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Reconciliation is meaningless without participation

When former US President Jimmy Carter offered to mediate between Fatah and Hamas two weeks ago, few observers expressed much optimism. While one of the parties, Hamas, welcomed the initiative, the other, Fatah, chose to send mixed signals that gave no reason to be hopeful.

My sources within Hamas's political bureau confirmed that they conveyed to Carter their willingness to cooperate with his initiative for which he sought the support of the new Saudi leadership. Having witnessed the unravelling of the 2005 Makkah Agreement, the Saudis made it clear to Carter that they would only become involved if they were given written undertakings by the two main Palestinian factions. Yet again, only one of the two, Hamas, sent a letter affirming its readiness to engage.

There is no doubt that the main losers from the ongoing rift will the Palestinian people and their national cause, and not the leaders of Fatah or Hamas. For as long as this impasse continues Israel will be free to colonise more of the West Bank and Judaise Jerusalem. As far as Gaza is concerned, the rift will remain an excuse for Israel, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and the Egyptians to maintain the blockade and prevent the enclave's desperately-needed reconstruction.

All three have laid down similar unachievable conditions for reconciliation. Israel and the PA want the full disarmament and disbanding of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades; along with Egypt, they also demand full control over the Rafah Crossing. In the case of the Egyptians, I was reliably informed that they conveyed through an emissary to the Hamas leadership in Doha that they also want a public repudiation of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a binding commitment to assist in the suppression of the insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

For what they are worth, all of these demands will, naturally, be resisted fiercely. While Hamas's Islamic identity and history are rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, it has since its founding in 1987 been distinctly independent in its organisational structures, strategies and decision-making.

It is ironic, therefore, that the regime in Cairo, which has indicted the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, on charges of spying for Hamas, should now in its hour of desperation seek the help of the Palestinian resistance movement to crush an insurgency within its own sovereign territory. If this is a condition for lifting the blockade it appears that the people of Gaza may have to wait for some time yet before a sense of normality is restored to their lives.

As it stands, though, it may not be too long before something changes, in spite of the unreasonable demands being made by the enforcers of the siege. For a start, there is growing unease within the European Union about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Many Europeans fear that sooner or later the situation will lead to an eruption of unimaginable violence and consequences. Already, there are reports that the EU has threatened PA head Mahmoud Abbas that it will withhold aid if he does not encourage his supporters to return to work in Gaza. Paying salaries to 40,000 people to stay at home is, by any standards, an obscenity of the highest order but that is what the Ramallah-based authority has done for almost ten years.

This is the background to the recent empty overtures and meetings between the two sides. The PA's position has indeed become even more untenable with the re-election of Israel's extreme right-wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu. Any talk of a renewal of negotiations is simply wishful thinking. Common sense dictates that only a united Palestinian polity would be able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on Israel to change its course, or at least put a brake on its outlandish colonialist policies.

For now, Palestinian reconciliation will be absolutely meaningless without a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. When this chapter of Palestinian history is finally written it will be noted, albeit with regret, that elements within the Palestinian Authority have played a role in prolonging this outrage. Moreover, it will be recalled that generous funding for the reconstruction of the besieged territory has been donated by countries like Qatar but bureaucratic obstacles were put in place deliberately in order to obstruct the reconstruction process.

Claims that Hamas is seeking to establish a separate entity in Gaza are both deceptive and ridiculous. Unlike Fatah, which has conceded 78 per cent of Palestine to the state of Israel, the leadership of Hamas remains committed to the strategic objective of regaining all of their historic land.

In summing up the current situation, my sources in the political bureau of Hamas pointed out that it is not very often that good comes out of America for the benefit of the Palestinians. The Carter initiative is, however, an exception, as it has clearly exposed those who really want an end to the disgraceful and debilitating rift within Palestinian ranks and those who wish to prolong it for narrow factional gain. The way that each side is leaning is not what Israel and its supporters in the West would have us believe.

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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