Thursday, May 05, 2011

A New Political Landscape

PIAG's Dispatch for May celebrates the easing of Gaza's long isolation, and the empowerment of the people in the region to not only bring greater equality and justice to their own countries, but to their neighbors as well.

Last week the rival factions of Fatah (in the West Bank) and Hamas (in Gaza) reached an agreement to share power -- a deal sponsored by the new, interim Egyptian government that took power after the country's (mostly) nonviolent revolution. Kieron Monks writes in Al Jazeera, "Riding the crest of its own wave, Egypt is a good ally [for Palestinians] to have at the moment. [Egypt's] status is restored as the Arab world's most powerful voice, and the Palestinian issue has assumed priority status surprisingly quickly after the revolution. A new attitude to the conflict is developing, exemplified by new foreign minister Nabil el-Arabi's recent statement: "It is time to stop managing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it's time to end it."

What's especially interesting about the shifting balance of power is that Egypt no longer feels any obligation to provide preferential trade agreements with Israel, including "gas deals worth US$700 million more than the current contract. Egyptian politicians have been publicly asserting that they are under no obligation to maintain this disadvantageous agreement, and with the urgent need to introduce a minimum wage, welfare and greater social equality, the country cannot afford it. Should Israel's most essential imports be threatened, that vulnerability will strengthen the Palestinians' hand."

As if to celebrate the new political landscape, the New York Times reports, "Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli conductor, led an orchestra of two dozen elite musicians - volunteers from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berlin Staatskapelle, the Orchestra of La Scala in Milan, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris - into Gaza on Tuesday. They played, on a makeshift stage, with obvious emotion and exceptionally well, before an invited audience of several hundred that rose to cheer not just afterward but also from the moment the players walked into the hall. Organized under the auspices of the United Nations, the free concert . . . demonstrated the volcanic changes overtaking this region. Just weeks ago such an enterprise would have been unthinkable. Gaza's borders with Egypt and Israel were shut tight. But the concert came amid talk by the new authorities in Egypt about permanently reopening the border crossing at Rafah; and at the same time as an Egyptian-brokered pact between Hamas and Fatah - the Palestinian faction heading the West Bank - which promises further easing of Gaza's longtime isolation.

All power to the people.
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting