Last night, I was fortunate enough to hear Jonathan Schanzer speak about Middle Eastern politics. Having brought him to speak at my alma mater back in October 2007, I knew I was going to get a serious, veracious analysis of what is going on in that part of the world, something I know I can never expect from the Obama administration.
Although he started his talk with discussion on Iran and the nuclear threat, I was more interested to hear what he had to say on the "Arab-Israeli" conflict. I found his approach to the conflict fresh because it struck at the root of the problem. He didn't blame the lack of "peace progress" on settlements, pre-1967 borders, or even the fact that the Palestinians are hate-mongering anti-Semites who bring up their children to perpetuate the animosity towards Israel. He brought up an essential question, which is "What is Palestine? Who exactly represents Palestine?" Shockingly enough, there is not "one, unified Palestine," a fact that the media would sooner rather ignore. In his book, Hamas vs. Fatah, which I highly recommend you read because it's a well-written piece of non-fiction, Schanzer illustrates in great detail (much further than I will touch upon here, which is why you should read the book) the historical development of two separate entities: Gaza and West Bank.
Although this separation was not that well pronounced until after the Six Day War, the divisions became quite clear after Hamas became a political movement in 1987. Since then, there has been civil strife between Hamas [in Gaza] and Fatah [in the West Bank]. I'm not just talking about a polite disagreement while social elitists are drinking tea with phony British accents. We are talking about straight-up civil war and action against one's own "countrymen."
The way the media inaccurately portrays it, you'd think that Palestine is a single, unified force that is angry at Israel where they throw rocks at IDF soldiers and strap bombs to themselves while walking in a pizza parlor and letting it detonate. If Palestine is not a single entity, it begs an important question. Aside from a piece of land thirty kilometers wide, also known as Israel, separating the two on a geographical level, what else distinguishes the two? Their approach to Israel, for one. Don't be mistaken--both would love nothing more than to see Israel wiped off the map. The difference is how they negotiate with Israel. Hamas doesn't negotiate with Israel, whereas Fatah does it when it's expedient. Hamas has a religious bent to it, whereas Fatah has a secular, nationalistic bent. Even their languages are different. Gazans speak with an Egyptian dialect, whereas the West Bankers speak with a Jordanian dialect. Even their economies have been influenced by their Arab neighbors. Jordan heavily invested in the West Bank, and as a result, their economy is better, not to mention the fact that there was more economic interaction between Israel and West Bank than there ever has been between Israel and Gaza. Egypt, on the other hand, never really cared all that much for Gaza. Consequently, Gaza has a lousier economy.
The fact that the world treats "Palestine" as one entity is a denial of reality. There are two quasi-autonomous entities: Hamas and Fatah. Accepting the reality of the political atmosphere is of utmost importance because with awareness of the current situation, you at least know how far you have until the endpoint. But until that time, peace in the Middle East is nothing more than a pipe dream.