As much as George W. Bush is not missed especially among the Palestinians, there is one legacy he left behind which has unfortunately spilled over into Palestinian society. Bush’s post-September 11 mantra of "You are either with us or against us" has sadly infected our mentality when it comes to our own house.
Some may think this a preposterous statement; that Palestinians have taken nothing from the has-been Texan cowboy US President except a bad aftertaste. That is, until it comes to Fateh and Hamas and then the juxtaposition becomes starkly clear. For the past few years, namely since Hamas won the Legislative Council elections back in 2006 and ousted Fateh from its historical seat at the helm of Palestinian leadership, a sharp split has evolved in Palestinian society. It goes without saying that Hamas’ election victory was short-lived, with the international community and Fateh both contesting its legitimacy, ultimately leading to a bloody coup in Gaza where Fateh was shunned from governing there all together and Hamas took the reins of power by force. The rest, we can say, is history.
What subsequently happened in Palestinian society is as – if not more – dangerous than the actual clashes. All other Palestinian political movements were suddenly pushed to the sidelines of Palestinian political significance and the society, along with political representation, split straight down the middle. The boxing ring was set up perfectly –” Fateh in one corner and Hamas in the other.
And the two certainly did not shy away from taking punches at one another, each in a bid to prove its own legitimacy by discrediting the legitimacy of the other. And like most societies, as the jabs got sharper, so did the opinions of the people until finally we reached the point we are at today. Bush’s words sound in our minds: "You are either with us or against us", translated in our reality as the following: criticizing the West Bank government under President Mahmoud Abbas is almost automatically interpreted as support for the Hamas leadership in Gaza and vice versa.
For many, this is not true at all and this growing trend is becoming more and more disturbing. To criticize one party or leader does not necessarily mean an endorsement of the opponent. Many Palestinians fall somewhere in between and are, unlike the leaderships mentioned above, much more objective about what has gone wrong. However, because of Palestine’s newly-painted canvas, which is only black or white, these gray-toned voices are hardly heard even when they speak logic and moderation. Instead, they are shot down as "anti-PA" or "pro-Hamas" or "anti-Islamic" when none of the above may be true.
The Palestinian political scene was not always like this. Palestinians have long prided themselves on their political pluralism and respect for one another. The PLO, the umbrella organization of the Palestinians is a group of several factions –” excluding Hamas –” that embodies the national goal of a secular Palestinian state. Throughout history, while these factions may differ vastly in ideology and methodology, they were usually able to maintain a sense of unity among each other. Once Hamas gained strength and popularity among the people, this changed drastically. The Islamic movement sees itself as the only viable alternative to what it believes is the failed strategy of Fateh (and PA by association) in liberating Palestine. The fact that it won the elections in 2006 against an extremely weakened and fragmented Fateh, which had not scored any significant political gains, did not help Fateh in the battle to counter Hamas’ claims that it was the only viable alternative. Even after Fateh and the PA formed a government in the West Bank, this did not stop Hamas from continuing in its campaign against it and its claim on legitimacy.
One only has to listen to spokespeople from both sides to see how true this is. While the battle with Israel is far from over, leaders and spokespersons from Hamas or the West Bank government would rather deliver blows to one another than focus on the larger picture. The bad blood between the two sides has turned septic and it its poisoning not only those in the seats of power but the people themselves.
The situation is unfortunate, to say the least. The Palestinians are in no position to be so divided. Gaza is struggling under a crippling siege, imposed by Israel and the international community since Hamas took power there. Jewish settlements in the West Bank continue to grow, regardless of their illegality and the peace track is moving nowhere if not backwards. Land, our land, continues to dwindle, swallowed up by Israeli colonies, the separation wall and bypass roads while we rant and rage about how this or that leader called us names.
In the meantime, the voices of reason, those who are not taking sides but who may constructively criticize those in power are shuffled aside and branded as being "with or against us". What our leaders in Hamas and Fateh don’t realize is that neither of their strategies has worked so far. Maybe they should stop and listen to those who could have something new to say.