"To talk or write about unity between national movement factions in the PLO and outside of it, especially Fatah and Hamas, after the split has persisted and deepened and the reconciliation dossier has been dropped from the agenda is to be naive or daydreaming," contends Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.
There are no communications, talks, or initiatives on the matter. The Algerian initiative came to a halt after the first phase of inviting faction representatives and a limited number of independent figures.
However, I have resolved to tackle the unity dossier again in hopes that something will come out of it, based on a deep, unshakable conviction that has only become stronger that unity is a necessity and not just one option among others. It is the path to victory for any national liberation movement. There can be no democratic national liberation or independence or return for refugees or equality in the presence of the split.
The events and developments of the past two years inspire hope that unity is possible and not an unattainable goal. They prove once again that the people are united in fighting the occupation and its aggressive, colonial-settler plans, its assaults on our people, groves, buildings, and holy sites, especially al-Aqsa Mosque. This is evident from the al-Aqsa and Jerusalem uprisings, the waves of popular and armed resistance in various parts of Palestine, and the unity that emerged gloriously in the field at the inspirational Jenin camp.
It is imperative to give unity another go and revive its dossier, in hopes that the wholesale infringement on various Palestinian rights, refusal to reach any form of settlement, and the hellish conditions imposed on the Palestinians constitute solid grounds to justify resuming efforts to unite the Palestinians and rebuild and revive their representative institutions and political movement, and rebuild and revive their representative framework and political movement. This is possible despite the persistence and deepening of the political split in its worst form, with the establishment of two conflicting authorities under occupation. The first [the PA] still adheres to the Oslo Accords and the degrading recognition of Israel without the latter even recognizing the Palestinian state in turn, and keeps to ongoing security coordination that has turned into collaboration, with the entailed dependency on the Israeli economy that Israel has abused for a long time. For its part, the other establishment [the Hamas government] does not offer an integrated theoretical and practical vision and alternative. It tends to prioritize maintaining its grip on power in the besieged Gaza Strip, while waiting for an Islamic genie or a miracle to appear to radically change reality.
All this has caused the authorities to operate under the ceiling set by the occupation, which involves 'economic peace', 'security', and 'shrinking the conflict' as part of an equation to improve occupation conditions and ease the blockade without addressing Palestinian national and collective political rights. In return, it offers armistice, facilitations, economic projects, while allowing both authorities to remain in power provided that they continue to be in conflict with each other.
In short, Israeli hostility against Palestinians of all kinds, 'moderate' or 'hardline', Muslim, or Christian, is the greatest common ground for uniting the Palestinian. We have witnessed the settler population reach about a million, the division of al-Aqsa's hours as a prelude to dividing its areas, the seizure of tens of thousands of dunams, the enforcement of Israeli law in West Bank settlements, deepening apartheid against our people in the Israeli interior, and home demolitions. Since the beginning of the year, the occupation authorities have demolished 300 buildings, according to the United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA). Dozens of children and adults have been assassinated this year (over 60 slain, 13 of them children), including mothers. They assaulted Shireen Abu Aqleh's casket and funeral. It became the longest funeral in Palestinian history, presenting damning evidence against the occupation, which trembles in the face of a dead body and a flag. This is on top of chants of 'Death to the Arabs', in particular during the Flag March.
A further reason for unity is that the pro-Oslo camp's wagers of reviving the peace process, launching a new one, or even maintaining the status quo and preventing it from further constant deterioration by providing facilitations, aid, and projects are just a pipe dream. What was and is provided only suffices to keep Palestinians in limbo between death and life, as Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman revealed when he described Israeli policy towards the Gaza Strip: "Keeping their heads above water as opposed to drowning completely, without rescuing them and pulling them to safety.'
On the flipside, the opposite camp realizes and will recognize that resistance alone is not a political program, that it is unable to bring about the required change under occupation, blockade, and division, and that there is no escaping unity without the explicit or implicit requirement of one camp leading another, replacing one form of domination with another.
It is appropriate to revive Palestinian, Arab, and international efforts to achieve unity, while wagering on the Palestinians first and foremost. Perhaps the disappointments from Naftali Bennett's government and the Biden administration and the tragic day of the Jerusalem Flag March will help depose the hotheads from both sides. Or perhaps it will help them complete their descent from the treetops they climbed following Operation Sword of Jerusalem, which united the people and embodied the integration of different forms of struggle, when they exaggerated the battle's achievements implications, underestimated the enemy's strength and the importance of other forces and popular forms of struggle that enable mass participation in the liberation process, and downplayed the importance of what happened and helped block the path to leveraging it to the Palestinians' benefits,
In that vein, future dialogue initiatives to end the split and restore unity must learn from the failure of past talks and agreements so as not to reproduce them. This requires the first item on the agenda to be agreement on a comprehensive national vision and the national charter and strategies. Priority should be given to reaching an agreement on a realistic national political program of struggle with economic, social, and cultural dimensions that help strengthen factors of resilience. It must strive to achieve all it can in this phase without abandoning the historical narrative, the ultimate goal, and natural, historical and legal rights. An agreement must also be reached on the basis for achieving real political partnership free of factional quotas and especially bipartisanship, and recourse to the people through national reconciliation and elections at all levels.
This requires expanding the circle of dialogue participants beyond faction representatives and a handful of independent figures. Talks must include the representatives of new movements and initiatives and active groups and figures from Palestinian communities everywhere.
Among the conditions for the success of this dialogue is an understanding of the nature of the current phase the Palestinian people is undergoing and the of circumstances and characteristics that distinguish it – especially the fact that all of Palestine is under occupation and the occupation is a key player in holding or prohibiting elections and hijacking their results. The Palestinians must ensure that past experiences are not repeated. Examples of such experiences include the formation of a government first without ending the split and agreeing on a political program and holding elections, as in the case of the national accord government of 2014, or forming a preparatory committee to convene a new Palestinian National Council (PNC), as in early 2017. Another example is that of holding elections first without embarking on ending the split and forming a unity government that provides oversight to ensure conditions are met for free and fair elections and guarantee the results are respected. Elections in the absence a unity government that works to end the split as part of a comprehensive package solutions mean that they will fail to be held, as happened last year, or if they do take place, they will be engineered and will manage the split rather than ending it, or serve as a catalyst for deeper division, like in the wake of the 2006 elections.
The only solution that has not been tried and that has a greater chance of success than others is a comprehensive package solution that involves an agreement to organize an inclusive, representative national dialogue that reflects the current Palestinian map, with the goal of agreeing on the formation of an interim transitional leadership for a period not exceeding a year. Its mission will be to spearhead the implementation of the dialogue outcomes, including a political program with economic, social and cultural dimensions, and to form a unity government that ends the split and unites the West Bank and Gaza establishments. This includes rebuilding and unifying the PLO institutions and departments, activating them, and distributing them in every place with a Palestinian presence where the country and conditions permit the establishment of PLO departments and institutional offices, so as to include all shades of the political and social spectrum that believe in partnership. It should also involve holding presidential, legislative, and PNC elections, as well as elections at all local and district levels.
A comprehensive package solution applied in a synchronized, parallel fashion is a difficult option that requires struggle and a change in the balance of power or the acceptance of the existing forces. But it is a solution based on a balance of principles, interests and forces that reflects the map of the existing political and social forces without exclusion or discrimination.
All this will not be achieved by wishful thinking, pleas, or demands, or by waiting for the president, leaders and factions to comply, but rather through struggle and political and public pressure that intensifies and accumulates until the Palestinian people's will and interest is imposed on all. And if this is not possible all at once, then it can be done in stages, by presenting unitary models wherever possible, strengthening and spreading unity in the field, and movement from the bottom to the top instead of solely relying on a top-down approach to achieve unity. Everyone who is committed to the cause and the people's interest must realize that time is blood and history is ruthless.
The presence of movements, dialogues, initiatives, and invitations to meetings and conferences is a promising sign. It indicates that there is a sympathetic movement that aims for the change without which the Palestinian cause cannot be saved.
"After all, change is the rule of life," concludes Masri.