Are these the first blooms of a 'Palestinian summer'?
Hamas and Fatah, at the UN and in their unity government, are at last taking the initiative to determine their own destiny.
The new Palestinian "reconciliation" government is first and foremost a response to an overwhelming popular desire to end the seven-year-old rift between Fatah and Hamas – a split that has inflicted deep scars on the Palestinian polity and threatened to leave Gaza in permanent secession from the West Bank.
But it also reflects a new independent-mindedness on the part of the Palestinian Authority's leadership, and a readiness to give precedence to the Palestinian national interest above other considerations. It is of course no coincidence that the realisation of this aim has followed the collapse of the last round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel. Long accused of passivity, and an inability to take the initiative, the Palestinians appear to have finally decided to act in their own interest without seeking prior permission from friend or foe.
This new move chimes with other "unilateral" moves designed to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the UN. This will change little on the ground, but the leadership believes it may slowly build up sufficient political and diplomatic momentum to help define a final resolution based on the two-state solution, otherwise unobtainable via the current negotiations. The appeal to the UN is not intended as a substitute for negotiations, but as a parallel track that involves neither threats nor force. It is also a path that Israel itself trod as a means to its own independence in 1947.
Binyamin Netanyahu may fulminate about Palestinian terrorism (a total of three Israeli civilians have been killed on the West Bank in the past three years, none directly ascribed to Hamas) but the fact is that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, is dedicated to non-violence, as is his new government.
Like its predecessors, this Israeli government simply seems unable or unwilling to confront the basic truth that it is an occupying force in the eyes of the world; and that 47 years of colonial expansion and oppression of another people, let alone dispossessing them in the first place, do not provide it with the moral credit to reject Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership's pursuit of the Palestinian national interest.
This explains in part the US administration's decision to continue to work with the new Palestinian government, despite Netanyahu's protestations and the rising chorus of complaints from Israel's friends in Congress. None of the major world powers are now likely to take a contrary stand. The Palestinians, for once, seem to be getting their act together and are seeking to determine their own destiny on their own land.
Nonetheless, it would be premature to suggest that this will be anything but a difficult and challenging path. For one thing, Israel appears bent on pursuing the fruitless path of retaliation against the PA (albeit now without US sanction). For another, neither the reconciliation government nor unilateral action at the UN – nor even a strict espousal of non-violence – are on their own likely lead to freedom and independence. And there is little doubt that the differences between Hamas and Fatah extend well beyond the relatively simple task of knocking together a provisional government that is agreeable to all.
But what we may be witnessing are the first signs of a "Palestinian summer", and a more positive approach to a people determining its own fate.