By Ghada Ageel
On 23 April 2014 Palestinian factions led by Hamas and Fatah met at the home of then-Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and concluded the al-Shati agreement. Despite differences in ideology and political programmes as well as a shared understanding of the consequences – inevitable outside intervention, possible cuts in donors’ aid, and intensified Israeli pressure – the two main Palestinian parties agreed to end intra-Palestinian strife and form a national consensus government. This agreement was in keeping with the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration. It also called for legislative, presidential and National Council elections within six months of the government’s formation.
Within weeks, a national consensus government was formed. It took office in June 2014. Palestinians who had waited long for that moment celebrated the end of a long and deliberate political and territorial division in Palestine and hoped that this accord would open the way for a long-overdue Palestinian reconciliation.
Happiness, alas, doesn’t last long in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Two weeks after announcement of the new government, Israel waged two wars to undermine the Palestinian choice of unity. The first was in the West Bank – an act of revenge against the kidnapping of three students from among the community of Israeli settlers. Despite learning within hours that the students had been killed, the Netanyahu government staged an aggressive campaign of collective punishment against Palestinians in the West Bank, marketed deceivingly as a rescue mission. Within weeks, this campaign of terror reached Gaza, which was subjected to 51 days of bombardment from air, land and sea, killing or injuring over ten thousand people and destroying or seriously damaging much of Gaza’s infrastructure, including over 96,000 homes.
When Israel’s military aggression came to an end, the daunting task of reconstructing the Gaza Strip was added to the government’s long and difficult to-do list.
Today, a year after the al-Shati agreement and the formation of the national consensus government, the devastating situation in occupied Palestine is far worse than the conditions preceding the accord. The divide between Hamas and Fatah is widening and there is no prospect of holding the long-overdue elections. The reconstruction of Gaza has effectively ground to a halt, while the Al-Shati-designed framework has failed to move beyond its first phase.
This stalemate can be ascribed to several factors and players. However, it is the Oslo agreement – and its vision of fragmentation – that remains the main cause of the continued divisions between Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the people. It is also Oslo that remains the primary obstacle to genuine intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a unified strategy for national liberation.
On 13 September 1993, the PA was instituted under the notorious Oslo Accords – a deal reached in secrecy that never enjoyed the support of a Palestinian consensus. Following the Accords, Palestinian leadership conceded its role in leading a national liberation movement and representing the collective aspirations of the Palestinian people. It was trapped in a deal releasing Israel’s government from key burdens of occupation, instead imposing these on Israel’s new agent, the newly created Palestinian Authority. Multiple mechanisms on the ground were introduced to facilitate the implementation. These included establishing a security function (or “security coordination”) for the nascent PA, actually providing security for the occupying power. They also included the incentive of multi-billions in donor money to establish, recruit and train personnel from the West Bank and Gaza to suppress any resistance or popular unrest against corruption and repression. This security function has indeed maintained the status quo and allowed Israel the time it needs to complete its colonial project. In return, the new Palestinian leaders have been rewarded with VIP status, a good life and enormous privileges.
In the eyes of the majority of Palestinians, this security function – the wicked outcome of Oslo – is tantamount to a crime. It has exacted an extremely heavy price from the Palestinian people and in fact involved relinquishing the project of national liberation. As such, it also successfully continues to fuel Palestinian division.
In point of fact, the Oslo Accords sowed the seeds of an intra-Palestinian schism from the outset: they let in a host of practical measures ensuring that a unified Palestinian stand, strategy, and vision would remain unattainable. Oslo created classifications and established divisions. It segregated and stratified the people of Palestine and led to the radical subdivision of the remaining 22 percent of Palestinian land still inhabited by these people. It was only after Oslo that Palestinians experienced the full meaning of their fragmentation as a people with the removal of the exiled refugees from the political and geographical map of the new Authority. It was only after Oslo that Palestinians came to be tagged as either “moderate” or “radical”. It was only after Oslo that Palestinians were effectively cast and treated as two peoples: those under the government of Ramallah and those under the government of Gaza. It was only after Oslo that Gaza and Jericho were deemed to “come first”, with all remaining territory relegated to infinity or the unknown. And it was only after Oslo that 62 percent of Palestinians’ remaining land (now labelled “Area C”,) was placed under the full and exclusive control of Israel’s security forces. This “administrative” division placed another 28 percent of Palestinian land (“Area B”) under joint Israeli-Palestinian administration, while (theoretically) leaving the remaining 11 percent of this land (Area A) under Palestinian control.
When the parties met in al-Shati camp to finalise last year’s agreement, the division was therefore not simply a political one between two large factions conflicted over issues of power. Nor was it strictly the result of the 2007 events leading to the takeover of Gaza by the party that had won the 2006 elections, that is, by Hamas. It was a product of two decades of systematic implementation of the framework designed from the outset to nurture such rifts, the Oslo Accords. Further, it was a division between two parallel programmes with no realistic prospects of converging. The first was the Fatah party programme, representing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, which was no longer committed to ending the occupation. The second was the programme led by Hamas and the other Palestinian factions and backed by the majority of Palestinian people, supporting resistance as a means of ending occupation. The division was thus a clash between an elite ruling class, regarded by a large cross-section of Palestinian society as an interest group that already possessed all it could hope to obtain after the end of occupation, and the vast majority of Palestinians in and outside of occupied Palestine, who mostly possessed very little and were still steadfastly unwilling to submit. While the elite had already signed over the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people in return for donor funds and a “pathetic statelet”, the people remain unbent and insistent on their rights. This is the real reason for the punitive subjection of the tiny, densely populated strip of land that is Gaza to seven years of inhumane blockade, the longest known in human history, and to three criminal Israeli military attacks in the same period.
The stalemate of the al-Shati Agreement and the failure of the reconciliation government to end the split between Hamas and Fatah and to meet its obligations were therefore inevitable. The current unity government and the reconciliation agreement were designed and destined, like past ones, to end in failure. Their failure will not stem, as critics misleadingly claim, from the distinctive level of complexity in the Hamas-Fattah power struggle. It will fail because the overriding strategic objective of the Oslo Accords and of all the subsequent agreements was not to resolve the conflict but, rather, to perpetuate a fragmented and limited Palestinian self-rule allowing continued Israeli colonisation. As long as the Palestinians fail to confront this reality, there will be no genuine national reconciliation and no unity.
– Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta Political Science Department (Edmonton, Canada), an independent scholar, and active in the Faculty4Palestine-Alberta. Her new book “Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences” is forthcoming with the University of Alberta Press – Canada. (This article was first published in Middle East Eye.)