A significant event happened this week concerning the never-ending Israeli-Palestinians conflict. On Wednesday, Fatah, which leads the Palestinian National Authority (PA), and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, signed a reconciliation agreement to join forces within the next five weeks in forming a national unity government. If it happens, it will be a big deal that will substantially change the landscape in this conflict.
For one thing, it will cause the U.S. to rethink it foreign aid to the PA, since Hamas denies the right of the existence of Israel and is on the U.S. terrorist list. If this situation continues–Fatah and Hamas uniting–the considerable effort expended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the past nearly nine months in renewing the peace process will have been wasted.
It appears that this agreement happened largely due to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh changing. When it was announced the next day, the Israeli cabinet voted to withdraw from the peace process. Then Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared concerning the head of the PA, “President Abbas can have peace with Israel or a pact with Hamas – he can’t have both.”
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been separate and thus divided from each other since Hamas won an election in 2006, and in 2007 it used armed force against Fatah in overtaking control of the Gaza Strip. The two main things that have divided them are that (1) the PA is secular and Hamas is Islamic, and (2) the PA generally favors a peace process, thus negotiating with Israel, and Hamas condemns both. But if these two entities join forces, Hamas will have to change some things.
I’m now reading Sara Roy’s book, Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamic Social Sector (2011). This Harvard scholar is an authority on Hamas and the Gaza Strip, and she says Hamas is not against change.
This agreement was preceded only days earlier by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announcing that he was so discouraged with the lack of progress in the peace process that he was ready to abandon his presidency, dissolve the PA, and let Israel rule over Palestinians in the West Bank, which is what he has been doing. In other words, he was ready to give his job to Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.
The peace process has only existed between the PA and Israel. Hamas has always been opposed to it, as stated in its Charter. But that means that in peace negotiations the PA only represented Palestinians living in the West Bank and not those living in Gaza. Thus, all of the Palestinian people have not been represented. Thus, if the PA had ever entered into a peace agreement with Israel, it would only have represented perhaps half of the Palestinians people and therefore been quite insufficient. That’s why there has been celebration in the streets of the Gaza Strip since the announcement of this agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
I think such an agreement between Fatah and Hamas goes in the direction of my proposal for solving this dilemma. In my book, Palestine Is Coming: The Revival of Ancient Philistia (1990), I propose that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be solved by appealing to historical precedence. That is, let Israel have their ancestral land, which includes all of the West Bank and which its Proclamation of Independence demands, and let the Palestinians have “the land of the Philistines,” the archrival of ancient Israel and the people from whom the modern Palestinians derive their name.
As I point out in my book, some Old Testament prophecies indicate that a Philistine people will have a state on the west side of Israel during the endtimes. I maintain that the Palestinians probably have a stronger genetic link to the ancient Philistines than to any other people group, including either the Egyptians or the Canaanites. I also suspect that the Bible says Philistines will exist during the endtimes because God knows it, but also DNA eventually will prove it to us humans.
What the Palestinians now need to do is change their focus on solving their conflict with Israel by claiming the land of the Philistines in which to establish their independent, sovereign state just as the Jews claimed their ancestral land in establishing the modern State of Israel. And to do this, Hamas now needs a way to save face concerning their Charter. It repeatedly claims that all of the “the land of Palestine” belongs to the Palestinians. That is, Hamas could save face by returning to the original identification of the land of Philistia/Palestine during antiquity. It was the coastal plain and therefore it did not include Judea and Samaria, which belonged to the ancient the Israelites. Even today, Jewish Israeli leaders often call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria,” referring to its ancient designations. The Palestinians need to do likewise regarding Philistia/Palestine.
Why did Mahmoud Abbas get so discouraged and talk about quitting? During recent peace talks, Israel pressed the issue of “the right of return.” It means that the older generation of Palestinians, many of whom still live in refugee camps, have the right to return to their lands in Israel which they lost, or were taken from them by Jews, largely during the wars of 1948-1949 and 1967. But Israel referred to it as “the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” which is incendiary language for Palestinians. If those Palestinians were allowed to return to their former lands, that would considerably reduced the Jewish majority of Israel and threaten Israel continuing to be a Jewish state, meaning that the majority of its population are Jews. President Abbas answered that the Palestinians would “never agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” He really meant that they would not abandon their demand of “right of return.”
Palestinians should give up their demand for “right of return” for something much better. A Palestinian state in the coastal plain between Tel Aviv and El Arish, as I suggest, will be a much better deal for them than the two separated territories of the Gaza Strip and Swiss-cheese West Bank in which to establish a Palestinian state. Plus, the big WOW factor is that they would then own all of the gas and oil fields off of their Mediterranean coast, which would extend 80 miles and be the same length as Israel’s would be. The royalties that this State of Palestine could gain over the next many years would help pay for the transfer of Palestinians and the needed development of infrastructure for the new State of Palestine. And I think those Palestinians who demand the right to return to their lands would much prefer this Palestinian state that I am suggesting.
And I suggest that Egypt turn the northwestern corner of the Sinai Peninsula over to the Palestinians. Why? It generally did not belong to ancient Egypt. And Palestinians could meet their water needs if Egypt and the other riparian nations of the Nile River agreed to allow some Nile water to go to the Palestinian state via the Al Salam Canal.
But the main thing right now is for Hamas to save face by declaring a return to the ancient definition of “Palestine.”