The Palestinian factions’ Secretary Generals planned to hold a meeting, a week after the two conflicting major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, held a meeting in Istanbul on 24/9/2020. The factions Secretaries planned a meeting to approve and develop the “Istanbul meeting understandings”, pave the way for the Palestinian President to issue a decree/decrees setting up dates for holding legislative, presidential and PLO National Council elections. Yet, the meeting did not materialize so far, nor its date is set, which means that there are international, regional and local challenges.
So, what are these challenges? How can this dialogue initiate and achieve Palestinian national unity, sooner than later?
Washington and Tel Aviv considered the Palestinian dialogue and plans to hold elections that renew legitimacy of the Palestinian National Authority and existing leadership, as well as integrate Hamas into the Palestinian Authority and probably into the PLO, as something not suitable at all, in form, content and time. This is because it strengthens the Palestinian position in facing the Trump-Netanyahu conspiracy known as the "deal of the century" and the series of Arab-Israeli normalization that seek to formulate a coalition, which re-prioritize Arab priorities and leads to marginalizing the Palestinian cause.
Parties to this coalition used the holding a round, out of other rounds, of Palestinian dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in Istanbul as a pretext to justify abandoning the Palestinians, on grounds that they turned to the Turkey-Qatar side. This pretext is contrary to truth, regardless of how wise or unwise for these factions it was to hold their meeting in Turkey, considering the regional polarization and coalitions and considering the possibility of holding it in Egypt, Russia or Algeria. A proof such possibility is the fact that the next round of dialogue, which will includes the different Palestinian factions’ Secretary Generals, is supposed to be held in Cairo that welcomed hosting the dialogue, keeping in mind concerns relating to questions about the seriousness of the next round and its ability to make a breakthrough.
It is the credit of the ongoing attempt that it is different and more serious from the preceding ones. It comes in light of dangers that the Palestinian cause encounters following the Trump-Netanyahu aforementioned deal conspiracy, the Israeli occupation annexation plan and the Arab normalization with Israel, all of which are greater than previously encountered threats. They threaten both Fatah and Hamas factions along with the other factions and Palestinian people at large. Added to this seriousness of these dangers, is the repeated and increasing calls and threats to replace the Palestinian leadership if it does not join the ongoing process of ending the Palestinian cause, a relentless process that is continuing without a stop, regardless of who wins the upcoming American elections after two weeks. That is, although the difference between Trump and Joe Biden is important, yet their goals are the same. Both candidates have the same objective, one wants to end that cause in one blow, while the other wants to do that in bits.
The new dialogue attempt started from a different entry point, which is field unity in facing the Trump’s deal conspiracy. This start was in a press conference by the two leaders in Fatah and Hamas, respectively, Jibreel Rjoub and Saleh Arouri on 2 July 2020, and then followed the meeting of factions Secretary Generals last month, on 3 September.
The attempt focused on holding sequentially connected elections, before this developed after the Istanbul meeting to agreeing on forming a joint list by both factions to run for elections based on the proportional representation system. (Arouri revealed in an interview with Al Aqsa TV, intentions by Fatah and Hamas movements to run for the elections in a joint list, in spite of conflicting statements by Fatah, some affirming and some denying that), and it was agreed to form a unity government after elections.
Additionally, the proposed agenda for the next dialogue, after issuing the elections Decree, include the rest of issues. These issues include (The PLO reform, Gaza separation, effects of the political division, deciding on a position on Oslo, deciding to aim for having a State or Authority and other issues), with the intentions of leaving the decision on these issues to the upcoming Legislative Council and the government, which will be formed after elections.
One of the most important features of the current dialogues is that they dealt with the political basis, as the dialogue considered the National Accord Document to be the reference. Additionally, it was decided for the first time that international legitimacy is a reference that should not be abandoned, so that its rejection does not lead to tightening isolation against the Palestinians. In addition to the fact that it includes the minimum of Palestinian rights, especially the right to self-determination, which includes the right to establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
The understandings included that the Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation with all forms of resistance, but they will adopt popular resistance at this stage, with an agreement that the struggle forms are decided on a collective national basis and not unilaterally by any faction.
The understandings also included that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative for the Palestinians and that the Legislative Council elections are the first stage for the formation of the PLO’s National Council. Additionally, there is an idea proposed that elections for the National Council should coincide with the Legislative Council elections. This is to complete the formation of the National Council, where members of the Legislative Council automatically become members of the National Council and on the basis that elections are held wherever possible and the rest of the members are appointed by consensus, which is an interesting idea.
Weaknesses and Obstacles
* The first obstacle is the opposition within the Fatah and Hamas movements, especially within Fatah, against integrating "Hamas" into power, through a joint list in elections and in the formation of the National Council, without ending its control over the Gaza Strip first.
* The dialogue is going on between a limited number of people from Fatah and Hamas factions. Despite the adoption of what is developed by the two factions, this dialogue is taking place without a bigger and stronger Palestinian engagement and without a comprehensive vision. This is because the dealings are progressing more cautiously than necessary and in an experimental selective manner. In this process, there is a transition from the field unity, to elections, to simultaneous elections for the National Council. Whereas, the dialogue must be national, comprehensive, organized, institutional and continuous, and not exclusive to the factions, but rather there is a need for the broadest participation and popular engagement, especially of youth, women, Palestinians in diaspora, civil society, scholars, academics and independent public figures.
The unity government before or after the elections
* The understandings ignored placing the separation of the Gaza Strip as a top priority agenda item, for being prominent manifestation of the division and the reason for the division of institutions. This requires remedying this failure and placing the issue of forming a unity government or national accord government at the top of the agenda. This government will be mandated to prepare for the elections, provide an atmosphere of confidence, rights and freedoms. In addition to the above, address the effects of the political division, in addition to embarking on unifying civil and security institutions, ensuring the freedom and integrity of elections and respect for their results, besides facing any occupation attempts to prevent holding the elections.
Since there is an agreement to form a unity government after the elections, it is better and more efficient to form it before holding these elections.
* The lack of synchronization between holding the legislative and Presidential elections and that of the PLO National Council, as part of a comprehensive solution package to implement concurrently and in parallel as well, is rather a weakness point in the factions’ understandings and a source of distrust and insecurity. As who will guarantee that the legislative elections will not be a form of division management and that elections will not be completed if their results are not suitable for any or both of the parties, or if elections trigger Israeli, American, Arab or regional reactions that make it difficult to accomplish holding them?
What encourages the adoption of this proposal (concurrence in holding elections) is having Palestinian national consensus around the symbolic status of President Mahmoud Abbas, to the point of considering that he will be a consensus candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.
In spite of the importance of progress towards formulating a political program, yet, accomplishing it remains equally important. It is not enough to say that Oslo is dead or behind our back, as it is still the political and legal reference for the Palestinian Authority and it governs the PLO’s relations with Israel, while the Palestinian leadership has until now been satisfied with freezing its implementation. Oslo agreement or a worse replacement will strongly return after the election of a new US President and in light of the Arab countries’ rush to normalize with Israel. Thus, a detailed plan must be ready to get rid of Oslo once, or gradually.
Linked to this issue is the necessity to agree on how to deal with the negotiations and the conflict settlement process, which is something that cannot be completely abandoned, not even in principle, nor to continue with illusions about the possibility of reaching the realization of the state through negotiations, making concessions and proving merit. The path to independence and liberation passes through the adoption of a multidimensional strategy for struggle, the forms of political and struggle action at all levels; local, Arab, regional and international, based on strengthening the foundations of steadfastness and the Palestinian resilience on their homeland. This also includes aiming to change the balance of power on the ground to allow for holding a full-fledged international conference and continuous negotiations to implement, but not negotiate, the United Nations’ decisions, so that the occupation is ended and the Palestinian state is materialized. Postponing decisions on this issue (negotiations) and other major issues; such as withdrawing recognition of Israel, considering the next Legislative Council a parliament for the State of Palestine under occupation and leaving all of that to the next government and council is not a wise thing. In fact, this means burdening the council and government with what they cannot handle and can be like a mine that could explode in any time.
The joint electoral list ... An appointment of representatives or is it justified?
* The issue of the joint Fatah-Hamas factions’ electoral list that was first raised in 2012, and raised more than once, especially in the years 2016 and 2019, despite the fundamental concerns about it, is justified. Conducting free and fair elections whose results are respected under occupation, which interferes in all their stages and can prevent them in Jerusalem and elsewhere, an occupation that influences elections’ results, whenever it wishes so, or holding them without a political process and without an Israeli-American, Arab, regional and international greenlight, is a struggle process that takes time. It is also a difficult and nearly impossible process in the immediate term, while keeping in mind the importance of working on conducting elections for being a struggle issue, especially since the division that has deepened, created unavertable interests, political, economic, security, social and legal situations if we run win-lose instead of partnership elections. Free and competitive elections under occupation must be within the framework of unity, whereas, elections under division will only reproduce division.
While we are still facing different issues such as political division, the absence of uniformity of security agencies, the judiciary, ministries and employees. The aforementioned along with multiple military wings of the resistance factions, which are now used, in light of disrupting resistance, in serving their respective factions interests and in light of the proliferation of weapons, increase the civil violence and chaos, the spread of despair, individualism, absence of political horizon. Added to the above, is the occupation, which is waiting and ready to intervene and prevent capitalizing on the victory of any of the Palestinian military resistance factions. If we run for elections just show which faction or factions have majority and right to rule according to their program, then elections could lead to the consolidation of division and even further division.
If Hamas wins, it will not be able to rule in the West Bank, even if the Palestinian President and Fatah want to facilitate that, as Israel will prevent that. If Fatah wins, it will not be able to rule Gaza, because it is under the control of Hamas, which will not relinquish power, especially if it was not a full partner in the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. In elections that factions cannot win even if they win in the ballot boxes, it is necessary to agree in advance to invoke the rules of struggle action consistent with the stage of national liberation.
* A very important point that must be agreed upon, and that is the issue of resistance and its weapons in the context of comprehensive resolution package. This includes an integrated national program and a real political partnership. There is a solution contained in the document, known as the Prisoners' document, which Palestinian priosoners in Israeli prisons proposed to adopt and develop, and another proposal made by Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar to form a national army that includes all the military wings, subject to unified and legitimate national institutions.
Fatah, Hamas and the other factions have the right to run in the elections with separate or joint lists, provided that:
- In order not to turn the process into the appointment or reproduction of the current ruling elite here and there with the same competing and conflicting programs.
- That they be based on a national struggle program, a new vision, and revival through the participation of youth and women, within the comprehensive package solution, which brings a win-win situation for everyone, including the people. This blocks the way before the already resented economic peace electoral lists as well as blocks considering the de facto situation created by the occupation as being the only reference for action, and not an electoral list that aims at bilateral quota gains and winning the elections or sustaining the statuesque. Naturally, the joint list should not, in all cases prevent the formation of such joint lists by others who wish to do so.
* One of the weaknesses in the Fatah Hamas understandings is that they gave priority to the elections for the Legislative Council, even if that was considered a first step for the PLO National Council elections, even though holding it was not the sole decision of the Palestinians alone. The understandings also pushed to the bottom of the list important issues; such as resistance against the occupation, which should have priority. This, despite the issuance of the Statement Number One by the Unified National Leadership for Popular Resistance, which was no more than just an announcement and was not accompanied by a plan and an organized struggle on the ground with the people's participation in the dialogue and decision. The people are the ones who will bear the brunt of resistance and will only do so when they are convinced of the seriousness of what is happening, and that they are part of a new strategic, not a tactical path.
The current attempt to achieve Palestinian national unity could be the last chance, and the people and history will have no mercy on those who caused it its waste. The individuals, groups and forces who are more aware and thoughtful must not wait for a comprehensive change nor side with this or that side, but rather to move to lobby for the achievement of a unity that is capable of progressing the national project, instead of bilateral or public quota system.