Ceasefire and Palestinian National Unity

By Ahmed Yousef

Will there be a major incursion or a ceasefire in Gaza? That is the question Palestinians are asking themselves at the moment.

On the Palestinian side, all the political and military factions have decided to accept a cease fire (tahdiyeh) if the Israeli government halts all its acts of aggression and allows all passages to Gaza, including the Rafah crossing, to reopen. Palestinians consider the ceasefire a national consensus and are awaiting an Israeli answer through the Egyptian mediator.

Until now, however, Israel is delaying its response and instead reports of a massive military operation against the Gaza Strip are gaining currency. It raises the question of whether Israel is really serious about a ceasefire or is just working on widening the rift between Palestinians.

Hamas (the government and the movement) has done much on the ceasefire issue in response to Arab and European requests. Hamas wants to see an end to the killings and invasions of Gaza by the Israeli Occupation Forces, as well as an end to Israel’s justifications for its aggression. Having met their commitments, Palestinians are now waiting for the Rafah crossing to open.

On the Israeli side, however, the potential for a ceasefire is low due to the domestic problems of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government. Cairo still awaits Israel’s answer and for as long as Israel prevaricates international pressure must be brought to bear on the country because the alternative to a ceasefire may be a bloody confrontation. This, in turn, could spill over into the region.

Meanwhile, the prospects for national reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh have improved following last week’s speech by President Mahmoud Abbas, which was welcomed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Only through national unity can Palestinians face the occupation and defeat the siege imposed on us all.

The most appropriate step that should follow these positive statements from both sides is the engagement of the Arab League to help break the siege and reopen the Rafah crossing to facilitate the movement of Palestinians to and from Gaza and bring in much-needed humanitarian and medical aid.

The proposed issues to be discussed in any internal dialogue are as follows:

Forming a government of national unity that could contribute to ending the siege and the political isolation. This requires flexibility from both sides and priority to national interests over factional interests.

Rebuilding the Palestinian security apparatuses on the basis of proficiency. In this context there is no objection to bringing experts from Egypt or Turkey to achieve this.

Committing to reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in order that it properly represents all Palestinians, both inside and outside the homeland.

Respecting the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections and reinforcing the principles of democracy, power sharing and the peaceful transfer of authority.

Committing to open the subject of early elections once national reconciliation and stability have been achieved.

PM Haniyeh has been in close contact with a number of Arab leaders in recent days to support national reconciliation. These efforts emphasize that Hamas is serious about ending the rift with the brothers in Fateh and wants to expedite reconciliation in order to focus on the Israeli occupation and not allow Israel to exploit the opportunity to put facts on the ground and thus cause hopes for establishing a Palestinian state to fade.

It is clear that the US can’t be an honest broker in this conflict. The US is Israel’s ally, and this Israeli government is only buying time to build more settlements and strengthen its hold on Jerusalem. It is from this understanding that Palestinians must decide their position on the so-called peace process. We must also understand that this conflict requires the help of the Arab and Islamic world.

A united Palestinian stance, moreover, will also likely convince Israel to accept the ceasefire. Hence, the national unity dialogue must commence directly. This is the demand not only of the Palestinian people, but of Arabs and Muslims generally.

The coming weeks will be significant. In order that something positive may be generated, it is necessary to stop all incitement from all sides. 

– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is political adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza. He is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com.

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