"At Qatar's intervention, a Fateh/Hamas meeting will be held in Doha in the first week of February, once again to discuss the possibility of achieving reconciliation," writes Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps
If progress is made during this round, it will be followed by a leadership level summit. But will this round be successful, or will it be no more than a forced maneuver that will quickly fail to agree on any new steps? Will it fare any better than the former 'successes' that were achieved? For we have witnessed agreements being signed, even the first steps towards their implementation, only to be followed by their collapse. We can all recall what happened after the  Mecca Agreement. A national unity government was formed that lasted no more than three months. We also recall the fate of the national accord government that was formed after the  Shati' Declaration, a government that has lacked accord for a long time since!
It is no secret that interest in reconciliation has shrunk and is now minimal because the people, the various forces, our friends and our allies, have all had enough of dialogues and agreements that are not implemented. Meanwhile, the [national] cause is on the retreat and Jerusalem is being lost. And this has led to the outbreak of an intifada wave that has been going on for a fourth successive month without any leadership or aim – leaving it worthy of the name 'the orphan intifada,' yet another victim of the inter-Palestinian split.
If we take the developments and circumstances surrounding us into consideration, we would find that the factors that require an end to the split and a return to unity are noticeably on the rise. Palestinian society as a whole is in a continuously worsening predicament. This is something that we all frankly and publicly recognize, without the need to hold any other party or parties fully responsible; in fact, each party now holds itself partially responsible.
Moreover, the wager on the other side's collapse because of the demise of the so-called 'peace process,' the escalation of [Israeli] aggression, settlement activities, and racism, and the total occlusion of the political horizon, has not paid off. The factors that ensure the survival of Fateh and the PA it leads, if only in name, are stronger than some believe, despite the ongoing erosion of Palestinian land, rights, institutions and what remains of legitimacy.
On the other hand, the wager on Hamas's fall has not paid off either. That was based on the assumption that the Muslim Brotherhood's fall in Egypt and their diminishing status in the region would lead to Hamas's collapse, especially after its relations with Egypt worsened leading to the closure of the [Gaza] tunnels. Moreover, Hamas's relations with Iran and Syria continue to deteriorate, and its attempts to mend its relations with Saudi Arabia have not been successful. Yet despite all this, the factors that ensure Hamas's survival are strong, most important of which is that it has stood its ground in the face of three Israeli aggressions on Gaza.
Moreover, Hamas gains power from the failure of the Oslo Accords and the wager on negotiations and the U.S., but also from the heated battle over the Palestinian president's succession within Fateh. All of which may explain why Hamas's popularity has increased as recent opinion polls have indicated, reaching the same proportion as Fateh (35% each) with [Hamas Gaza PM] Ismail Haniyeh's popularity surpassing that of [PA President and Fatah leader] Mahmoud 'Abbas in any future presidential elections.
The success or failure of the new round of bilateral talks depends on the following: Will the same formulae, ideals and rules that determined the former agreements and precedents hold, or will the necessary lessons and morals be derived from them? To answer this, we need to quickly go over the roots and causes of the split and the means sought to end it, and that may suggest how we may ensure the new round's success, assuming it has a chance.
The Fateh/Hamas split stems from differences in programs and ideologies, and regional, Arab, and international interventions. It also stems from the fact that the Palestinian cause began as an international issue and remains as such. The world implanted Israel in the region's map and continues to protect it despite the threats it poses to international security and stability. It is also requiring the Palestinians, if they want to achieve unity, to abide by the International Quartet's unfair terms, without imposing anything on Israel. And since the PA relies on foreign grants and aid, the donor states – especially the U.S. and Europe –play an important role in foiling reconciliation efforts. In addition, Israel plays a prominent role in aggravating the split because the occupation exercises sovereignty and controls the PA's lifelines and income.
Disregard for the political content of the reconciliation has been the major fault in previous agreements. The sought-after unity has been separated from its aims. Is the object to consolidate the de facto situation – a self-rule authority under occupation? Or is the PA a tool of the PLO and part of a comprehensive and strategic vision that aims to end the occupation and achieve the nation's remaining aims? An agreement on a political program for struggle has been ignored, sometimes on the pretext of disagreements, or on the grounds that this issue is for the PLO to deal with, and at yet other times because an agreement on such a program will lead to Israeli, American, and perhaps European and international boycott and sanctions.
Moreover, the PLO file has also been postponed, although it is the natural gateway to rebuilding the national/patriotic movement, ensuring proper representation, ending the split and regaining unity. And it is the natural gateway to all this because the debate should concern the entire Palestinian nation, and the PLO is its sole legitimate representative. But in order for it to be so in deed as well as in word, the PLO's institutions must be rebuilt based on the knowledge and experience gained so far and the new facts and changes that have occurred, and it must include all shades of the Palestinian political and social spectrum.
Among the split's other causes is the failure to understand the peculiarities and special circumstances that have come to distinguish the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and vice versa, after more than 25 years of Israeli separation between the two. This began before the Oslo Accords and intensified after it, peaking with the implementation of the [Israeli 2005] disengagement plan that aimed to achieve a number of targets. Most important was to block the path towards the establishment of a Palestinian state, create a political and geographical split, get rid of the Palestinian demographic burden, cast the Gaza Strip burden into Egypt's lap, and take steps forward towards Judaizing and settling the West Bank.
The next round's success requires taking all the above into consideration. The dialogue should aim to achieve a comprehensive package based on a new vision that is consistent with the new phase that has begun to raise its head but has still not been born. It should aim at developing a full roadmap, rather than agreeing on partial, tried but failed steps.
Based on the above, we have to begin with the conviction that any step towards unity stemming from circumstances that are forcing the two sides to seek it, or because of internal disagreements against the background of the struggle for succession, will collapse as soon as these circumstances change. Second, we have to bear in mind that ending the split takes time and cannot be achieved in a single blow. And, third, there must be a full agreement that specifies the points of accord and disagreement and the forms of joint action.
It must come up with a formula in which everyone emerges victorious, based on the 'no-victor/no-vanquished' principle. Furthermore, no foreign or domestic pressures from those who have an interest in prolonging the split should be heeded. At the same time, the agreement must be of the sort that can be promoted internationally, but without submitting to the International Quartet's diktats and preconditions. And the sphere of participation must be expanded to include the society’s youthful sector, women and representatives of our people in the Diaspora.
An agreement on a program for political struggle is the starting point, provided we know beforehand the remaining steps, phases and timeframes in which the appropriate embracing political and popular environment must be created.
"And this must come within a vision that specifies where we stand, where we want to reach, and how we are to achieve what we want," concludes Masri.