"Hamas and Fatah delegations are expected to soon arrive – if they have not already done so by the time of publication – at the Algerian capital to be apprised of the ideas Algeria has come up with after holding separate rounds of talks with Palestinian delegations in January and April of this year, as a prelude to convening a broader meeting, especially if progress is made with Fatah and Hamas," notes Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.
This meeting is expected to be held on October 2nd and to include over 100 participants, part of them faction representatives and the other part independent activists and civil society representatives.
The expectations of the meeting are very low, due to the wide rift and failure to prime the atmosphere by holding joint bilateral and collective preparatory meetings seeking to bridge the rift and build bridges of understanding.
A broad swathe of Palestinians and stakeholders in the reconciliation dossier expect the Algerian initiative to amount to a photo op with the participants, to be added to the archive of photos taken at reconciliation meetings between Palestinian delegations at a number of Arab and foreign capitals. The latest of these was the snapshot of President Mahmoud 'Abbas and Hamas chairman Isma'il Haniyeh shaking hands on the sidelines of the Algerian revolution anniversary celebrations.
What is preventing national unity from being achieved?
What is preventing a breakthrough in the national unity dossier, despite all the causes and factors uniting Palestinians from various factions and arenas? Most importantly, the racist, settler-colonialist Zionist project is ongoing, and has become fiercer and more hardline in its attempts to put paid to the Palestinian cause and the vehicle of its realization, the Palestinian national movement in its various constituents.
Impeding unity is the prioritization of individual and factional interests over national interests. An entrenched political, economic, social, and cultural structure has arisen in which the interests of individuals clash with national interests and they are willing to defend their influence and interests to the last breath. These individuals also suffer from a lack of conviction in the importance of partnership, an absence or dearth of political will to achieve unity, and a fear of paying the price of standing up to other players, axes, and states, first and foremost the occupation state. Not only did this lay the groundwork for the split, which has proven to be the goose that lays the golden eggs, it has continued to fatten that goose until it has come home to roost and reached the point of partition and no return.
Also impeding unity is the president's desire to absorb Hamas as a minority into the political system under his control without this encroaching on his political program, although the latter hit a dead end many years ago, while Hamas prioritizes its control of the Gaza Strip over aught else.
Another cause impeding unity is the heated competition and struggle over succession within Fatah and the PA, making many of the players opposed to ending the split for fear of some benefiting at the expense of others. Moreover, working towards and achieving unity entails introducing competitors and partners from other factions and other sectors of the Palestinian population to the struggle for succession.
Also standing in the way of unity is the conflict between Arab and regional axes and the U.S./Israeli veto, which is one of the most major obstacles due to rejecting unity unless it fulfills the Quartet's unjust conditions. The last thing Washington and Tel Aviv need is unity on democratic national grounds and on the basis of true partnership, because it would solidify the Palestinian position and dispense with the approach that considers the conflict to be about the aftermath of the 1967 war alone, and about peace and establishing state institutions, and about preserving the occupations' security and stability by continuing to comply with the Palestinian obligations under the Oslo Accords without a political process rather than striving to put an end to it. This view reduces the conflict to one between moderates and hardliners, while overlooking the need to end the occupation and stop settler colonialism and the ongoing efforts to eliminate the refugee question, which lies at the core and heart of the Palestinian cause, and to secure the rights of our people caught in the clutches of the apartheid regime known as Israel.
There is also opposition to unity because it requires reviving the Palestinian national project along with the meaning and implications of the Palestinian cause, and restoring it to its original, natural path as a cause of natural liberation... the cause of a people fighting for self-determination, the right of return, freedom, independence and equality as a step on the path to a comprehensive, radical democratic solution.
What are the potential scenarios?
The first scenario involves the Algerian initiative being abandoned because the Palestinian parties are unprepared to take it seriously. This scenario is unlikely because Algeria's status and the various Palestinian movement constituents' eagerness to safeguard the relationship with it make it improbable.
The second scenario involves holding a sham, formal meeting ahead of the Arab summit that resembles an oratorical symposium or festival in which the participants give rote, generic speeches acknowledging the importance and need for unity, with each party blaming the next and holding the others responsible for the failure to achieve it and leaving the rest up to God. This is the most likely scenario.
The third scenario involves the participants, especially the Fatah and Hamas representatives, dealing with the Algerian initiative more seriously, due to the severity of the predicament everyone is going through as a result of the drastic escalation of Israeli aggression, as well as out of respect for Algeria's high standing among all Palestinians. This may transpire through further rounds of dialogue and reaching a plan based on previous agreements that accounts for new developments, but that will quickly collapse in a matter of weeks or months unless it faces the root causes of failure and trigger issues and provides tangible solutions to them.
This scenario can be achieved if some experts and malign actors urge President Mahmoud 'Abbas to give the green light to a new round of dialogue, thereby hitting several birds with one stone. On the one hand, we would be able to say we gave another shot at achieving unity, thereby defusing the anger of the majority of Palestinians who demand it and doubt that the leaders and factions want it as well. It would also provide a suitable way out of the predicament posed by the looming one-year deadline the president gave before changing course with his speech at the UN in a few days' time, because it can then be said that the president has begun to implement unanimous resolutions and fulfill his promises by starting to get the Palestinian household in order as a necessary prelude to embarking on a new path.
On the other hand, another round of reconciliation talks will provide a ladder to descend from the tree-top of threatening to submit a request for Palestine to obtain full membership in the Security Council, after the U.S. and the UK threatened to sanction the PA and veto the request should it receive the nine required votes in the Security Council to be considered. The continuation of the talks could save face for Algeria, which has stood and continues to stand with the Palestinian cause and people and extend all forms of support to them.
The people in general, and those committed to the cause and unity in particular, will not forgive anyone who once again agrees to participate in a new fraudulent process by holding talks without prospects, whether or not they end in signing a new agreement. Each failure ends in a new disappointment, growing despair, and deepening the split further and further.
The fourth scenario is the achievement of national reconciliation, but it is unlikely because the factors of success remain insufficient, despite its mounting urgency. It would involve achieving democratic national unity and true partnership that draws from the lessons and takeaways of last experiences, especially the deplorable experience of the Oslo Accords and various unilateral strategies.
This scenario can be achieved by embarking on an inclusive national dialogue with an agenda that includes both agreed on and disputed pivotal issues, following a short, specific timetable. Alongside faction representatives, participants will include the representatives of various Palestinian associations and movements, activists, legal personalities, women, and youth, with the objective of developing a comprehensive vision that does not hinge on goodwill or repeat past failed experiences. After all, 'insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result', especially since circumstances have changed and there is no longer an Israeli partner or political process and there is no expectation of a political process beginning in the immediate or even medium term. In fact, the horizon is open to escalation and conflict.
This vision depends on a comprehensive package solution, and the key to achieving this is true national partnership in which all shades of the political and social spectrum participate without burning bridges or excluding anyone, and without hegemony or unilateralism. Agreement on a political program that identifies common grounds, objectives, and modes of action and struggle is the gateway and key to such a comprehensive package solution applied in a synchronized, parallel fashion.
This package must involve a strategy that determines how to achieve national goals and form a single leadership by consensus, perhaps on an interim basis of no more than one year to start, during which PLO institutions will be rebuilt, the PA reconstituted, and a national unity government formed that strives to unify institutions and end the split through recourse to the people by holding legislative, presidential, and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections wherever possible, and reaching a national accord on national and democratic consensual standards where elections cannot be held.
In order for official dialogue to succeed, it can, or rather should, be paired with or preceded by a serious, deep unofficial dialogue process that addresses central issues, in which a select number of experts, intellectuals, and legal personalities participate, so as to lay the groundwork, help remove obstacles, and build bridges of cooperation and trust between the various parties.
If we review key perspectives, we find that the first proposes beginning an internationally approved national unity government that agrees to international legal standards, including the Quartet's conditions (despite the Quartet's demise), provided that it ends the split, unifies institutions, and ends Hamas' control over the Gaza Strip, and makes preparations to hold elections. The elections must include Jerusalem, invite the participation of boycotting factions such as the PFLP, and ensure Hamas and Islamic Jihad are included in the PNC and Palestinian Central Council (PCC) until a new PNC is formed and convenes sessions in Ramallah.
The second perspective proposes starting with comprehensive elections, or with a national accord on arrangements for the transitional period, or starting with the PLO first. This would be done by forming a preparatory committee to that then forms a new PNC, due to the illegality of the last PCC session that delegated powers to the PNC and the illegality of the outcomes of the latter's recent sessions, provided that the PLO headquarters and PNC session venue are located abroad or a combination of at home and abroad with virtual networking.
The third perspective, which favors a comprehensive package solution, maintains that focusing on one issue, like government formation, or starting with the PLO, or holding elections as a starting point, has been tried and failed, and another try will still lead to failure. The opportunity must be given for a comprehensive package solution based on full partnership that provides a solution to thorny issues and is based on accord and elections at once, as well as on refusing to capitulate to Israel's veto of elections in Jerusalem and agreeing on a way to hold them in spite of it. It would be based on changing the PA and restructuring PLO institutions to hold meetings in a manner that enables everyone's participation, while distributing leaders and department offices everywhere the Palestinian people have a presence. It would be based on a balance of principles, interests, and forces, from which everyone emerges victorious, and no faction or individual monopolizes any institution, whether in the PA or PLO. It would be based on a realistic national program free of lassitude or extremism, a program that preserves national rights and provides the best conditions to fight to achieve them, armed with international legitimacy shorn of the Quartet's conditions and illusions of reviving the political process.
The word 'impossible' only exists in the coward's dictionary. Where there is a will, there is a way.
"Whatever the leadership, the factions, and participating figures fail to achieve in fulfillment of national requirements, the people will act to seize sooner or later, for they are the mother of the cause and the stakeholders fueling the fight from beginning to end," concludes Masri.