Headline news on the wire services this week: Israel is moving ahead on the path towards peace with the Palestinians.
That same day, another headline: Israel is invading Gaza with armor and airplane cover.
One country, two entirely different headlines defining the Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians. It's not that Israel is suffering from a split personality. It is that the Palestinians are coming to terms with the reality of a split population and a split nation.
The concept of a split population in a split nation was difficult for the Palestinians to accept. It has taken a very long time and cost too many lost lives but Palestinian leadership is now ready to accept the facts on the ground and able to move ahead with plans for a dis-unified but workable Palestine. It is a concept that is difficult for the West to comprehend, difficult to come to terms with, difficult to embrace. It is a concept that Israeli political and military leadership can work with and live with, perhaps, the only way for Israel and any Palestinians to live side by side in peace and harmony.
A split Palestine is a significant move towards a straight forward system within the Palestinian Authority. Fatah is Fatah and Hamas is Hamas - separate, disparate entities. From now on, when we speak of the PA, of the Palestinian Authority, we need to realize that we are speaking only of Fatah and Fatah rule of the West Bank. When we speak of Gaza we speak of Hamas and Hamas rule of that area, the land wrested away from Fatah through guns and bloodshed.
Gaza is, quite simply, a mess. It is a mess that was created by Hamas and can only be cleaned up by Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza and even though a significant segment of local Gazans are displeased with Hamas rule they are stuck with it. Fatah will not step back into the area, will not come to the rescue of the people who live in Gaza or attempt to come to their rescue. It is not in the best interests of Fatah, not in the best interests of the rest of the Palestinians, not on the agenda of Palestinian i.e. Fatah leadership.
Gaza is geographically, politically and emotionally separated from the West Bank.
Hamas is not willing to cede control of Gaza. Hamas has created an enclave that is separate and independent from the rest of the Palestinian people, an enclave that is and neither under the influence nor the rule of mainstream Palestinian leadership. Palestinian leadership under Abbas wants nothing to do with Hamas in Gaza. The ugly ousting of Fatah from Gaza this summer served to exacerbate an already strained and artificial relationship.
Abbas and Fatah will return to Gaza only after they are recognized as the legitimate leaders of the Palestinian people. Hamas will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. The people of Gaza now stand alone. No help is coming their way from Abbas and, more crucially, no help will be sent to them by the West.
Hamas is a terrorist organization and that fact is now clear to everyone, everyone including the leadership of Fatah.
In the discussions which led up to the Annapolis Summit, when the Palestinians and the Israelis were hammering out a joint document, a few words were scribbled on the bottom of an Israeli working copy. The words were: what about Gaza? The Palestinians never addressed the question. It was no longer their domain, no longer their responsibility.
Fatah is interested in creating a working relationship with Israel. Hamas is not. Hamas wants to shoot Kassam rockets into Israeli cities and towns on a daily basis. And that is why Island launched an armored incursion with air cover into Gaza. To attack the launch sites, to manage a quick fix to a deadly problem with an in-and-out raid. Not to eliminate the long term problem, simply to temporarily close down the short term problem. To put Hamas on edge. To force Hams to consider the ramifications of shooting at Israel.
And that is why Israeli leadership and Fatah leadership are working towards fulfilling the commitment they both made in Annapolis and working towards implementing the Road Map. But here too there are issues. This past week Israel starting construction in parts of Jerusalem the Palestinians lay claim to. It was a real monkey wrench thrown into the negotiations. US Secretary of State Condi Rice was livid. UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon was furious. But Israel did what it thought it must do.
In order for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to keep his coalition together, he must make it very clear to Israelis and to those parties in his coalition to the right of center that Israel will maintain Jewish Jerusalem and most certainly, retain custody and control of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jewish Jerusalem includes the communities that are growing around the city, like the community of Har Homa where the building is taking place. Building in Har Homa is the kind of international flack that Olmert can handle without even flinching - with the exception of the extreme right parties, Olmert has almost complete support for the action.
The Israeli prime minister will persistently and proudly continue to build and announce that he is building. But as part of his plan he will also insist that eventually, those Arab neighborhoods that surround Jerusalem will eventually compose part of the Palestinian area and become part of the Palestinian capital. The split that divides the Palestinian people is Palestinian induced, it will not be Israeli produced.
Palestinian politics are complicated. So are Israeli politics.