By Fadi Elhusseini
While the U.S. administration reconciled itself to walking the walk of Israel and talking the talk of its diplomacy when it comes to foreign policy towards the Palestinians, it has been announced that in the ensuing weeks, vim and vigor Europe will be trying to mend fences between Palestinians and Israel, in an attempt to bridge differences and rejuvenate the screeching halt in the peace process. At this point, the U.S. administration appears to be a bystander, watching these fresh attempts which come to control a situation which could well veer out of control, and seemingly with neither a resolution in sight nor a thaw in relations in the offing.
In the aftermath of the success of Palestine’s bid in the United Nations, Israel’s Realpolitick crudely came to the fore as it commenced a number of steps as per an immediate retaliation. It cut the PNA’s tax money, quadrupled its settlement, confiscation and demolishment activities in the occupied territory of Palestine, and unleashed settlers to attack Palestinian villagers and farms.
In the light of such practices, the prolonged and unjust blockade of the Gaza Strip, along with the continuation of the financial siege on the Palestinian Authority and its inability to pay the salaries of its employees, it appears unequivocally that Israel is fanning the flames of a third Palestinian Intifada “uprising” in order to cause Palestinians to lose every diplomatic achievement, economic accomplishment and international recognition resulting through their peaceful approach.
In the midst the growing rift between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, it appears that Palestine’s domestic Sisyphean ordeal has finally found a solution. A meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and head of Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mesha’al took place in Cairo earlier this month. Although the meeting looked like a re-wind of previous ones which failed to produce any concrete results, the aim of ending the division and concluding a national reconciliation are being worked out.
According to the sources close to both sides, both leaders agreed on a number of steps as part of the implementation of the signed reconciliation agreement, and thereafter to conduct elections on three levels: for the Presidency, the Palestinian Legislative Council (Palestinians inside Palestine) and the Palestinian National Council (the broader frame for Palestinian representation inside and outside Palestine). Both leaders have also agreed on the return of the Palestinian elections committee to the Gaza strip, after being banned and expelled, due to allegations of their bias towards Fatah.
This meeting and the agreement are considered very important at this specific time, as both sides- Fatah and Hamas, have achieved domestic victories. On the one hand, Hamas’s triumph and recent popularity stem from its resistance during the last Israel aggression against the Gaza strip. This lead to the fact that Hamas gained huge popularity, not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank, Palestine and the rest of the “changing” Arab world, who all hailed resistance as the sole and legitimate means for independence and liberation of Palestine.
On the other hand, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were applauded highly in the aftermath of the diplomatic success achieved with the landslide victory at the General Assembly of the United Nations, which upgraded the status of Palestine to statehood. This has brought much popularity to the Palestinian President, his party “Fatah” and his peaceful and diplomatic approach towards the conflict with Israel. This was clearly symbolized by hundreds of thousands demonstrators in the Hamas-controlled Gaza streets earlier this month, in celebration of Fatah for the first time since 2007.
Both parties have been working hard to show their supporters that the goal is independence, regardless of the means, and that their differences are benign. Such internal conditions were put to the fore ahead of any new talks, so that each side proves to the other one that it is not the weak party in the ongoing talks and it is not compelled, due to difficult internal partisan conditions, for such reconciliation.
In effect, both parties face tremendous pressure from external and internal elements. Some western powers are not yet ready to see Hamas part of any legitimate government in Palestine, and have tried to deter Fatah from negotiating with Hamas. Israeli officials, for instance, discouraged and even warned Abbas either to choose peace with Hamas or with Israel. On the other hand, other powers discourage Hamas from any partnership with Fatah, and being part of an internationally recognized government, which will be stamped- according to them- by an “imperialistic stamp”.
Notwithstanding, there are other domestic and internal players who are wary of the ramifications of such unity. To elaborate, some players in the Gaza strip and the West Bank, who are benefiting from the current conditions and the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, do not wish to see new partners sharing their profits. These domestic players include businessmen, officials, and security commanders, and they may be willing to instigate or to spark sedition and to do anything in order not to see their profits, leverage and authority at stake, or, in best the case scenario, shared and limited by the presence of others.
However, doubt should not be left to haunt hope, and unity should be a strategic choice and not a matter of interest. The division not only harmed the Palestinian cause and its image everywhere, but it also had serious repercussions on every side in Palestinian’s lives. For instance, the Palestinian societies in Gaza and the West Bank are moving in different directions. It is true that Israel is responsible for the geographical division, but the division between Fatah and Hamas has other implications. Education, lifestyle, currency, commodities, newspapers and other aspects are cases in point. There can be no doubt that the longer this division lasts, the harder it will be to reverse its consequences.
In a nutshell, division has marred Palestine’s history whilst colossal challenges are facing unity. For any possible resolution of the divisions, unity has to be the cornerstone and the Palestinian leadership has to make its decision for reconciliation irreversible. Their unity should encompass their unified diplomatic and peaceful vision towards the conflict with Israel. This will lead, without a doubt, to a unified international position in support of their peaceful aspirations for independence and freedom.
– Fadi Elhusseini is a Political and Media Counsellor at the Embassy of Palestine in Ankara. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.