PREDICTING THE FUTURE
And sure enough, it collapsed after three months, which led to the catastrophic split that continues to this day. Predicting the failure of the unity government was not based on astrology. It was the only logical conclusion, as the Mecca agreement carried within it the seeds of its own failure. It ignored Egypt, the mediator in reconciliation efforts. It also took very little notice of the political dimension, particularly the conditions laid down by the international quartet.
Moreover, the unity government's program was vague; trying to be all things to all men, it ended up pleasing no one. The program called for commitment to signed agreements in some of its clauses, and to respecting those agreements in others. There is a great difference between the two, a difference that led to the demise of the unity government within months.
Another factor that doomed the Mecca agreement was its failure to mention the PLO and the issue of security. In addition, neither Fateh nor Hamas were convinced of the need for partnership. Neither side understood that it was impossible for them to rule the Palestinian people on their own. Moreover, each party put their bets on external factors, Fateh on negotiations with Israel and Hamas on the rise of political Islam. Yet another factor that hastened the demise of the unity government was the Israeli boycott, which was accompanied by financial sanctions.
So can the recent agreement, signed at the Shati refugee camp, succeed? Or will it go the way of its predecessors? On the one hand, most of the factors that led to the failure of previous agreements are still relevant. The Shati Camp agreement lacked any political content. President Abbas said that a future unity government would be his and would implement his program, which led Hamas leaders to retort that the government could not belong to an individual or a party, but would be a government of technocrats with no political program. Politics, he said, would be left to the PLO.
Nor did the Shati agreement mention security or the issue of consolidating and unifying Palestinian institutions. Instead, it concentrated on forming a government and holding elections within six months at least – which means that elections would not be held any time soon, especially as the agreement states that elections for the PA and PLO should be held together, a proposition very difficult to contemplate in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in the foreseeable future, especially in the light of President Abbas' contradictory statements to the Fateh Central Council. On the one hand, the President spoke of handing back the keys to the PA to Israel, while on the other he seemed determined to hold elections as Palestine was now an internationally recognized (albeit observer) member of the UN.
Should that happen, it would be faced by strong Israeli opposition. The Israelis could conceivably prevent the elections from going ahead. At best, elections could be held under the unfair – not to mention anachronistic –  Oslo rules. This would legitimize the status quo, something President Abbas said cannot continue, as it would cause internal rivalries between factions to take precedence over the Palestinians' main challenge: the occupation.
The Shati agreement also ignored a central requirement of the 2012 Cairo agreement: that the committee entrusted with activating the PLO's role should play a leading role and that its decisions should be inviolable. Eight years of division [since the 2006 PLC elections] have deepened the split horizontally and vertically, and created entire classes whose interests are intimately entwined with its continuation. These classes would do all they can to empty the agreement of all meaning and turn it into a means to manage the split rather than to heal it by ensuring that the future government does not rebuild and unify the security forces, without which the split could not possibly be healed. Also, the United States and Israel will not stop exerting pressure and imposing sanctions in order to ensure that the PA remains a hostage of Oslo and to force the Palestinian leadership to extend peace talks despite Abbas' conditions.
On the other hand, there are reasons and conditions that lead one to believe that the latest agreement may succeed. These include the fact that the Arab, regional, and international political climate is different to that which pertained when the Mecca agreement was reached. The roles played by the United States and other external parties in the Palestinian issue have regressed. Proof of that was the fact that Fateh and Hamas managed to reach agreement at Shati with relatively little outside interference.
In addition, Russia has been playing an increasingly assertive role, along with certain Arab and regional powers especially after the fall of the Mubarak regime and the preoccupation of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries with their own problems at the expense of the Palestinian cause – including the reconciliation.
The fact that the Shati agreement was broadly welcomed in the Arab world and – reluctantly – by the EU, coupled with visible American and Israeli confusion, shows that the latter's' ability to obstruct reconciliation has weakened markedly since the failure of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's mediation. One of the most important factors that could lead to the agreement's success and long-term survival is the fact that it is in the interests of both Fateh and Hamas.
For its part, Hamas is suffering from a severe crisis. The movement lost important allies in Syria, Iran, and Hizbollah. The Gulf countries (with the exception of Qatar) have turned against it, while Egypt – its strongest ally under Mohammad Mursi – is now one of its most implacable foes. Hamas officials are no longer able to travel to Egypt, while the Egyptian army has virtually closed off all cross border smuggling, thus depriving Hamas of much needed revenue. It is no secret that smuggling through tunnels dug under the border between Gaza and Egypt has made millionaires of many Hamas leaders. Now however, Hamas is no longer able to pay the salaries of government employees in Gaza.
The tightened blockade of Gaza without the solidarity that was shown to its inhabitants in the past has led to an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that is reflected in plummeting living standards and shortages in water, electricity, and fuel. Reconciliation was thus Hamas' only choice to break out of its crisis.
As far as Fateh is concerned, its crisis is no less severe than Hamas'. The main reason for Fateh's crisis is the abject failure of Oslo and the almost total disappearance of any hope of success for the American-mediated peace process. What has made Fateh's crisis even worse was the fact that Israel used the resumed peace talks to intensify its colonialist, expansionist, and racist policies, which made the Israeli version of a settlement the only one feasible. Add to that the rapidly deteriorating economic and social conditions in the West Bank, the spread of despair and frustration among its inhabitants, and the increasing rivalries between the various wings of Fateh to succeed the octogenarian Abbas.
For his part, Abbas wants reconciliation to give him the legitimacy he needs – something that he could never acquire if elections were to be held under conditions of division. Moreover, reconciliation could consolidate his negotiating position, especially as Hamas has apparently decided to turn a blind eye to his assertions that a future unity government would recognize Israel (which does not recognize a Palestinian state) and renounce violence and 'terror’, despite Israel's continued exercise of violence and state-sponsored terror.
To summarize, the latest reconciliation agreement could go either way. In order for it to succeed, the parties need to adopt different strategies from the ones they implemented in the past. This applies especially to the strategy that sees negotiations as the only viable option, and to that which considers armed resistance to be the only way to restore Palestinian rights.
Both those strategies led to the deadlock we see at the moment, with two governments, one under direct Israel occupation and the other under indirect occupation though blockades and frequent attacks.