Brooks Newmark MP is MP for Braintree and a member of the Treasury Select Committee
When thinking about the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, William Hague’s often repeated
words echo in our ears: we are at a "truly critical stage" for the Middle East
Peace Process. Such a critical stage
would necessitate leadership of the highest order, ready effortlessly to bat
away comments that the idea of a Palestinian state is "dead" – as Naftali Bennett, a rising political star within the Israeli Government, said this week. Unfortunately, the events of
the past few days have demonstrated the opposite: the Palestinian Leadership remains
weak and divided.
I last saw Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad in September and he told me he felt he was “pushing everything uphill”. The ruling party, Fatah was crippled with
infighting and rivalry – and the shaky relationship between President Abbas and his
Prime Minister was no secret. While Fayyad’s
economic development programme in the West Bank (dubbed "Fayyadis"’) always made
him a favourite in the West,
years of intransigence on the Israeli side made even the most user-friendly Palestinian
politician run out of steam. Fayyad
resigned in April.
This week, it was this cocktail of conditions
which greeted the newly appointed Prime Minister, Rami Hamdullah. As President of a
University in the West Bank, he came to the job with little political
experience. He was a tactical choice on the
part of President Abbas, who for years had been sick of Fayyad stealing the limelight
and questioning his leadership on key decisions. The President wanted to appoint someone who would
toe the line, and allow him to get on with running the show. But Hamdullah took one look at the internal
turmoil of the Palestinian leadership, and tendered his resignation before his
feet were even under the table. He will
now stay on as a caretaker figure until his replacement is found – but this whole
fiasco is just another symptom of a critically if not terminally ill patient.
landscape constantly deteriorating around them, the lack of hope felt by ordinary
Palestinians on the ground has percolated up into the highest echelons of the
Palestinian leadership. Hamdallah’s resignation, hot on the heels of Fayyad’s,
is a resounding vote of no confidence in the political process, both internally
and externally. The Palestinian leadership, functioning on an expired mandate
after the 2010 elections failed to take place, already faces a legitimacy
crisis. Without an electoral process to allow political leaders to emerge, the
potential is limited for a talented replacement.
On my last
meeting with Fayyad, he emphasised that governing without a functioning
legislature was both difficult and extremely challenging, and that it was
paramount to begin the serious process of rebuilding the political system. How could such a broken political system hope
to deliver the dynamic and robust power politics required for a successful
negotiation with Israel? Indeed, Fayyad
stressed that a leadership which has not opened itself up to elections and accountability
will not have the necessary legitimacy conferred upon it in order to enter into
meaningful talks with Israel.
turmoil comes against the backdrop of Israeli policies. This means that
regardless of the formation of the Palestinian leadership, any new leaders will
inevitably appear weak, since they can do very little to change realities on the
ground – the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the absolute
rejection of a shared capital, Jerusalem, and the day to day restrictions on
freedom of movement through check points and road blocks. These are just a handful of well-known
examples in the West Bank, without even starting to describe the levels of
suffering present within Gaza. Any leader chosen is doomed to appear weak when
he is unable to exercise any control over what is happening within his
territory, and how this is affecting the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
From those I
have spoken to on the ground, the mood on the West Bank at the moment is very precarious.
Our Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said exactly this a couple of
weeks ago: "darkness and despair" is the
alternative if peace talks aren’t revived.
There is no confidence whatsoever in
the political process and, in turn, there is a belief that, despite the recent noises about a
resumption of talks and the commitment from Secretary of State John Kerry to
inject $4bn into the Palestinian economy, the situation will only continue to
We all have
grounds to be nervous, since these features present ‘Arab Spring’ type ingredients:
with a lack of legitimate leadership and conditions on the ground continuing to
deteriorate, people are running out of hope and there are rumours that without a step change in such conditions a third
intifada may be imminent. Protests have
already been rumbling at a frequency above the norm.
So what can be
done in the face of this bleak assessment? With the
Palestinian leadership in flux, it might be a ripe time to start thinking about
who the politicians in Palestine actually represent and whether the
international community should consider the inclusion of the party that won 44%
of the popular vote and 56% of the seats in Parliament in the last election:
Hamas – the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
If the current leadership faces a legitimacy
crisis, the inclusion of the political party which represents the views of half
the population would be a logical solution to this problem. Our lessons from Northern Ireland tell us that
it is when we bring people into the political process that sustainable
solutions can be found and violence can be curtailed. Hamas’s inclusion in the
political process would prevent it acting as a spoiler, since it is through
diplomacy that political channels are strengthened and parties have a voice
through diplomatic engagement – and therefore do not feel the need to resort to
violence to be heard. Even if Israel
does not wish to engage directly with Hamas, the Palestinians should appoint
(elect) an interlocutor who has the legitimacy to negotiate for all the
Palestinian people, not just one half of it.
At this critical stage, brave policies
are needed to breathe life into this failing peace process. The Middle East
is a changing region, and western powers need to keep pace with changing
relationships and realities. As first demonstrated in neighboring Egypt,
Islamism (political Islam) is growing in popularity, and the Muslim Brotherhood
is fast becoming the reality of the day across the Middle East.