"The deadline set by the PLO's Executive Committee for reaching an [Fatah/Hamas] agreement on the bases for a national unity government has expired," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
The president has threatened that he would reshuffle the current government with or without Hamas's consent. He has stressed that the incoming government must abide by his program, and that every minister should personally commit to that program, in fact. And this has elicited a response from Hamas in which it has stressed its own demands (or preconditions) for agreeing to take part in the proposed government.
The first point worth noting is that the drive towards forming a national unity government was not in response to any particular threat or danger. It was a reaction to the progress in the tahdi'a [lull or calming down] negotiations between Israel and Hamas, and the disagreements within the [resigned] national accord government and its inability to take off.
Instead of returning to the signatories to the [2014 Fatah/Hamas] reconciliation agreement, the initiative to form a new government came from the PLO's Executive Committee, despite the fact that it does not include Hamas or Islamic Jihad representatives. The aim is to pit the PLO against Hamas. This is contrary to what had been customary. In the past, Fateh and Hamas used to reach bilateral agreement, after which the other factions and the PLO would accede to it. This is what happened to the Cairo Agreement and the ash-Shati' declaration – even though the latter was agreed via the facilitation of a PLO delegation.
Despite the importance of all this, the identity of the parties that will discuss the bases of the new government is not an issue that should derail its formation. No accord or national unity government can see the light of day without Fateh and Hamas's acquiescence because they are the largest factions, having secured the largest number of votes in the  Palestinian Legislative Council elections, and because – and this is the more important point – each of them controls either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, directly or in a disguised manner.
The second point worth making has to do with exaggerating the importance of reaching an agreement on the government's political program by insisting that it should be the same as that of the PLO.
Certain figures who are perceived to be members of the president's [Abbas’s] camp appear to be 'more royalist than the king' on this issue. They insist that the next government should commit to the PLO's program, and specifically to the International Quartet's preconditions. And they totally ignore the fact that the Quartet has died, as evident from its failure to hold any meetings for a long time; moreover, even when it does meet, it agrees on nothing. Its representative Tony Blair has resigned, and it has decided not to appoint a successor.
Before he tendered his resignation, the Quartet asked him to hold two meetings with Hamas's Politburo head Khalid Mish'al to reach an agreement on the terms for a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. That represents a fundamental and practical disregard of the Quartet’s own terms, which require Hamas to recognize its preconditions if the movement is to be recognized or dealt with, or if any PA government in which it takes part is to be recognized.
Moreover, successive Israeli governments, including Netanyahu's current government, have ignored the Quartet's preconditions by negotiating with Hamas indirectly and concluding numerous tahdi'a and prisoner exchange deals with it. In fact, the Israeli government is currently negotiating with Hamas. And this means that the PA’s insistence on adopting the Quartet's preconditions by invoking the threat of being boycotted is a mere pretext, and is intended to serve the interests of certain influential circles that do not want the national unity government to see the light of day.
The Palestinians need a national unity government headed by the president, as required by the Doha Declaration, and that includes [Gaza-based Hamas PM] Ismail Haniyeh and the most senior representatives of the other factions, as well as weighty national figures. This is necessary if it is to be strong enough to face up to the enormous challenges that confront us. If the president and other leading figures remain outside the government, it will become no more than yet another center of power among others, whereas it should be the center of decision-making that is capable of implementing its decisions as well.
Since the president has announced (and as has been confirmed by the PLO Executive and Central Committees) that it has become necessary to reconsider the relationship with the occupation and reevaluate the agreements concluded with it in order to put an end to the situation where there is 'a Palestinian Authority without authority,' a 'comfortable occupation,' and a 'separation of Gaza from the West Bank' – to the point that the Central Committee has taken a decision to end security coordination with Israel –there is no justification for those who wish to take us backwards and insist that the incoming government should commit to the International Quartet's preconditions.
The next government's program should be the same as that of the PLO that calls for the right of return, the right of self-determination and national independence; that is to say, as it was before the concessions that brought it down and turned it into a different program.
We need a unity government whose program is totally clear regarding negotiations and resistance, and the need to reconsider the PA's structure, tasks, and commitments. We want a government that both satisfies the requirements of international recognition and the new challenges facing us. Its program must be clear regarding the tahdi'a. It should not be a government that consolidates the current [Gaza/West Bank] division and transforms it into permanent secession in return for a mere gradual or even total end to the [Gaza] siege and the establishment of a floating seaport under Israel's control with international cover; instead, this should be part of a political process that will end the occupation and achieve freedom, the right of return, and independence.
The government's program must be clear on the question of security, uniting the security forces on patriotic and professional bases, free from factionalism and polarization. It should also be committed to resolving the problems of state employees, to ending the siege and reconstructing the Strip, to address the problem of taking control of the crossing points, and put a final end to the split instead of managing it, taking into consideration the difference characteristics and circumstances in the West Bank and Gaza.
We want a government committed to an accord democracy that includes new elections provided they are free and open, and their outcome is respected. These elections should not be treated as a means to monopolize power or exclude or dominate others. The object should be to consolidate fair competition within a framework that deepens national unity so as to ensure that we do not bring our differences to it and thereby paralyze it. We need a government that translates international recognition of the Palestinian state on the ground, not only on that exists in the UN corridors. This means that we should liberate ourselves – even if in a gradual but well-studied manner – from the previous commitments and agreements [with Israel] that cannot rule us forever.
We also want the coming government to be able to unify our political regime and to end every aspect of the split, including domination of the PLO and the PA, and Hamas's control of Gaza. This government should serve the national interest and act as a tool in the PLO's hands after its institutions, which have grown old and derelict, have been rebuilt.
We want a government that does not help return to bilateral negotiations under exclusive American sponsorship with merely formal international participation. Instead, we want a government that shuts the door once and for all in the face of this prospect. We want a government that respects human rights and equality among all citizens regardless of gender, religion, color, or party affiliation. We want a government that fights the rise in prices, monopolies, corruption, nepotism, exploitation, and the neoliberal free economy that grinds down the poor and impoverishes them further while serving the interests of the rich and making them richer.
If this is the government that we want and need, can it be achieved? Or is the call for it no more than a ploy as evident from the mutual preconditions, using the deadline for forming it as a threat, and the wager on time and certain parties and developments for such an initiative to resume the negotiations, or waiting for Hamas's collapse, or the improvement of Hamas's relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or a long-term tahdi'aagreement with Israel?
The preliminary answer to this question is evident from the failure to achieve any real breakthrough in the dialogue over the bases of the government so far. The final answer will emerge in a few days or a few weeks’ time at most.
If the formation of a unity government fails, what kind of government will be formed instead? An accord government such as the present one; a colorless, tasteless, odorless government that has no power, not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank as well? This is because it is a government that does not rule; the occupation is the master here. It is the occupation that grants the PA some limited authorities and powers- sometimes expanding and sometimes narrowing them as is happening today in an attempt to subjugate the president to the occupation's endless and continuous demands and preconditions.
Or will it be a government but without national accord, one that will consolidate the split even if it does not lead to the formation of another government in the Gaza Strip, one that will have to bear full responsibility for what happens if Hamas absolves itself from it?
The path to national salvation requires more than an agreement on a government while disregarding the national program and the PLO, which represents all the Palestinians.
"Rebuilding the PLO's institutions and revamping the organization to include all shades of the spectrum is the natural gateway towards ending the split. The PLO must be enabled to do everything possible to protect the Palestinian people wherever they are located, and to improve their living conditions, and pave the way towards realizing their national aims and dreams," concludes Masri.