the lack of a decisive Israeli victory in Lebanon and an end to the war that left the fighting ability of Hezbollah intact increased the Arab, especially the Palestinian, public’s support for armed resistance as the best approach to deal with Israel, and for political Islam as the most promising ideology.
In other words, the way the war in Lebanon ended strengthened the support for political Islamic movements and armed resistance among Palestinians, at the expense of the public standing of the groups that call for nonviolent political and peaceful approaches for dealing with Israel and the occupation. It would seem to contribute further to the trend of radicalization that has been evident in Palestine in the last five to six years.
On a more micro-analytical level, it is also evident that the war in Lebanon shifted the trend in the balance of power within Hamas. Until the capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and the war in Lebanon, the more moderate and realistic wing of Hamas in the ministries and parliament seemed to be in the ascendancy. The way the war in Lebanon ended, coupled with the Israeli arrests of relatively moderate members of the government, has played into the hands of the more radical wing of Hamas that is based either outside Palestine or functions outside the Palestinian Authority.
Two major developments can possibly reverse this trend. One would be constructive negotiations to find a deal that would ensure the release of the Israeli soldier in exchange for a number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel in addition to settling some of the immediate outstanding issues. These importantly would include the transfer of tax monies collected according to the Oslo agreement by Israel on behalf of the PA, but which Israel has refused to hand over, thus preventing the PA from functioning and deepening the dependence of this government on money brought in from different sources, but mainly from Iran.
The other necessary development is to activate a political process and bring back international efforts to resume negotiations to end the occupation. Such a development would create a situation conducive for a national unity government that in turn would empower the peace camp led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Ghassan Khatib is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, representing the Palestinian People’s Party. This article is reprinted from www.bitterlemons.org, a
Palestinian-Israeli web site of which Khatib is co-editor.