"The eighth anniversary of the  inter-Palestinian split has passed without eliciting much concern," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This is because the reconciliation has been frozen despite the fact that it has been over a year since the national accord government was formed-- without helping to end the split. On the contrary; the situation has worsened after the government’s formation and the state of the reconciliation now resembles that of the 'peace process,' which died a long time ago and has turned into a process without peace.
The split has deepened both horizontally and vertically, and the influence of the groups with an interest in prolonging it has taken deep root at every level. The effort to end the split now requires greater impetus and a long period before success can be achieved.
On this unfortunate anniversary, I register some remarks, conclusions, and lessons:
- First, the split has deep Palestinian roots having to do with disagreements, interests, and ideologies, and giving priority to the struggle for power over anything else. There are also foreign Israeli, Arab, regional, and international factors, which implies that the decision to end the split is not a purely Palestinian one; it is one that is influenced by Israel and by Arab, regional, and international parties.
It is true that the influence of external factors varies, especially in light of the Arab changes, preoccupations, and domestic wars. But the Israeli factor remains a major one. For it is in Israel’s interest to ensure that the split continues until it turns into a separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the International Quartet's unfair preconditions [imposed on Hamas] remain a major obstacle that cannot be easily dismissed. For whenever the formation of a national unity government with the participation of all factions is considered, these preconditions emerge as a major obstacle and prevent the creation of the only government capable of confronting the challenges and threats.
- Second, ending the split will not be achieved by the entreaties, wishes, and demands of the two parties and those benefiting from it to end it. It can only end by finding a third party that expresses the will of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, including the members and supporters of Fateh and Hamas, and which works on building up popular political pressure that grows and grows until it reaches a point where the pressure to end the split outweighs the pressure to maintain it.
To reach that point, the efforts to end the split must be part of a more comprehensive endeavor. This should occur within the context of a process meant to rebuild the Palestinian national-patriotic movement and redefine the national program and the PLO's institutions in a manner that takes the new facts, the emerging expertise, the deep changes, and the lessons and morals from previous experience into consideration. After all, what may have been permissible or workable a hundred, fifty, or even twenty years ago is no longer permissible or workable today in the age of post-modernity, globalization and the rise and fall of patriotic, nationalist, international, and Islamist movements, and in light of the emergence of the terrorism phenomenon and trans-border and transcontinental takfiriorganizations.
- Third, ending the split cannot be achieved in a selective manner; nor can it be achieved by focusing on certain selected aspects and disregarding other equally fundamental aspects. It can only be secured within the framework of a major process that is intended to lift the Palestinian people up to attain their aims and rights. Only then can the Palestinians act because there would be a major cause worth sacrificing for. By contrast, reconciliation on the basis of distributing power and preservation of the status quo will not attract the people's interest.
We need to end the split and regain unity; we do not need reconciliation alone. And this requires reaching a comprehensive agreement that is a single package, which includes the bases of political partnership and common denominators. It must also include management of conflict over the remaining outstanding issues in a democratic manner, and giving priority to rebuilding the PLO so as to include the various shades of the political spectrum. Moreover, the issues facing the Palestinian Authority (that has no authority) should not be put ahead of a PLO that has been disregarded and marginalized, allowing the Oslo course of action – which has harmed the unity of the cause, land, and people, and under whose ceiling almost all are now working – to persist.
This is the same course of action that has marginalized and split the Palestinian cause, restricting it to the establishment of a state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories. This, in turn, has led to a situation where we humiliatingly crawl after the establishment of a 'mini-state' whose limbs are torn apart, on part of the land occupied in 1967 (a state with 'provisional' borders), or to the establishment of a 'Gaza state' in return for a long-term truce.
- Fourth, working towards a comprehensive agreement and a complete package does not mean that we should refrain from any achievable step, especially in those domains that affect people's daily lives and provide protection for the Palestinian people against the current terrible threats they face the various places where they are located. For as the principle says, 'if something cannot be achieved in total, it should not be abandoned in total.' But it is important to link any step that we take to a coherent process that aims to end the split and regain national unity on patriotic, democratic, accord, and genuine political partnership bases. The final aim cannot be merely that of managing the split or cohabiting with it, or to advance theories about why it is impossible to end.
Ending the split is difficult, very difficult, in fact, but it is not impossible. This is because unity is necessary for the victory of national liberation movements, and because the racist, settlement, colonial, occupation project that aims to expel all the Palestinians targets every Palestinian. It does not distinguish between a moderate and an extremist Palestinian, or between Fateh and Hamas. Moreover, given its aims, schemes, radicalism, and extremism, this project accepts no compromise; it wants to achieve everything. This is why it has foiled all efforts and initiatives intended to reach a solution even though the Palestinian and Arab sides have made major concessions in return for which they have only 'reaped the wind.'
- Fifth, the current season is not one of harvest. It is not the phase for establishing a Palestinian state, even if this comes at the expense of the right of return and the Palestinian people's other rights. It is the phase of standing our ground, keeping the cause alive, reducing the harm done to us and the losses we suffer, foiling all solutions and options preferred by Israel, preserving our rights, aims, and what remains of our gains, refraining from offering any new concessions, and withdrawing those already made but in accordance with precise and responsible calculations that aim to rebuild the all-inclusive national institution, the national program, and a single leadership. And all this must be done in a manner that continuously safeguards and enriches pluralism as the source of the Palestinian cause's power, immunity, and continuity.
Quite simply, the solution lies in launching an all-inclusive national dialogue that is crowned with a national conference in which representatives of all of Palestinian communities take part. These must include women, the youth, and the Diaspora, in a manner that is proportionate to their size and role. And this dialogue should not be confined to the outside layers of the political system or to merely formal and procedural aspects; it must not focus on distributing power or on serving individual, factional, or partisan interests. It should instead rely on 'the pillars of the supreme national interest' and aim to produce the right answer to crucial questions, the most important of which are: Where does the Palestinian cause stand now? Where does it wish to reach? And how can it achieve what it wants?
Ending the split requires Fateh, Hamas, and the president before anyone and anything else to believe in partnership and embody it in various fields and at various levels within the PA and the PLO. They must be convinced that the Palestinian ship that sails in a sea tossed by storms and powerful waves cannot be steered to the shore of safety by any single leader or faction. This is especially unlikely now that everyone, without exception, finds themselves amidst a deep national predicament because the strategies pursued after the changes and domestic Arab wars have reached a dead end. The Palestinian cause needs all the people's energies and forces, and no party can claim to be able to achieve national salvation and liberation all by itself.
Ending the split also requires an end to the individual control and hegemony that have deepened after it. It requires an end to the wager on illusory changes, or on Arab, regional, and international parties – with the president and Fateh wagering on the U.S. administration and the so-called 'peace process,' and Hamas relying on the Muslim Brotherhood and certain Arab and regional parties.
"There is no alternative but to forgo these losing wagers and adopt a new approach in which everyone gives first priority to the national interest over all outside interests and agendas," concludes Masri.