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The Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement : between illusion and chimera

By Hanane Shehadeh, august, 4th, 2011.

Some writers and journalists have described the reconciliation agreement between the two largest Palestinian organizations, Fatah and Hamas, as a revolution on a par with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

In spite of the doubt and fear that prevailed in Palestinian streets as a result of the inability to translate this agreement into facts, Palestinians regarded it as a positive step that could reunite the Palestinian people, which explains why they took to the street, demonstrated and rejoiced about the event.

The pundits who specialize in the Palestinian question were caught unawares by this agreement, all the more so as the event contradicted all the aggressive statements issued by Fatah and Hamas a few days before it was signed. It is no doubt a great step in the right direction but more will be required to succeed in achieving the reconciliation and unity of the Palestinian people.

It is an exaggeration to call it a revolution, because a revolution opens up a new page in history, breaks with the past and adopts a revolutionary project that can get the country out of the crisis, which has not happened in the case of Palestine.

In the aftermath of the agreement, writers turned their attention to the factors that incited Fatah and Hamas to agree on this reconciliation, in order to predict whether it would be a success or a failure in the future.

Of course the reasons that account for the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas vary, depending on the analysis of the national and domestic situation made by each of the two organizations

For Fatah, the main factors are these :

The fact that the national project and the Fatah movement have reached a deadlock and that twenty years have been wasted on talks have led Fatah to be convinced that it cannot go on counting on the Americans and the Israeli to achieve progress in the talks. The main delegate of the PLO has been unable to obtain any improvement in the living conditions of Palestinians over the last two decades. On the contrary, Palestinians have entered a dark tunnel which has brought about division, especially within the Fatah movement. There has been a clash between those who support the continuation of talks and those who are opposed to it and the majority of the Palestinian people are convinced that those talks only serve the interests of a certain strata that from an economic point of view profits from of the existence of the Palestinian Authority. And this strata is going to do all it can to prolong that situation.

Fatah has lost its main allies. Following the fall of Mubarak, Fatah has become an orphan, especially as Saudi Arabia, its second most important ally, feels concerned about the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The Saudi ruling class is filled with fear, which the development of protest in Bahrain and Yemen has made worse. For the Saudis, the Palestinian cause is now of secondary importance.

Another factor that incited Fatah to sign the reconciliation agreement originates in the determination to give the international community an image of unity before going to the United Nations in September to win recognition of the Palestinian state. The state of Israel has consistently used the division between the two organizations as a pretext to pre-empt any negotiation. The Israelis were asking: Who are we going to negotiate with, Fatah or Hamas? For Fatah, the agreement should remove that obstacle. Furthermore, Mahmud Abbas wishes to end his political career with the recognition of the Palestinian state.

Fatah is also aware that the embargo imposed on Gaza for a long time, the 2008-2009 war, the bombings and the international boycott have not succeeded in subduing Hamas and bringing down its government. In such a situation Fatah is conscious that its return to Gaza is not on the books;

For Hamas:

Of course the fall of Mubarak is one of the reasons that prompted Hamas to sign the reconciliation agreement. Hamas, strengthened by the support of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt as it signed the agreement, finds its interest in the improvement of its relations with Egypt and the reopening of the Rafah crossing so as to break the embargo. The Muslim Brothers, like the Ennahda movement in Tunisia, are likely to achieve impressive results in the coming elections. It is therefore difficult to understand the reaction and the new attitude of Hamas unless one also considers the changes that that have taken place within the parent organization, namely the Muslim Brothers, who intend to exercise power... Of course all this comes at a cost.

Hamas is conscious that its political programme is not much different to Fatah' s. Hamas has officially accepted the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, a programme which Fatah adopted long ago. It is also necessary to point out that Hamas wants to conform to the positions of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, in particular when the latter said that that they would respect the agreements signed by Egypt, including the Camp David accords. Hamas even stated that it would accept any agreement with Israel on condition that it was approved by a Palestinian referendum. Such a position had for a long time been rejected by Hamas, which considered that Palestinian gains should not be put to the vote. It has even given a one-year deadline to Abbas for holding talks with Israel.

Another factor is the embargo imposed on Gaza. The uninterrupted bombings of Gaza, the very poor conditions of its inhabitants, Israel's permanent threat to start a new war, make the position of the movement difficult; which is compounded by Hamas’s incapacity to provide subsidies on a regular basis.

The street protests in Syria, which are without precedent, and the fear that the Syrian regime, its first ally and protector in Damascus, might fall, encouraged Hamas to sign the agreement.

Hamas's determination to open up to the world and be removed from the list of terrorist organizations, its acceptance of a state based on the 1967 borders and its proposal of a referendum are just evidence of that approach. It is likely that, after the elections to be held in Egypt, Hamas will distance itself from Shia Iran, which it was forced to associate with as a result of its isolation at international level, and will get closer to the Sunni Muslim Bothers.

Obviously one should also mention the demonstrations that swept through the West Bank and Gaza demanding the end of division. Last but not least, the USA and Europe want to further the peace process in their own way. They both understand that such a move cannot be undertaken if Hamas does not participate in the political process. It then becomes very hard for the USA and Europe to take a stand against the end of division, while at the same time declaring they respect the will of peoples and support the revolutions in the Arab world.

Concerns and challenges

There is no doubt that years of division have very nearly dismantled the fabric of Palestinian society, taken the Palestinian cause decades back and badly damaged the movement of international solidarity with the Palestinian people. But the challenges we have to face today stem from the fear that both movements might not be able or willing to implement the agreements that have been signed. A large number of questions have remained unsolved or have simply not been tackled, especially the problem of coordinating safety with the settlers, the problem of restructuring the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the planning of new elections to the Palestinian National Council. In fact, three months after the reconciliation agreement was signed, the name of the person who is going to hold the office of Prime Minister, although it is only a minor problem compared to other problems, has not yet been chosen.

Supposing the two movements succeed in implementing the content of the agreement, the most important problem will then arise, i.e. the compatibility between the agreement and the future national political project. Is the two-state solution still going to be put forward although over the past twenty years it has proved to be a failure? Will this project be able to rebuild the unity of the Palestinian nation wherever Palestinians are found? Will the Oslo accords remain a reference for the Palestinian people?

Conclusions

The unity of the Palestinian people cannot be limited to the West Bank and Gaza. It means going back to a united national and political project, such as the one that had achieved its unity for decades, before the leaderships became involved in the Oslo accords, thereby legitimizing the separation and the two-state solution.

The real national unity that the Palestinian people demand during this delicate period means first of all putting an end to the marginalization of 60% of the Palestinian population, by allowing Palestinian refugees to take part in the building of their nation.

In the past few months, the mobilization of Palestinian refugees near the borders of historic Palestine has shown that they are able to play a key role in political life. Political unity also implies the end of the politics of division between Fatah and Hamas, as well as the participation of every section, of civil society, of very component of the Palestine people in order to resolve the questions they all have to face.

The real reconciliation process entails the official announcement that the Oslo accords are dead, because of the occupation policies that ensued.. The reconciliation process also means the destruction of this regime, which shifted away from a national liberation movement to an apparatus serving the interests of colonization. Everybody knows that Oslo is the reason for the division of Palestinians, the cause of carnage among Palestinians. Now comes the fight par excellence, the fight for power. Now is the ideal time to proclaim this truth with courage, so as to contemplate a better future for the Palestinian people who have been suffering for more than 60 years.

The present situation reminds us of the 1948 period, in other words the time of soul-searching, when the national project was in crisis, when Palestinian forces remained scattered up till as late as 1964. The creation of the PLO put an end to this fragmentation and united all Palestinians wherever they were, as the national charter was adopted in 1964, confirmed in 1968. Through this charter, the project of a single state was on the agenda. Shouldn't such a programme be rebuilt, as the only way to bridge our present gap? There is no other guarantee of securing the real unity of the Palestinian people not only in the West bank and Gaza but everywhere.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )