?HEADING TO GAZA, OR NOT
“Will the PLO delegation go to Gaza, or has the visit been postponed or cancelled?” asks Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Moreover, will there be a delegation representing the PLO and headed by [senior Fateh official] ‘Azzam al-Ahmad, or will there be delegations representing the various factions?
Does the delegation intend to discuss the outstanding issues, or will its journey there be a waste of time, designed for popular consumption by presenting the various factions as if they were concerned about national unity?
Is the delegation supposed to bring a positive solution for the problem of the Hamas government’s employees’ [unpaid] salaries if it is to visit Gaza and if Hamas is ready to receive it? And if the delegation does go to Gaza, will its meetings yield results that are any different from those of previous meetings and agreements?
And why is the [PA] president [Mahmoud Abbas] not heading the cabinet, as required by the [2012 Fateh/Hamas] Doha Declaration? Why has there been a verbal agreement to freeze the security file until after the elections, while talk of holding Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections has ceased? Why has the national accord government adopted the president’s program, even though the agreement did not include this clause?
The problem is not confined to the texts of agreements; it stems primarily from the character of the persons involved, as evident from the procrastination and delay in applying the Fateh/Hamas reconciliation agreement even though it was signed on May 4th 2011.
If we were to allot responsibility for the inter-Palestinian split – even though unity is an urgent priority and a national need whose importance increases with the dawning of every new day – then those who ought to be held responsible are the various conflicting parties, namely the president, Fateh, and Hamas.
The president bears the greatest share of responsibility because he has the legal power and authority in his capacity as the head of the PLO. Furthermore, he holds all the keys to the PLO and PA’s decision-making process. The reconciliation he wants is one whereby Hamas agrees to all of his terms before joining the PLO that is officially led by Fateh. That would mean that it has to accept to be treated as a minority serving under the PLO’s umbrella and to relinquish its sources of security and administrative power in Gaza, not only its government there. In other words, it is supposed to agree to become yet another faction, exactly the same as the other [minor] Palestinian factions that serve under the umbrella of an organization that does what the president wants it to do. But since the reconciliation that the president wants and that Fateh is not opposed to is impossible to achieve now, there is no alternative but to wait for the moment when Hamas collapses under the burden of its crises, or accepts reconciliation on Fateh’s terms and conditions.
As for Hamas, it wants to burden the national accord government with all responsibilities, from paying salaries to providing basic services to opening the crossing points, to reconstruction, while maintaining its control over its own sources of power in Gaza and its veto right, all in return for abandoning its [Gaza] government. But neither the PA president nor Fateh is likely to agree to this. Reconciliation is thus suspended and the dialogue regarding it is akin a dialogue of the deaf.
The president is waiting for Hamas to submit to his conditions, while Hamas waits for Arab and regional changes. Meanwhile, Palestinian land is being lost, the Palestinian cause is being marginalized, and the Palestinian people's suffering is getting worse.
In addition to the above, there is another party that is responsible for the split and its persistence, namely the Israeli occupation, which has sown the seeds of division and does everything possible to ensure that it remains so. After all, the split is the goose that lays golden eggs for Israel.
This bilateral polarization and the absence of a third and effective path are playing an important role in ensuring that the split persists. The other Palestinian forces, whether it is the leftist factions or civil society institutions or the private sector, are weak and scattered; or they turn in one side or another’s orbit. They have not agreed on common denominators that would enable them to make use of the current historical moment by acting jointly and exerting sufficient pressure on both two sides to the split, imposing the people's wish for unity and defeating the interest groups that benefit from the split's persistence.
Then there is the effect of the various Arab, regional, and international axes, of course, especially in light of the intense hostility between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime, and its negative influence in ensuring the split's persistence. Hamas represents an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has failed to distinguish itself from that group and stress the fact that it is part of the Palestinian national liberation movement, despite the fact that the Palestinian cause burdens it with the responsibility of steering clear of domestic, Arab, and regional conflicts. In fact, this is the responsibility of all Palestinians without exception.
In order to understand the impact of this factor, we can point to the inability to hold a meeting of the organization's leadership in Cairo without mending Hamas/Egyptian relations – especially in light of the Egyptian position that opposes Hamas's head Khaled Mish'al participation, and the difficulty of holding the meeting outside Egypt in light of this country’s historical role in the Palestinian cause, its sponsorship of the reconciliation file, and the potential consequences of holding the meeting elsewhere.
Nor is it possible to ignore the negative impact of the continued wager on the possibility of resuming bilateral [PLO/Israel] negotiations after the upcoming Israeli elections and the fear of American and Israeli sanctions if the Palestinian president were to achieve a genuine reconciliation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad without the two organizations' commitment to the International Quartet's conditions that include recognition of Israel, 'renouncing violence and terrorism,' and a commitment to the existing agreements. This is despite the fact that Israel does not recognize the Palestinian state or any Palestinian rights, commits all kinds of terrorism, violence, and war crimes against the Palestinians, and has long been violating all the agreements that have been signed.
It is true that the negotiations are at a halt and that the president has opted for a strategy of internationalization, joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international organization, and has moved some distance down the path towards reconciliation and encouraging popular resistance, and is threatening to take difficult decisions such as ending [PA/Israeli] security coordination and handing the PA's keys over to the occupation. But these moves are mere tactics that have not reached the point of a new strategy. Their aim is to exert pressure so as to resume and improve the terms of the U.S.-sponsored bilateral negotiations.
All this helps to explain why unity has not been achieved and why this cannot be done quickly. But this does not mean that we should dust our hands from the efforts to achieve it, or that we should give up on the need to initiate a comprehensive national dialogue so as to review the Palestinian experiment and derive the appropriate lessons and morals from it.
This is because the factors pushing in favor of unity are more powerful than the factors that feed the split, in light of the common threats stemming from Israel's excessive expansionist, racist, aggressive, and settlement schemes, and the overall crisis that all parties (Fateh, Hamas, and everyone else) are suffering from.
Estrangement, media exchanges, the vertical and horizontal exacerbation of the split in the absence of contacts, meetings or dialogue, and without taking what steps can be achieved to reduce the impact of the siege and human suffering that our people are undergoing, especially in the Gaza Strip – all these factors will drive us faster towards a permanent split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
And this would have truly dire consequences, not only for Gaza, but also for the Palestinian cause and all the Palestinians.
"It would be no exaggeration if we were to say that it would cast them into a phase of anarchy and security breakdown, growing extremism, fragmentation, and surrender, with the logic of 'each for himself' dominating the scene," concludes Masri.