Gathering in Egypt Targets Palestinian Tensions A conference in Egypt brings embattled Palestinian President Abbas together with leaders from Israel and Jordan. What might the impact be on tensions between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank?
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Gathering in Egypt Targets Palestinian Tensions

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Gathering in Egypt Targets Palestinian Tensions

Gathering in Egypt Targets Palestinian Tensions

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The Palestinian cause once enjoyed widespread support across the Arab world. But with the bitter conflicts between Hamas and Fatah in recent months, much of the unified aspect of that support has eroded.

On the phone with us is Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Welcome back to the program.

Professor FOUAD AJAMI (Director, Middle East Studies Program, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies): Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: You wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times this past week and in it you seem to hold the Palestinians responsible for this current situation. Do you see any possibility of a reconciliation?

Prof. AJAMI: Well, you know, I think national movements are responsible for the history they have, the history the get, the history they play out. And I think there was a calamity that befell the Palestinians. And I think it befell them, if you will, I mean, in alongside history. You can begin - if you want the turning point, this descent, the road to perdition, if you want, began in the year 2000 - in September 2000 when Yasser Arafat turned down the deal offered to him by Ehud Barak and negotiated by Bill Clinton and went home and launched this insurrection, which in the end destroyed the Palestinians. Really, it overwhelmed their society. It led them on this disastrous path. And for the last six years, there has been massive deterioration in the forts shields of the Palestinians.

HANSEN: So now what? There is deep division…

Mr. AJAMI: Yeah.

HANSEN: …between the two sides. And you've got President Bush, you have a western European government, they are giving their support to President Mahmoud Abbas' new emergency government, which doesn't include Hamas. So does that support - the western support for Fatah, in your opinion, make it more difficult to resolve and to bring about reconciliation?

Mr. AJAMI: Well, I think the support for President Mahmoud Abbas is really - it's the only thing the world beyond Palestine and beyond the Palestinians could do. We can't throw our support to Hamas even if Hamas did well at the ballot box. The Hamas movement does not accept the rules of the game. The Hamas movement doesn't accept the legitimacy of Israel. Hamas continues to say that all of Palestine is a Muslim wax, which means a Muslim endowment - that it is something that belongs not only to the Palestinians, but to the wider Islamic world. You can't negotiate with Hamas. Hamas doesn't accept the rules of the international order of states. It doesn't accept the legitimacy of Israel. So we were bound to have this crisis and I think the greater - the better, let's be done with that unity government because it wasn't functioning.

HANSEN: Can, diplomatically, thinks improve? I mean, given the fact, for example, that Egypt and Jordan leaders - Israel, they're meeting this week and President Abbas will be there. What can come out of that meeting?

Prof. AJAMI: Well, hard to say. I mean, if you take a look at the powers drawn into the affairs of the Palestinians, the Egyptians are very concerned about Hamas. They are concerned about Hamas. They are concerned about Hamas for obvious reasons - Gaza, about their territory and their land. It's close to them. And Hamas emerges out of the, if you will, the vortex of the Muslim brotherhood, which is a worry to the Egyptians. The Egyptians, I think, understand that Hamas is not only a threat to the regime of Mahmoud Abbas, but it's also a threat to them, the Jordanians likewise.

And I think the Israelis, they have signaled willingness to help Mahmoud Abbas, they are willing to give him the tax money, they are willing to improve the conditions on the West Bank. But fundamentally, the problem within the Palestinian world is the problem of their own national unity. And we shouldn't forget the problems of the Fatah movement.

HANSEN: Do you see any silver lining?

Prof. AJAMI: I see none. And I really honestly think that we must go back. And the Palestinians must go back and consider the condition of their world. I think the Palestinian political culture has been poisoned by this turn to violence.

HANSEN: Fouad Ajami is the director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. We reached him at his home in New York. Thank you for your time.

Prof. AJAMI: Thank you, Liane.

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