Several additional factors contributed to the decision by the two factions to resume talks, including the new Egyptian regime's need for calm in Gaza in order to establish stability in Sinai and improve ties with the U.S. and Israel, President Abbas' need for reconciliation in order to consolidate his leadership of the PLO and the PA, and Hamas' need for reconciliation in order to bolster its legitimacy as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood that seized power in Tunisia and Egypt.
But these factors – important as they are – are still insufficient to bring the process to a successful conclusion.
The two factions have had to postpone discussing several issues, fearing that they would fail to agree on them. While Fateh and Hamas are in agreement with the Egyptian regime on the need for reconciliation, they differ amongst themselves in the sense that Fateh is determined to maintain its grip over the PLO and PA, while Hamas wishes to take over the two bodies.
Add to that the chaos, lawlessness and divisions Egypt is experiencing as well as the entrenched forces in Palestine, which are determined to perpetuate the split, and it becomes clear that achieving reconciliation is not an easy task. The task becomes even more difficult if we factor in Israel's efforts to undermine Palestinian unity. In fact, the Israelis can effectively obstruct three of the five issues Fateh and Hamas have been discussing, namely those of a new Palestinian government, elections, and security.
More recent developments, namely President Obama's re-election, John Kerry's nomination as U.S. Secretary of State, and the recent Israeli general election, have led some delusions to reappear.
These delusions – that peace talks with Israel could resume – express impotence and a lack of will to utilize the opportunities afforded by the victories in Gaza and at the UN as well as by such initiatives as the protests at Qamar, Hurrieyeh, Karameh, and Bab-el-Shams, to choose new options.
It is not possible to choose options other than the futile 'peace process' without first restoring national unity, agreeing on a unified program of action, and establishing a genuine partnership based on democratic principles and a conviction that resisting occupation is the only way to secure meaningful political achievements.
No one believes that there is a chance to achieve reconciliation this time, because of the failures of the past. In fact, very few believe that genuine reconciliation is possible even if the agreed timetable is adhered to. The most that may be achieved is the formation of a new government that would manage the split, a government that could be replaced if elections were not held for any reason. This is because the crucial issues of the political program, the PLO, security, and the strategy to confront current challenges have all been shelved. Reconciliation is impossible unless these issues are to be addressed.
If elections were to be held (assuming Israel agrees) in 3-6 months, without a general agreement on objectives, reference points, means of struggle to be employed, the positions to be adopted vis-à-vis the conditions laid down by the international quartet, and Israel's interference to undermine the elections (as happened on the last election in 2006) and they were won by Fateh. Hamas would consider such a result as an attempt to exclude it, and would refuse to recognize the election result. It would say that the elections were rigged and that they were held under detrimental conditions in the West Bank.
Should Hamas win, Israel would obstruct the government it forms unless it moderates its positions and agrees to the conditions of the quartet. If a third party, other than Fateh and Hamas, wins the election, it would still be unable to function as all ministries and security forces are in the hands of Fateh or Hamas.
This being the case, there does not seem to be much optimism and/or enthusiasm among the parties for proceeding with reconciliation despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians see it as a national priority. Reconciliation for the sake of it is useless. This would only manage the split rather than put an end to it, and only perpetuate the status quo.
If President Abbas really wants to hold elections within three months, and really does not intend to run, why does he (or Fateh) not name another candidate? After all, such a process is not as simple as it sounds, as there is no visible candidate who would be acceptable for the Palestinians, the Arab world, and the international community – as there was after the assassination of Yasser Arafat.
The fact of the matter is that the parties do not have the will to end the split and restore unity. They only go through the motions of reconciling to placate popular demands and to respond to Egyptian pressure. There can be no reconciliation without an agreement to restructure the PLO and form a unified leadership as an interim step before holding legislative elections.
Reconciliation cannot be seen to be taken seriously unless a unified leadership for the PLO is formed – not by forming a committee to activate the PLO, which only has consultative powers. By forming the committee, the real task of activating the PLO – the most important issue on the agenda of national dialogue until elections are held – has been shelved.
Forming an interim unified PLO leadership draws a bit from the remaining legitimacy of the PLO, the national objectives it seeks to achieve, and from resistance in all its forms, which grants legitimacy more powerful than that drawn from the ballot box. This does not mean that elections are unimportant-- far from it: Elections must be held at all levels but based on viewing them as an issue of struggle and not as a request by the occupation.
The occupation will not agree unless the elections were part of a political process that helps it resume the so-called 'peace process,' or if elections help it perpetuate the split.
It is laughable the way the committee to activate the PLO was enlarged by adding 'independent' members who are not independent at all. This was done without consulting with the other factions.
The new members do not represent independent Palestinians, including women, the youth and those living in exile.