SEEDS OF THE SCHISM
: This is no surprise, considering that the seeds of the schism were sown as long ago as 1993, when the Oslo accords were signed.
There are several reasons for this sense of resignation, the most important of which are: (a) The Palestinians have finally realized the difficulty of restoring unity; (b) there are individuals and entire classes that benefited from the split and are loath to lose those benefits; (c) both factions, Fateh and Hamas, as well as most other Palestinian factions prefer the status quo over the restoration of unity in order to preserve the gains they made in the meantime; (d) many Palestinians fear that the restoration of national unity would extend the Israeli blockade to include the West Bank as well as Gaza; (e) Palestinians fear that ending the split would lead to the return of the state of anarchy and lawlessness that prevailed before the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip; (f) there is a general climate of despair among Palestinians, resulting mainly from the general deterioration of political, economic, and social conditions; (g) external actors, including Arab, regional, and international, led by Israel, do not want the split to end except on their own conditions.
The Palestinian cause is still important enough to warrant interference by outside powers interested in exploiting it for their own ends, despite the momentous events taking place in the region. But a different approach is therefore needed if we are to create strong public pressure on parties benefiting from the split to work for reconciliation. The current format of Fateh-Hamas talks will never lead to reconciliation for the following reasons:
--The fact that dialogue has been restricted to the two parties involved. All Palestinian factions, as well as representatives of all social classes and movements, including women and youth, must be involved in reconciliation talks.
--The fact that dialogue has so far avoided delving into most major issues, such as how to come up with new strategies capable of dealing with the threats and challenges facing the Palestinians cause; strategies that are capable, first, of preserving the achievements already made without making new concessions, seeking to regain the losses made through previous concessions since Oslo and undermining hostile plots, and, second, of producing the conditions necessary to redress the imbalance of power between the two protagonists.
--The fact that the process of reconciliation has been linked to efforts to restart peace talks with Israel. Reconciliation thus became an accessory to the main aim of resuming negotiations. This means that reconciliation can only take place if the Palestinians continue to tread the ruinous road of peace talks, a road that has led to the catastrophe they find themselves in twenty years after Oslo.
--The fact that the parties have concentrated on only one facet of the reconciliation understanding (forming a new government) to the detriment of the others, including the agreement to forge a new national political program that recognizes common goals and that opens the door to the creation of a genuine partnership in which all Palestinian factions could take part, as well as the agreements to rebuild the PLO on new foundations, restore the PA to its rightful place as a tool of the PLO, and rebuild and unify the Palestinian security services.
--The fact that reconciliation talks have concentrated on seeking to hold new legislative and presidential elections as the only way to end the split, ignoring the fact that holding elections without first building national consensus on a common program that addresses the issue of confronting and defeating the occupation would be a leap into the unknown – as previous elections proved.
Unless the parties concerned are prepared to forego their interests for the sake of the national interest and a common program, national unity can never be restored nor the split ended. It cannot be expected of those parties to initiate a process designed to undermine their own interests.
What makes matters worse is that both parties – Fateh and Hamas – have agreed between themselves on managing the split and living with it. They have agreed on timetables that cannot be honored, as well as other issues. They have apparently admitted that since they cannot get rid of each other, they might as well try to live with the current situation as best they could.
One party (Fateh) has staked its future on a possible resumption of peace talks, hoping that that would improve its chances and maintain its leadership of the PLO. Fateh could well call elections, if it believed that it would win – but without the participation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The other party – Hamas- meanwhile has apparently decided to rely on the recent changes in the Arab world and the rise of political Islam as a means to gain Arab and international recognition – which would enable it to maintain its hold on Gaza and perhaps take over the PA and PLO. Hamas would only move forward with reconciliation if it saw that in its own interests.
And since the aspirations of either party cannot be fulfilled, the split is set to continue indefinitely and even become permanent. The Palestinian people are perfectly capable of imposing their will on the two parties and thus ending the split, if they feel that reconciliation offers them more than a mere division of government posts and privileges between Fateh and Hamas. The Palestinians would only press the two protagonists to end the split if they felt that there was a real chance for defeating the occupation – which would require a genuine and courageous reassessment of the lessons of the past, which should be used to come up with new strategies capable of standing up to the occupation and eventually defeating it.
Until this goal is achieved, the current situation can only worsen, what with Israel expanding settlements, completing the Judaization of Jerusalem, severing Palestinian population centers from one another, and marginalizing the entire issue by promising peace.
The Palestinians are being lulled by promises of financial aid into forgetting the damage done to their cause by Oslo and the futile peace process, which, far from leading to peace, actually eased the burden of occupation as far as Israel is concerned.