We might be excused for assuming that the only party involved in the reconciliation talks is the Palestinian Authority. Since Hamas announced its willingness to commit to political unity, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and President Mahmoud Abbas have been hailed by international institutions as beacons of progress and change. There has been no mention of how, since Israel’s massacre of civilians in Gaza in 2014, this state of affairs was a top priority for the US. That Gaza should come under the PA is not a novel proposal; the scramble for Gaza, although ignited in recent years, has been central to Hamas’s external and domestic adversaries since the 2006 elections.
The initial indications are that involving Hamas in reconciliation is simply necessary for show, compounded by the possibility that necessity also shaped Hamas’s decision to relinquish administrative control of Gaza. Once the procedure of reconciliation is established, the options for Palestinians will still remain limited. One possibility is another political rupture between Hamas and Fatah. Another possibility, vestiges of which have already occurred, albeit in different circumstances, is the marginalisation of Hamas. Such an option this time will prove easier for the international community, which only recognises the PA’s leadership legitimacy despite the electoral irregularities keeping it in power.
Wafa news agency reported recently that Palestine’s ambassador to the European Union, Abdel Rahim Al-Farra, spoke about an increase in EU financial aid to the PA following the reconciliation agreement. The report stated that Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, informed the Palestinian ambassador that “it was time to implement development projects in the Gaza Strip.”
The comments reflect a statement published by the European External Action Service, in which the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah praised Hamdallah’s visit to Gaza and the “important and positive signal that the Palestinian Authority is ready to assume its responsibilities in Gaza.” The brief statement also calls for PA control over Gaza, unimpeded humanitarian access, a change in Gaza’s humanitarian and political crisis and the opening of the border crossings, “while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
It is noteworthy that the EU statement does not once acknowledge Hamas, and that Israel is brought into the equation not because of its colonial presence in Palestine, but rather to reaffirm EU agreement – in accordance with the Middle East Quartet Principles referred to in the EU communication – with Palestinian subjugation to external demands. For many years, Hamas represented an impediment due to its resistance principles which clashed with the image of EU peace-building and prospects for diplomacy even while it condones the continuation of Israel’s human rights violations.
Hence, what matters for the EU is not Hamas’s participation, or the political, social and economic wellbeing of Palestinians. For the international community, the EU included, reconciliation provides the means to justify decades of passive involvement in Palestine, including the near-total disregard for the Palestinians in Gaza. Under the euphemism of unity which marginalises Hamas, Palestinians become visible only in relation to the purpose of bestowing upon Abbas and Hamdallah a semblance of legitimacy, presence and justification for bureaucracy.
It is pertinent, perhaps, to remind the EU, the Quartet and the international community, that reconciliation does not alter the deprivation inflicted upon Palestinians and reference to appropriate timing constitutes a human rights violation in itself, given that not one international institution has prioritised Palestinian rights over Israel’s colonial-settler violence. The only difference in this scenario is an altered political playground, and one that can still adversely affect Palestinians, if it suits the new alliance formed between the PA and the international community.