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The time is ripe for Palestinian reconciliation, again

After the victory of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza against the Israeli offensive and the relative success at the United Nations, there is a positive atmosphere with regards to reconciliation; the time, surely, is ripe for it. However, when we ask questions about it, it looks as if we're sabotaging the coming together which is going to solve Palestine's complicated issues. Of course, Hamas and Fatah leaders are now meeting to achieve the hoped-for reconciliation, which they have used as an excuse for all disasters that have befallen the people of Palestine. That list includes the failed negotiations, even though they have been negotiating for much longer than the division without actually achieving anything.


The reality is that all the positive atmospheres in the world can't guarantee reconciliation, as the devil lies in the details, which will still be there to sabotage the process at any moment. Even so, let's assume that things will be alright and ask about the nature of this reconciliation and how it will benefit what is called the "Palestinian national project". Keep in mind the "principles" of the Palestinian Authority whose leader splits his time between the leadership of the PLO, Palestine and the Palestinian Revolution Forces.

What scenario does reconciliation promise, and what will be the consequences for the liberation project? Can we truly "liberate" the land on the borders of 1967 if the president gives up 78 per cent of historic Palestine without even getting any recognition of Palestinians' right to the remaining 22 per cent?

We will simply go back to what we had before the 2006 elections, and the focus will be on presidential and parliamentarian elections as a theme for unity, although it is not clear whether elections increase or decrease divisions! Fatah and leftist parties will probably win a small majority because of the proportional list system, as opposed to the individual seats system through which Hamas won last time. In any case, if Hamas wins again, the now familiar blockade and blackmail scenario will ensue.

A victory for Fatah and its allies with a small majority will probably lead to a national unity government if Hamas agrees to participate in it. This will govern as if there is a real nation state, which of course there isn't. The situation on the ground will remain the same, and the "government" will have to negotiate with the Israeli occupation, which leads nowhere except to security cooperation for Israel's benefit.

Veteran negotiator Sa'eb Erakat said a few days back that there are efforts to resume negotiations with Netanyahu's government, even though the Israeli election is imminent. This is futile. Everyone knows that neither Netanyahu, who responded to the UN recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by announcing more settlements, nor Barack, nor even Olmert could or would give Palestinians a fully sovereign state on the 1967 borders, including east Jerusalem. The stark evidence for this is the Camp David dead end in 2000 and, more importantly, the Abbas-Olmert negotiations whose details were exposed in the leaked Palestine Papers; Abbas gave huge concessions regarding Jerusalem and land exchange. They would have led to massive settlement blocs remaining deep inside the West Bank and giving up refugees' right of return, but this was still insufficient for the Israelis.

The question to which there is no clear answer is simple: what will be the consequences of Israeli refusals during negotiations? The answer is equally simple: nothing. Security coordination will continue and the Palestinian Authority's rule over the localities the "Separation Wall" leaves behind will continue.

This is the temporary state of affairs which no one will acknowledge; it is also Netanyahu's "economic peace". Palestine's leaders will keep on saying that they will adhere to principles and that they will not give up on them (even though the Abbas-Olmert papers suggest otherwise), and they will demand their legitimate rights in all international arenas. As for peaceful resistance, it will be limited to one weekly protest while everyone knows that effective resistance is one that has a cost for the occupation authorities. Resistance should challenge robustly, to the point of civil disobedience, Israeli checkpoints and settlers. We don't see this kind of resistance, though, because it obstructs "development" and perhaps the "business" of senior officials' sons and relatives; so-called VIP identity cards for the PA may also be withdrawn by the Israelis. Armed resistance, the most effective resistance of all, is off the agenda and cannot be considered because it is "absurd" and "destructive".

If Hamas accepts all of this, it would be a disaster, but if the reconciliation takes a different path, then it should be welcomed. At this point it should be remembered that I am not questioning the integrity of all Fatah's activists who, just like us, talk about the absurdity of negotiations. Like most Palestinians, they are looking forward to standing up to Israeli tyranny with the rest of the people as they did during the great Al-Aqsa Intifada.
The worthy reconciliation path would create a civil authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which provides public services to the people. Elections, meanwhile, should be held across Palestine and in the Diaspora to choose a unified leadership through reformation of the PLO. At that stage, a new stage of the liberation struggle can be agreed upon.

The problem is that the state's recognition by the UN will marginalise the PLO; what's worse is that the PLO leadership will not agree to it being reformed in a manner that will give Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and those who support resistance – which includes many people from Fatah as well more than half of the membership. That would see resistance adopted as a means of liberation.

If just and honest reform of the PLO is accepted and forms the basis of reconciliation it will be positive for the liberation movement. The current impasse looks too hard to break without another Intifada in the West Bank in response to Israeli settlements, Judaisation policies, checkpoints and humiliation. The objective would be to remove Israel from all land occupied in 1967, similar to its withdrawal from South Lebanon; no "negotiations" would be necessary. If Hamas uses the present goodwill following Israel's recent offensive against Gaza to present the project in the form of a civil administration for the West Bank and Gaza, with a complete Intifada against the Israeli occupation, it will get most of the factions on board, including members of Fatah.

The main choice, therefore, appears to be between the current maze with no reconciliation or a new Intifada. That could lead to the West Bank and Gaza Strip going their separate ways, which the Israelis would no doubt like to see, with a blockade in one and security cooperation from the other.

The PA knows that a settlement according to what it calls "historical principles" which excludes 78 per cent of Palestine, is still not accepted by Netanyahu, Lieberman or anyone else. PA officials ignore that fact completely and talk about negotiations as if everything is in order.

The time is indeed ripe for Palestine to get out of this mess and to use the atmosphere of the Arab Spring to move one step ahead on the path of resistance and real liberty, instead of begging and accepting the crumbs offered by the Israelis. This needs a unified and united leadership for the Palestinian people inside and outside historic Palestine. If this is not forthcoming, then the only option is an Intifada to impose unity in the field.

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

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