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Palestinian reconciliation: an inescapable duty

January 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm

By Omar Radwan

A major reconciliation meeting between Hamas and Fatah is taking place today in Damascus. While this is not the first meeting between the two main Palestinian factions; they have held talks many times before, for the first time there are signs that the deadlock which has existed between them ever since Fatah’s failed coup attempt to topple the elected government in Gaza in 2007 may be broken.  Most of the previous talks between Hamas and Fatah have been held in Egypt, under Egyptian mediation and supervision. The Egyptian government’s position was not, however, totally impartial.  It views Hamas as a hostile group with links to its domestic opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood, and tried to force Hamas to accept a reconciliation document that would allow the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas to assume control of security in the Gaza Strip.  There is a much greater atmosphere of trust between Hamas and Syria, a country which also has stable relations with President Abbas’s  Palestinian Authority.

While there are signs of progress in the talks there is still a long way to go.  Fatah and Hamas are very far apart on the issue of security.  Hamas believes that resistance to the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a legitimate right and is necessary for the Palestinians to regain their land.  It does not see the role of the Palestinian security services as supressing the Palestinian resistance, but rather facilitating Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.  On the other hand, the security services of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank cooperate fully with Israel and the United States.  An American general, Michael Moeller, supervises their training and activities after replacing fellow American, General Keith Dayton.  His mission is to ensure that they target any resistance to Israeli occupation.  As a result hundreds of members of Hamas have been arrested by the Palestinian Authority and some have died under torture.  Israel is extremely satisfied with the activities of the Palestinian Authority security services.  There are very few people left on its list of wanted Palestinians in the West Bank; all the rest are either in Israeli or Palestinian Authority jails.

It is not realistic to assume that the differences between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will be resolved any time soon.  The Palestinian Authority has tried to gain control of Gaza before by insisting on the need for reuniting the Palestinian security forces but it is impossible to see how this can come about if the main mission of its security forces in the West Bank is to arrest and suppress Hamas activists, under Israeli and American supervision.  Hamas will not allow the Palestinian Authority security services to return to Gaza under such circumstances.  A more realistic aim would be for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to undertake confidence building measures as a prelude to reunification of their security services at a later date. This could take the form of the release of Hamas prisoners by the Palestinian Authority and the release of Fatah prisoners by Hamas.

What is beyond dispute is that it is today more urgent than ever before that Hamas and Fatah begin a process of reconciliation.  The Palestinian Authority’s talks with Israel have reached a dead end, due to Israel’s resumption of settlement activity in the West Bank.  If the Palestinians remain disunited, they will not be able to face up to the threat of Israeli occupation and colonisation of the West Bank.  The Palestinian Authority must realise that cooperation with the Israelis will only embolden Israel’s extremist government further and will not yield any concessions. Indeed if it is prepared to make peace with the Israeli Occupier there is absolutely no reason why it should not make peace with its internal opposition. It is therefore high-time that it ceased to persecute its own people in the hope that this will eventually persuade Israel to end the occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.