A FAIR AMOUNT OF ATTENTION
Haniyeh's invitation garnered a fair amount of attention from some factions. The PFLP's Rabah Mohanna described it as a path towards national unity, while Islamic Jihad was more cautious saying that it had not taken a final position as the invitation was not extended officially.
However, other factions, notably Fateh, rejected Haniyeh's invitation. Fateh said that besides consolidating the split, Hamas' call was a ploy designed to have other factions share the burdens of the new fight it has on its hands after the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's new rulers have declared war on the Muslim Brotherhood and its regional extensions including Hamas, as the recent semi-permanent closure of the Rafah crossing and the unprecedented level of destruction of smuggling tunnels show.
Although Haniyeh's invitation could have been a manoeuvre, its coming at precisely this time shows that Hamas is trying to find a way out of its dilemma. The other factions ought to help Hamas find a way out, otherwise; the entire Gaza strip and all Palestinians would have to pay the price.
Fateh's accusation that Haniyeh's call would perpetuate the split rings particularly hollow given that Fateh itself has issued a series of decrees and adopted policies in the West Bank designed to do just that. While recent measures on secondary school exams, the Hajj, sports, and healthcare perpetuate the split and coexist with it, they are far better than a total separation from the Gaza Strip.
Was not the initiative undertaken by West Bank minister of social affairs Kamal al-Shurafi in coordination with his counterpart in Gaza as well as the ministers of health and education – an initiative supported by both Haniyeh and PA President Abbas – a means to manage the split? Yet it was better than no coordination at all.
The fact of the matter is that the two protagonists'' failure to honor and implement the agreements they signed to reconcile was responsible for perpetuating and institutionalizing the split. Recent events in Egypt have made reconciliation even harder to achieve, what with a weakened Hamas fearful that unity would be at its expense and to the benefit of Fateh.
Fateh can insist on full reconciliation on its terms (as it has been doing by insisting on immediate elections), and can expect those terms to be accepted as Hamas is in a weak situation. But Fateh can also throw Hamas a lifeline by agreeing to implement the reconciliation terms as one complete package and by demonstrating flexibility.
Had the will been there to end the split, we would not have needed these initiatives designed to manage and ameliorate it. But there is no political will on either side. It requires immense political and street pressure to overcome the strong pro-split camp that is supported by Israel and certain Arab, regional, and world powers. Should we sit back and wait for this pressure to materialize? Or should we work in various ways to improve conditions under the split and to end it as soon as possible?
Under present circumstances, it is better to manage the split and minimize its effects than to perpetuate and deepen it. Unofficial calls by Fateh to declare Gaza a 'rogue province,' and to organize a Palestinian rebellion against Hamas similar to that which ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will only benefit the Israeli occupation. Fateh's calls for elections to be held separately in the West Bank and Gaza would perpetuate the occupation. Which is better, coexistence with the occupation or with the split? Of course, both are bad.
On the other hand, there are also calls – preferred by Hamas – to perpetuate the status quo until more favorable circumstances come about. Among these is the call made by [Hamas official] Ahmed Yusif for a confederation between the West Bank and Gaza (confederations are usually between two peoples, not one. Also, it is futile to talk of creating not one but two states under occupation). Statehood is impossible unless the Palestinians succeed in rolling back the occupation.
It is the duty of the Palestinian factions and their leaderships to ease the effects of the split on the Palestinian people. But if efforts to make life more bearable become part of an acceptable program, why not make the same efforts to deal with the split itself?
In order for coexistence with the split not to deepen, consolidate, and make it permanent, it needs to be part of a comprehensive and coherent program. In other words, there must be a clearly defined political horizon, which should promote the goal of ending the split and restoring national unity without which the Palestinian people cannot possible achieve their aims of ending the occupation, self-determination, and statehood within the borders of 1967.
Haniyeh could be called upon to change his initiative for partnership in Gaza to the formation of a new 'national authority' to administer the strip (which would have the added benefit of ending the current hostility between Gaza and Egypt) in line with the initiative Hamas MP Yihya Musa tabled some time ago.
Administering Gaza through an 'interim national authority' (which should be built from scratch and not by integrating other factions into the current Hamas-led administration) could be a first step towards national unity. But in order for this to be a logical step, a broad national dialogue must be organized to come up with specific strategies to confront the grave threats facing the Palestinian cause and to utilize any opportunities available.
If such strategies do nothing other than preserve what we already have and minimize our losses, that would in itself be a great achievement. Avoiding further deterioration would be a great achievement because there are indications that the situation could become much worse. If a national dialogue succeeds in formulating the required strategies, then agreement could be reached to form an interim leadership for the PLO until new elections are held.
Once a unified leadership and a unified program are in place, specific issues could be addressed, including the case of Gaza in which the Israeli occupation is in the shape of aggression and blockade – and not direct occupation as is the case in the West Bank.