The meeting in Cairo between Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal can be best described as “an important step in the right direction”, not least because reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas appears to be more likely. It has set the stage for dialogue which, it is hoped, will move beyond discussion about power sharing towards the development of strategies for action on a national level.
From what we understand, the Cairo meeting looked at three main issues: a unified action programme; consensus about the forms of the national struggle (and on this it was noticed that Abbas and Meshaal agreed on the right of return, self-determination and state-building on the 1967 borders with a capital in Jerusalem); and agreement on the structuring of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as the unified and sole representative of the Palestinian people. The two men also agreed on the slogan “Peaceful Popular Resistance” in the spirit of Tahrir Square in Cairo, Habib Bourguiba Street in Tunis and Change Arena in Sana’a.
The reconciliation meeting should not be seen in terms of winners and losers; everyone left Cairo as a winner, especially the people of Palestine. Theirs is a just cause and they are now in a win-win situation.
Hamas has moved towards Fatah and the PLO programme; Fatah has moved towards what might be called “Hamas resistance”. The Islamic Resistance Movement started to accept the concept of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem years ago, and has sent many signals out in this regard, albeit with “ifs” and “buts”. Fatah, the PA and the President may have taken the option of popular resistance before now, but did not take it forward very seriously. However, in Cairo, the two parties’ positions crystallised in a consensus about the way forward, including the rebuilding of the PLO and the PA.
The path to unity is neither paved nor safe; nor is it easy. Agreeing about headline statements isn’t enough to overcome all of the obstacles thrown in our way; the journey to unity has many friends and supporters, but it faces a united front of opponents, critics and conspirators. Nevertheless, it is clear that the circumstances are different on this occasion, with both of the main parties in need of the other. This is not a case of “unity in distress”‘ though, because everyone in Palestine is in distress; reconciliation is taking place due to the needs of the people.
The reconciliation process will face many challenges, from Israel’s rejection to the US veto at the UN; from European reservations to Arab caution. The most important challenges, though, will arise when the time comes to make the practical arrangements, such as the relationship between the Executive Committee of the PLO and the interim leadership; the location of the seat of power and the practicalities of it operating efficiently when the national territory is split in two; the fate of the security forces and the opportunities for them to integrate and restructure, and, of course, the whole issue of security coordination with Israel. In addition, consideration has to be given to the future of Hamas in the West Bank and Fatah in Gaza, employment matters and the existence of “paper” factions created to increase the count in votes in public meetings. The future of independent, but highly controversial figures known for their role in strengthening the split rather than anything constructive also has to be considered carefully.
For these and other reasons it is important to remain optimistic and maintain the momentum towards reconciliation so that it stays on track. The obstacles remain huge but conciliation must not be derailed; public support for this is essential. We must not allow the “fatalists” to take over in this Arab Spring when optimism about real political change and development is so high.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.