The first thing that comes to mind in this context is why the talks are bilateral. Why not involve other Palestinian factions and make the dialogue more inclusive?
Had the issues under discussion concerned the two warring factions alone, restricting the talks to them would have been understandable. But they are supposed to be discussing matters of national import; serious and fateful matters that concern every Palestinian, and which failure to agree on would have catastrophic consequences.Should the parties fail to agree, the inter-Palestinian split would become worse than ever. It is a fact that the split was never healed, despite the Cairo agreement, the Doha and Shati declarations, and the formation of the national accord government. Those were merely efforts to manage the split. We recently began to hear of a [Hamas] 'shadow government' in Gaza, and accusations that the Hamdallah PA government (in Ramallah) is merely a puppet whose writ runs only in the West Bank.Bilateral dialogue risks failure, or at the very best may lead to a bilateral sharing of power. Dialogue without involving all the factions would be a waste of time and an effort to placate public opinion, which is pressing strongly for reconciliation.I cannot understand why the other factions agreed that the dialogue should be bilateral, especially as it originally kicked off as a national dialogue in Cairo in 2009. That dialogue ended in a bilateral agreement while the other factions played the role of false witness when they were asked to sign up to a deal they had nothing to do with. When representatives of some factions objected and expressed their reservations, they were told to register them and raise them after signing the agreement.The other factions are only called upon when their participation is seen to be necessary by the two major protagonists. This is what happened when the dialogue that led to the signing of the Shati [June 2014 national accord government] declaration took place, as well as when the delegation that took part in the first phase of the Gaza ceasefire talks was formed.But only Fateh and Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) will take part in indirect talks with Israel due to kick off in Cairo today (Wednesday). When there was no need, other factions were largely excluded from proceedings, as happened when the 2007 Mecca agreement and 2012 Doha declaration were signed, and when the national accord government was formed. The other factions were mere ornaments, ready to agree and unprepared to voice objections.I personally advised representatives of at least one faction not to sign up to anything they did not take part in reaching agreement on. Refusing to sign does not mean they rejected the deal or that they were determined to obstruct it. It would have meant that they refused to take responsibility for the deal, and would thus appear as protesting against excluding them from the proceedings.One faction or another could say that it would be better for Fateh and Hamas to bear responsibility for what they do. While this may be true, it would also assume that the other factions would not sign up to agreements they were not involved in from the very beginning.The factions could argue that the balance of power on the ground forces them to act in this way. But if they act in this manner, what influence can they wield afterwards? And how could they hope to change the balance of power if they fail to take the initiative and make their voices heard.Had one or more of the democratic, leftist, progressive, or pan-Arab factions actually tabled a viable and workable alternative, and expressed serious commitment to carry it through, the current bilateral polarization would have been broken long ago. As things stand however, this polarization is set to continue as long as no third democratic option exists.President Abbas needs this dialogue, now that U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's mission has failed and the United States has rejected his initiative. And since he is unable to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza without Hamas's approval, Abbas wants to secure its consent to his terms through dialogue. The most important principle is that of one [PA] authority and [the PA’s] monopoly over the use of force. Abbas also wants Hamas to agree to the pre-eminence of the Hamdallah administration, and ending its own rule in Gaza.Abbas also wants to make it clear that Ramallah is not responsible for paying the salaries of Hamas employees, especially members of the security services. Hamdallah has already announced that several world powers have recommended not paying those salaries. However, it is reported that the issue was settled before the delegation that negotiated the last ceasefire was formed. Qatar agreed to pay the salaries, which would then be disbursed by the UN. Should Hamas reject Abbas' terms, it would be responsible for the split, the continuing blockade, and the failure to rebuild Gaza.It is only fair to say that Abbas could have reviewed his options and retreated from some of his previous demands. He recently spoke of an ongoing dialogue, rather than only one round. He is reportedly in favor of not burning bridges with Hamas, and spoke of his commitment to rebuilding Gaza whether the dialogue succeeds or fails.I hope that this represents a new position that helps Abbas to prepare for a seemingly inevitable confrontation should he insist that Israel, the United States and the UN commit to a plan for ending the occupation within a fixed timeframe, otherwise he would end security cooperation with Israel and apply to join UN bodies including the International Criminal Court.For its part, Hamas wants the dialogue to help it maintain its control of Gaza. Hamas is unwilling to cede control of Gaza unless it is allowed to share control of the PA and PLO with Fateh, or at least share power in Gaza until the blockade is eased or lifted, and until reconstruction commences and salaries are paid. The terms imposed by the international community – as well as Egypt’s hostility – make it impossible for Hamas to achieve these aims on its own. Otherwise, it would continue to rule Gaza on its own.If we wish to reach a genuine solution that goes beyond merely managing the split, an agreement must be reached on the PLO and PA as well as other basic issues including the PA government. A unified leadership must be formed on the basis of genuine political partnership and new strategies by activating an interim leadership framework until new parliamentary elections are held – or at least reaching consensus on restructuring the PLO’s institutions until conditions become ripe for holding new elections.An ideal solution also includes forming a new government that is agreed on by all hues of the Palestinian political spectrum. Such a government should not be Abbas's. Its writ would run in the West Bank and Gaza, and it would work towards enhancing the Palestinians' ability to stand up to Israeli aggression, especially in those areas exposed to the designs of Israeli settlers.It would also oversee the reconstruction of Gaza (with no input by other bodies) and ensure that the blockade is lifted and that prisoners are released. This government would also work towards unifying the Palestinian security forces, starting with the relatively easier task of unifying the police force.There is also a need for drafting a new strategy for resistance, and agree on a single point of reference for all armed resistance groups. The resistance groups must be separated from the police and security forces. Resistance must be cultivated in each area according to local conditions and circumstances. The boycott of Israel must be enhanced, and efforts made to isolate Israel, which would require seeking to join relevant international bodies including the ICC.A unified strategy for political action must also be created, a strategy that ensures that any future negotiations would be held under a clear and binding point of reference, under international supervision, and with a short timeframe.Future negotiations must be about implementing international law and UN resolutions, especially UNGA Resolution 194 that upholds the right of return, and the General Assembly Resolution that recognizes a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967.