Unity Comes First

By Joharah Baker – Jerusalem

Saying we are back to square one hardly does our situation justice. If we are to be more accurate, we should say we are below zero, pushed back to a place we tried to avoid in the first place. But here we are – no national unity government, no factional conciliation and not even unity within Fateh itself. The Palestinian squabbling has splintered the leadership even more, leaving us empty handed once again.

For months now, the Palestinian people have been on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, alternately raising their hopes and watching them plummet with the start of every conciliation meeting and their subsequent failure. Each time, we average citizens hoped beyond hope that this time, our leaders would come to their senses and realize how important it is to see the bigger picture, to transcend these petty feuds and maintain the age-old aspiration of our people, which is a united front with the goal of national liberation.

That goal has been lost for some time now, even if our leaders mouth the words in public forums. Their actions speak differently and the fact that they cannot unite, that they would rather pick at each other like roosters in a cock fight, shows that our national project has suffered one too many blows.

Last week, President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would call on resigned Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to resume his position at the head of a “newly formed” government in light of the failed on-again off-again reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fateh in Cairo. This did not sit well with many, including some Fateh parliamentarians, who thwarted plans for the new government to be sworn in on May 12. While President Abbas claims the new government formation, which would supposedly include 24 ministers, is a way of maintaining a sound leadership in light of the current impasse in factional negotiations, many others interpreted the move as a way of closing the door to further unity talks, which were ostensibly to be restarted in a few days.

Hamas, of course, is dead set against Abbas’ decision, saying any new caretaker government would be deemed “illegal”. Hamas and Fateh have been butting heads for months now over the formation of an interim national unity government that would take over the affairs of the “state” until presidential and legislative elections are held at the start of 2010. Other factions, such as the PFLP and the People’s Party have also said they would not join a government because of its negative ramifications on unity efforts.

At this point, it is barely relevant as to who is more at fault for the current disunity among the Palestinians because they both are. If ever Palestinians have “missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” it is among themselves, not with Israel. In Cairo, the parties were getting closer and closer to agreement, with issues such as the mechanism for elections and the ministerial distribution being the only major points of contention left. This was their chance, Hamas and Fateh alike, to grab this opportunity and put their egotistic differences aside for the good of the people and for the cause.

But each time, news of the talks’ breakdown would bring us all back to the grim reality. The truth, which is often very difficult to swallow, is that our leaders have grown used to being in places of power. They have grown to believe that our government is one that actually has the power to rule even though there is no sovereign state to rule over.

This has long been the Palestinians’ biggest problem, at least since the Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian leadership was no longer a revolutionary entity but a quasi-government, taking over the administrative responsibilities of a government but without the political benefits. The PA organized the Palestinians’ lives in some ways, creating jobs for many and setting up government offices to where citizens could head to get their daily affairs done. But while the President and Prime Minister were treated in this capacity in international forums, traveling to foreign countries and receiving red carpet treatment, at home their hands were tied by the ubiquitous Israeli government. President Abbas cannot travel to the Gaza Strip without prior permission from the Israelis, just like any other Palestinian. Ministers could be arrested in the middle of the night by gun-toting, handcuffing Israeli soldiers and taken away like common criminals. When it comes to the Israelis, a Palestinian is a Palestinian regardless of the title that precedes your name.

Unfortunately, Hamas fell into the same trap after getting a taste of “power”. Once they took those seats, adding titles like Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to their names, there was no going back. Now they too will not relinquish what they think is rightfully theirs and care less that by remaining so disunited, they are harming the cause they claim to be defending.

So, here we are once again. What is the use of a government that does not govern the entire people? Unity must be achieved so that our struggle to gain independence can be properly fought. We all know this is a struggle of gargantuan proportions, especially given this new Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in no rush to serve the Palestinians their freedom on a silver platter. He will try everything to hinder any efforts for a just solution to the Palestinian problem for as long as he can. And as long there is no united Palestinian front to consider, he really has nothing much to worry about.

– Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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