Proof of Legitimacy Required

co-authored with the fabulous Natalie Tagher

Two recent lectures considered the future of Palestine in the midst of the Arab Spring. Both discussed the recently brokered deal between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah which calls for the formation of a unity government.

Though Palestinians have been demanding greater cooperation between the two factions, divisions remain as Fatah is open to a two-state solution and has formally recognized Israel, while Hamas insists that violence against the Israeli state is the only way to advance the Palestinian cause. A professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Matti Steinberg argued that engaging with Hamas will weaken them; by participating in the political framework, they will be forced to make concessions that contradict their ideology. For example, negotiating with Israelis inadvertently recognizes their existence.

The unity agreement cannot be seen as an isolated event, but rather must be considered within the larger context of recent uprisings across the region. This possibility addresses the unspoken fear among Palestinian leadership that discontent among the Palestinian people may not just be directed at Israel, but also at the failed policies and lackluster results from their own leaders. In his speech at the Jerusalem Fund last week, Dr. Asad Ghanem of the University of Haifa suggested that the agreement between the Fatah and Hamas could be seen as a power grab instead of a genuine reconciliation, that is, an attempt to maintain control over a dissatisfied Palestinian population in both the West Bank and Gaza.

With the legitimacy of both groups in question, the choice to unite may improve their odds when they petition the United Nations for formal recognition this fall. Dr. Steinberg warned that a successful vote at the U.N. could have dire unintended consequences, expressing concern for violent clashes. Demonstrating a willingness to compromise will give the newly united Palestinian leadership the legitimacy they need to succeed at the U.N. this fall. Similarly, Israel and the international community now need to reciprocate to show their readiness for a peaceful resolution.

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