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Palestinian reconciliation and the missing questions - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The news of the Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was welcomed by the Palestinian and Arab public. However this welcome was tinged with a sense of surprise. What happened to cause these two parties to reconcile this quickly, and indeed sign the Egyptian reconciliation document this quickly, particularly as Hamas previously rejected this agreement, demanding its amendment? What happened to cause Egypt to agree to make the amendments demanded by Hamas, although it long rejected this?

The first and most prominent reason is that President Mahmoud Abbas has reached a dead-end in his negotiation attempts with Israel, as well as in his hopes of seeing the US adopting a balanced position between Palestine and Israel. It is because Abbas has reached this position that he began to move towards reconciliation with Hamas, aiming to end the split between the West Bank and Gaza. He expressed this by announcing his willingness to visit Gaza, but he limited the objectives of this trip to negotiating the formation of a Palestinian national unity government and reaching an agreement on holding elections. However he went further then this by travelling to Cairo and finalizing the reconciliation agreement with Hamas.

President Abbas is taking this new step in the knowledge that the US may cut off its aid to the Palestinian Authority. He is also aware that the international Quartet [on the Middle East] may take the same initiative. This raises an important question: has a change occurred, whether in the Arab or international arena, to make such a reconciliation agreement possible?

Fatah reconciling with Hamas is something that is rejected by the US because it regards the Hamas movement as being a terrorist organization, and therefore it is not acceptable for Washington to negotiate with it. The US conditions for accepting Hamas in the political game is that Hamas must accept the three conditions put forward by the Quartet, namely recognizing the state of Israel, renouncing violence (resistance), and accepting the agreement signed by the Palestinians (namely the Oslo Accords and the subsequent agreements). At the same time, Israel completely and comprehensively rejects the presence of Hamas, which was a position expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who said that Abbas “must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.” The position taken by the US and Israel towards Hamas makes it important to once again ask: what has happened to cause the rivals, Hamas and Fatah, to reconcile?

The situation here requires a logical answer that would reveal for example: a certain Arab or international body has expressed a willingness to fund the Palestinian Authority, should it reach an understanding with Hamas. Is this what happened?

There is also another issue which has influenced the change in Egypt’s position, namely the recent events that took place in Egypt [the Egyptian revolution] and which directly impacted the course of events. This change can be summarized as follows:

Firstly, Egypt will no longer serves as a cover to the Palestinian Authority, unlike the situation during the Hosni Mubarak era.

Secondly, Egypt will no longer adopt a position refusing to deal with the Hamas movement, in its capacity as a resistance movement that does not believe in negotiations and compromise.

Thirdly, Egypt has now committed to opening the Rafah border crossing on a permanent basis, which means that Egypt will lift the blockade that has been imposed on Gaza.

With Egypt now adopting positions such as these, it is only natural that it would have changed its position on amendment the reconciliation agreement. This encouraged the Fatah and Hamas movements to reach an understanding towards solving their disagreement on the reconciliation document and to include these understandings in the document itself. Does this mean that Egypt has now committed itself to a political position that contradicts the position of the US? Or has Cairo been reassured that Washington’s rejection of dealing with Hamas has limits and ahs nothing to do with Egypt?

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas has come up with practical points concerning an agreed upon reference with regards to the security apparatus, agreement on the committee to supervise the elections, and the formation of a national unity government made up of independent figures. Yet, they have yet to begin discussion over this government’s national political agenda. Can this reconciliation succeed without an agreement about the national political agenda?

We can acknowledge that the extent of the disagreement between the two parties confirms that any successful agreement will only last or endure if it incorporates an agreement on the political program. If no agreement on this issue is not reached, then it is highly likely that this reconciliation process will fail.

We must also acknowledge that this issue goes beyond the Fatah and Hamas movements, for this political program is a Palestinian public demand which Palestinian social forces and other commando factions [fedayeen] have called for. Therefore, discussing this issue will serve either to strengthen reconciliation, or destroy it.

Israel, which comprehensively rejects the principle of reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah], can also intervene to harm this, specifically by thwarting any executive steps [taken by the national Palestinian government], such as the implementation of the election process, by intervening against any candidate who adopts the resistance trend or calls for the annulations of the Oslo Accords. This is something that would prevent the reconciliation agreement being put into effect, and is a scenario that must be taken into consideration.

So far, the issue of reconciliation depends on the situation on the ground; the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli occupation, and the calls for elections. Based solely upon these facts, we cannot move beyond the status-quo. However, in order to overcome the present situation, questions of a different sort need to be asked: Has a change occurred to the US or international positions that will allow the implementation of new measures that were previously viewed as being unacceptable? Have any changes occurred which would now allow the Arabs to handle the changes in the Palestinian situation?

Two perplexing questions remain unanswered until now and their answers will decide the fate of this inter-Palestinian reconciliation, and indeed will decide the fate of the situation in Palestine and the future prospects of the Palestinian cause.

The Palestinian Authority is today preoccupied with preparing to declare the State of Palestine next September, despite US and Israeli objections. Should this trend fail, however, everyone will find themselves facing a deadlock once more. As for overcoming the current situation, there is one other possible option, but this lies outside of the Oslo Accords framework. Woul anybody be prepared for this?

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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