By Dr. Ahmed Yousef – Gaza
January 2010 marks the 4th anniversary of Hamas in the government following its democratic victory in the 2006 Parliamentary election and the formation of its government in March of the same year. This year is also special because it also marks the fourth year of Hamas’ successful transition to a political party, despite the trials and tribulations faced and imposed by certain members of the international community that attempted to see Hamas toppled and to thwart Palestinian democracy.
Hamas was ambitious in achieving its Platform of Change and Reform; a platform that called for an end to government corruption and transparency and participation of all political parties in governance. As may be recalled, many of the candidates that ran and won on the Change and Reform platform, at both the local and national level, were Palestinians of all walks of life that held diverse political views and affiliations. The 2006 election results were truly a signal and beacon of the Palestinian call for change and reform of the governance and policies of the past. The call for change and reform was impeded by external interference in internal matters that resulted in the dispersion of Hamas’ efforts for reform, culminating in lateral disputes with political opponents, particularly the Fatah movement.
The pragmatic, rational and wise people from the movement attempted resolve the challenges presented following the elections. For example, Dr. Azeez Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), proposed a Program of National Reform. The proposed program ultimately led to the National agreement program. While we attempted to implement the National Agreement, the political disputes and armed conflicts forced the leadership to turn from internal reform. Consequently, matters on the ground became more chaotic at the hands of Preventive Security Apparatus. The flames of chaos were further fueled by the aid and interference of certain western governments, namely the United States.
The United States had been calling for Palestinian democratic elections. Yet, when Hamas’ Change and Reform swept electoral victory, those calls for Palestinian democracy among and within the US government were silenced and economic sanctions imposed. The Palestinian people were punished economically and militarily for exercising the rights and participating in the democratic process revered by the West. The US administrations behavior was reminiscent of its past foreign policy endeavors following the elections of political parties Northern Africa and in Central and South America that it did not like. This type of behavior is not only undemocratic, but also runs contrary to the rights enshrined in the UN Charter that calls for respect for and lack of interference in the internal affairs of others.
Interference in internal Palestinian affairs and aid to topple the Hamas government was done in the name of the so-called “War on Terror.” The War on Terror was used as a pretext to remove a political party found not to be politically expedient to US interests, namely support of “Israel.”. This policy was further aided by regional collusion and daily Israeli aggressions on the west bank and the Gaza Strip.
Despite the pressures imposed externally, Hamas, for the sake of Palestinian national interest, opened the door to forming the National Unity Government based on the Mecca Agreement. The purpose of the Mecca Agreement was to halt external interference and give the Palestinians the chance to build their own democratic political system based on participation, transparency and freedoms enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
In the National Unity Government, a common Political Program was presented that was accepted by both Hamas and Fatah. In that program, President Abbas was given the mandate to negotiate with Israel; the conclusion of those negotiations were to be discussed and approved by the Palestinian people; and, final, the right of the people to resist the occupation, enshrined in international law, so long as Israel continues to occupy our lands in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, was upheld.
Unfortunately, the national unity government didn’t last more than three months and, during that time, the amount of targeting of Hamas members increased. The chaos on the ground led to what is referred to as the Military Take Over of June 2007. Many mistakes by Palestinian political parties were committed during that time; mistakes that should not and will not prevent Palestinian reunification and reconciliation.
Hamas has attempted to break the political isolation imposed on it and Palestinians by travelling to Europe in order to present our vision and statements. It has continued to engage the International Community through direct and indirect channels in an attempt to restore Palestinian democracy and to achieve Palestinian unity. The divide between the West Bank and Gaza cannot remain, as we are brothers and sisters in the now and hereafter. We, as Palestinians and with the aid of our brothers and sisters worldwide, shall overcome.
The Gaza Strip: the stabilization of Security and Calmness
The Gaza Strip has not witnessed a state of Calmness and Security since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. Security and Calm, however, was achieved following the events of June 2007. All the visitors to the Gaza Strip have witnessed the situation—the military presence on the street is gone; there is an absence of chaos and disorder; and, finally, a state of law and order, with respect to all, has been restored.
The Reconciliation Efforts, Endless Efforts
Following June 2007, the divide between the two main parties, Fatah and Hamas, has increased. Many countries tried to intervene for reconciliation, but the gap remains deep. The intervention was impeded by US implicit and unchecked support for Israel. Meanwhile, General Dayton continues to implement his security vision in the west Bank, which is in harmony with Israel’s vision.
The Egyptian Document for Ending Palestinian Division
For more than a year, Egypt has tried to bridge the gap between Fatah and Hamas. This effort has succeeded in easing the dispute and pushed each party toward achieving reconciliation with a vision that is agreed upon by all parties and not just Fatah and Hamas.
The atmosphere was suitable for signing the agreement at a ceremony sponsored by Cairo at the end of October 2009. However, the consequences of the postponement of the vote on the Goldstone’s report due to a request presented by President Abu Mazen, has created a state of political confusion and accusations that aggravated the relationship between the two sides. Due to the uproar that followed, and which directly affected President Abu Mazen, the PNA made a request to resubmit the report for discussion and voting in the UN General Assembly.
Cairo sent the document for ending the Palestinian division to both Fatah and Hamas for their signatures. The signing was supposed to take place with no objection, so that reconciliation could move to the second phase. The second phase is concerned with implementation of the terms in the document—the forming of the Supreme National Committee; conducting new elections; activating the PLO; reforming the security apparatuses; and, achieving internal reconciliation.
Fatah has signed the Egyptian document, while Hamas hesitated asking for clarification on some of the points in the document. Moreover, it was thought that Egypt would take the initiative to invite the parties to a final session or at least call on all factions to put the final touches on the document. Unfortunately, Cairo insisted on the signing of the document and stated that the comments and reservations made by Hamas and other Palestinian political factions would be taken into consideration during the direct implementation phase of reconciliation on the ground.
This situation resulted in a complete halt to all dialogue and efforts to achieve reconciliation and Palestinian unity. We have all committed mistakes and the nature and severity of them vary. Despite this, we shall overcome. Today, there are Arab, Libyan and Saudi efforts to overcome the obstacles that hinder the signing of the Egyptian document for national reconciliation. We hope that these efforts will be fruitful when presented during the upcoming Arab summit in Tripoli on 27 March.
The Challenges Ahead
There are four main challenges that the Palestinians face:
First: To end the internal divide and reclaim the unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank;
Second: To lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Third: To mobilize Arab, Muslim and International support for the Palestinians.
Forth: To end the occupation and the establishment of a free and sovereign independent Palestinian State.
There is no doubt that these challenges are all interconnected and interdependent. One cannot be achieved without the others. It is my hope that all of us working together will enable and bring about reconciliation; and, an end to Israeli occupation, the construction of the Israeli Settlements and the expropriation of the Palestinian lands. It is time for all Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and internationals to put aside personal, factional and political differences; it is time for all of us to stand as one, as brothers and sisters to overcome injustice and uphold the rights enshrined in international law and the human rights granted to all by God. In the words of Martin Luther King, “We shall overcome!”
– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the Deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & former Political Advisor to the Prime Minister. He contributed this article to PalestinieChronicle.com.