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The fragile structure of the Palestinian national movement

Throughout the weeks of war and negotiations, various Palestinian leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Fatah, all sought to stress the unity of the Palestinian position: their position against the Israeli aggression, the management of the war, and the position on negotiations. However, on 30 August, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and president of the PNA, made a statement holding Hamas responsible for the destruction of the Gaza Strip, pointing out that the Islamic movement could have avoided such destruction if it had agreed to the Egyptian initiative early on. No one is surprised by Abbas's remarks, despite the fact that they were made after the signing of the agreement for the end of the war that was reached by the unified Palestinian delegation. Rather, it was how quickly that Abbas moved to dispel the delusion of a "united Palestinian position" which was surprising. In spite of the Palestinian reconciliation that restored political unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; the show of consensus during the war and negotiations; and even the various Palestinian factions' approval of the ceasefire agreement that includes the full return of the PNA to the Gaza Strip and the restoration of its supervision of the border crossings and reconstruction process in Gaza; it seems clear that the fragility of the Palestinian national movement has not yet been addressed or treated if, indeed, we believe it can be treated at all.

Desperation, and nothing else, is what drove Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to the reconciliation agreement. Hamas's desperation was due to the escalation of the Arab-Israeli siege on Gaza Strip after the political shift in Egypt, which led to the overthrew of President Morsi and his replacement with a government that does not hide its hostility towards Hamas and all the forces of political Islam in the region. Hamas had imagined that hastening the reconciliation and the formation of a national unity government would open a wider window to Egypt for the Gaza Strip and its people. Even if the Israeli occupation did not change its position on Gaza, the Egyptian window would be enough to alleviate the suffering of the people of the besieged Gaza Strip.

As for the PNA, and its president in particular, the desperation was of another nature. Abbas sought reconciliation with Hamas after he realised that US effort to revitalize the peace process, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, but without the American president's deep conviction in its usefulness, would not bring about real results. Above all, the authority wanted the reconciliation because it sensed the imminent danger of the growing UAE-Egyptian support for Mohamed Dahlan, and Netanyahu's constant hints that Israel may shift its support to the former Fatah official. Of course, Abbas knows well that despite the fact that it has been 20 years since its establishment, the PNA is still subject to Israel's will; in the event that Netanyahu shifted his support to Dahlan, not only Abbas's position as president would be threatened, but also the entire ruling class in Ramallah.

However, this does not mean that the reconciliation was essentially a bad choice. In fact, the Israeli vision for the future of the conflict over Palestine is based, at this stage, on two main assumptions: first, the complete separation of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and the waiting for the opportunity to throw the Gaza Strip, and all of its inhabitants, to the international community's lap; and second, the continuation of its gradual grabbing of the West Bank land, combined with the exercise of pressure to drive the as many Palestinians as possible out of the West Bank. At the very least, the Israelis want to prevent any substantive Palestinian population-growth, as they wait for the right moment to expel as many as possible of them and officially annex the West Bank.

In spite of the factional nature of Israeli politics, and the different political discourses used by leaders of the current coalition government, it seems that all parties of the Israeli government agree on the need to avoid any political agreement with the Palestinians that includes the West Bank. Their only differences are related to how this policy should be implemented and the means and methods that need to be adopted in order to achieve this goal. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Abbas's decision to go through with the reconciliation sparked outrage in the Netanyahu government circles, and that the massive escalation during the war on Gaza was also an attempt to separate the fate of the Gaza Strip from that of the West Bank. In this sense, the reconciliation was the right move and the attempt to preserve a unified Palestinian position during the war and negotiations was certainly a right policy. However, the concrete results of such a policy do not go hand in hand with the logic behind it.

The problem is not in Abbas's latest statement, or even in the campaign launched by the PNA media outlets in the past few days against Hamas and the resistance forces; it is much larger than this and seems to be related to the entire approach of the PNA, its mode of conduct and the conditions of its existence. It does not seem that the PNA leadership has enough will to liberate itself from past behaviour and conduct. As the reconciliation agreement did not, in any tangible way, reflect on the political-security situation in the West Bank, restrictions on the activities of the political Islamic forces have continued, as well as the arrests of Islamist activists.

Many viewed this situation, before the outbreak of the war on Gaza, as a sign of disagreement within ranks of the PNA leaders and its institutions, or the difficulty in changing the mindset of the PNA's security institutions and officials. Hence, many believed that time, patience and determination to push the reconciliation process forward would ultimately be able to bring about real change in the political situation of the West Bank. However, once the war broke out and it became clear that an Intifada in the West Bank would have a great impact on the balance of power, it transpired that the change in the PNA's attitude was in fact only a formality. Even during the long days of the war, the arrests and harassment of Hamas personnel in the West Bank did not stop. More worrying is that both on the level of the PNA's view of its relations with the occupation, as well as regarding the movement of revolution and change in the Arab region, the PNA's position does not suggest that it is truly committed to the historical goals of Palestinian national liberation movement.

Despite the ongoing Israeli policy of confiscating Palestinian land in the West Bank and besieging the Gaza Strip, followed by the war and the clear failure of the peace process, the PNA did not take any political or international judicial actions to confront Israel's continued aggression that affects every aspects of Palestinian life and the possibility of reaching a political solution to the conflict. The only position taken by the PNA in the face of the disaster faced by the Palestinian people is to sit back and observe the situation. Although Islamist political forces are becoming the main partners in the Palestinian national movement, and that these are the partners carrying the greatest burden of defending the Gaza Strip and its people, the PNA is keen to join in on the attack by some Arab states against political Islam. Showing complete disregard for the sufferings of the Arab people who are fighting for freedom and change, the PNA is building close ties with regimes such as that of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Even during the "unified" negotiations aiming to put an end to the war in Gaza, the PNA assumed a hostile stance against the Palestinian resistance forces. The position taken by PNA during the Cairo negotiations weakened the resistance groups' position and their demands to stop the aggression and lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and its people.

This is certainly not a personal matter, and shouldn't be seen as such. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the PNA, its institutions and its leaders have all ceased to behave and act as parts of the Palestinian national movement. The PNA was established originally in order to play a functional role in facilitating the occupation and to make the imposition of Israeli control of the Palestinian people easier and less expensive. Over time, two entire decades to be precise, as the balance of power continued to shift in favour of the occupation, the Israelis succeeded in supressing any national liberation ethos left in the Palestinian leadership, and in steering the PNA towards serving the purpose it was built for.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 3 September, 2014

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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