The internal split within Palestinian ranks has damaged the national cause and has been foremost in its negative impact on the resistance in occupied Palestine post-first and second intifadas. Nevertheless, the second Intifada lasted longer despite all obstacles and in spite of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Although a positive atmosphere dominated the reconciliation talks held in Cairo last month, the outcome was modest; they failed to match the optimism expressed by observers of Palestinian affairs. Some serious challenges remain which hinder the chances of a real breakthrough in rebuilding national unity.
For a start, we must acknowledge that the issue has gone on for far too long at a time when the Palestinian people are in dire need of unity. There can be no excuses for any Palestinian political faction to bank on the abandonment of the lengthy struggle for a united front against the Israeli occupation.
When negotiations were chosen by the PLO as the way forward there were a number of objectives, starting with the implementation of international resolutions and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967. However, when such objectives evaporate under the pressure and arrogance of the Israeli occupation and its policies, we must stop and review the path being taken. The people of Palestinian must not be imprisoned by this decline and fall for empty forecasts about "surprises" that may result from Barack Obama's visit later this month.
The signs are that Obama will propose a number of trade-offs accompanied by some sweet talk for consumption by the Arab and Muslim world, as he did in Ankara and Cairo. His empty promises produced nothing of note before, so we should not be duped into expecting anything this time around.
Obstruction and obfuscation in the form of Israel's ongoing illegal settlement building, ethnic cleansing and military brutality make it imperative to put to one side any reliance on the political process and its fantasy objectives. Internal differences on the Palestinian side must also be set aside in order to put together a comprehensive plan to counter Israeli attacks in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Of course, internal disagreement will remain on some issues, but meetings like those in Cairo recently are just one step in the process, which has to include the formation of a transitional unity government until new elections can be held. However, away from the controversies and theorising over the reorganisation of the PLO, electoral law and a unity government, three crucial issues need to be addressed if reconciliation is to proceed.
The first is the need to reach a political consensus. The Palestinian split is actually a political split which needs a political solution to reach consensus on the definition of resistance to the Israeli occupation and related matters. Reaching that consensus demands even minimum contact between the active factions, including Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The second factor is an acknowledgement that national unity requires absolute conviction from all parties that a modern political system is in the Palestinians' best interests; this cannot be established without genuine partnership. Institution-building towards a democratic polity has to involve all stakeholders and cannot be done by sharing the spoils through the largesse of any one favoured group. Hence, the need to use free and fair elections to ensure that such a partnership agrees on proposals before sharing them with, and having them agreed by, the majority of the people. Elections, whether legislative, presidential or for the Palestinian National Council, should be supervised by international observers to ensure that they are conducted in a lawful and just manner.
Finally, the Palestinian leadership must ignore the US and Israeli veto of their plans for reconciliation or any other matter. It is in Israel's interests to keep the Palestinians divided; "divide and rule" is a classic colonialist tactic, after all. The best interests of the Palestinians, not the Israelis, must be the priority for Palestinian politicians. Efforts to derail the reconciliation process must be challenged; Israel's withholding of tax revenues, for example, or mass arrests of Hamas members due to travel to Cairo for talks must not be allowed to stop reconciliation moves.
As long as there is national unity and political consensus backed by the people, such steps by Israel and its allies are not impossible to overcome. Nobody can break the will of the Palestinian people when they are united behind a cause.
In conclusion, it is clear that Palestinian unity depends on sincerity of intention and national consensus free of factional agendas. This is something that all Palestinians, at all levels of society, can support; the media, intellectuals, civil society and influential figures in occupied Palestine and the diaspora will all back such a strategic and essential programme. They must all be given the opportunity to do so.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.