Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to send a delegation to Gaza to discuss reconciliation with Hamas certainly represents a positive step, even if past experience of the series of disagreements between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip calls for us to be cautious in raising expectations of an immediate détente between the two. This is unlikely to happen unless the latest developments to took place following what happened with the international aid flotilla has created a new way of thinking and a different approach, particularly within Hamas.
The deadly attack carried out by the Israel forces against the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara, which resulted in a number of deaths and injuries, and the subsequent international reaction to this, has created a new attitude amongst the concerned regional and international parties, including the US. They now believe that the Gaza blockade is not sustainable due to the suffering that it is causing to the citizens of Gaza.
Over the past two days, reports and statements indicate that Hamas might be willing to accept ideas put forward by Europe, namely the presence of European or international observers at Gaza border crossings, or – according to a French proposal – European or international inspection of aid ships carrying supplies needed by the Gaza population. US officials also confirmed that Washington had carried out discussion with Israel about lifting the blockade and allowing aid to reach the citizens of Gaza.
This is all positive for the citizens of Gaza, as lifting the blockade is important, humanitarianly and in principle, for collective punishment is something that is rejected politically and in international law, but this is not everything.
The influx of civilian supplies is a right that must be safeguarded, and should be always guaranteed. However, a return to normalcy is more than just allowing aid ships funded by [international] relief organizations and human rights organizations to reach port. Normalcy means freedom of trade, whether this is with regards to imports or exports, as well as the creation of a domestic economy whose minimum requirement is to create jobs, instead of 70 percent of the population being unemployed and the only job opportunities being in joining militias or the police force. This is possible, and a good example of this is what is happening in the West Bank which is witnessing an economic boom despite the occupation, in comparison with the Gaza Strip.
A permanent state of affairs is required, rather than temporary solutions, and this necessitates inter-Palestinian reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Fatah on one side, and the Hamas movement on the other, unifying the Palestinian side with regards to the demands it makes, and the solutions put forward by the rest of the world.. The crux of the problem is that this inter-Palestinian division put an end to arrangements which were in place when the Palestinian Authority was present in Gaza before it was expelled by Hamas. This was before the tunnels became a vital source of life [for Gaza], and a means of trade that some are able to benefit from.
Looking at the political position of both sides, one is able to see that the division between the two is not that deep, for Hamas accepts a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which is exactly what the Palestinian Authority is seeking to achieve, although the two parties express this in a different manner. The remaining differences are nothing more than propaganda and inciting public opinion.
The real problem which has delayed reconciliation until now is that this was being held hostage by regional parties that were using this as a trump card in the interests of a larger struggle, exploiting the Palestinian cause as a bargaining chip to strengthen their regional interests. It would have been much easier to achieve reconciliation if the Palestinian parties had only raised the Palestinian flag.