There is renewed talk about intra-Palestinian reconciliation, but it is hard to take it seriously anymore.
In the past six years, efforts to end the Palestinian schism were relentless. Meetings were constantly convened, understandings reached and several agreements were actually signed, but all outcomes were regularly ignored.
The deep causes that separated the two main Palestinian factions, the Fateh-controlled PLO under Mahmoud Abbas, on one side, and Hamas under its political bureau chief Khaled Mishaal and the Gaza-based leadership, on the other, have been too basic to be overcome by superficial compromise.
Hamas’ declared course of action is totally opposed to that of Abbas, who also runs the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. It is unlikely that either side would turn 180 degrees to concur with the other for the sake of reunion.
Hamas refused to meet the three infamous Quartet (UN, EU, US and Russia) conditions for being accepted as other than a “terrorist organisation”, following the movement’s electoral victory in 2006. Hamas was required to recognise the right of Israel to exist, accept all the agreements reached between Israel and the PLO and renounce armed struggle. But that is not the only obstacle.
The Islamist movement is also opposed to two main pillars of Abbas’ “peace strategy”: continued negotiations with the occupier despite repeated failures of this strategy, and close security cooperation with Israel, which primarily targets Hamas men and infrastructure in the Abbas-controlled areas of the West Bank.
On his part, Abbas’ futile tactics left him totally dependent, politically and financially, on Israel and its supporters, the US and the rest of the so-called international community, for his organisation’s mere existence. He is so tightly cornered that his margin of manoeuvrability is almost nil.
Agreements signed between Fateh and Hamas before were not only regularly vetoed by Israel and the US, they were also the cause of financial measures that made their implementation by Abbas detrimental. That, however, was not the only reason such agreements have failed. There were other causes related to conflicting interests and policies.
Therefore, and if the rift was clearly irreconcilable, why did the two factions engage?
Two major considerations played their part. One is the concern of each side about Palestinian public opinion that has been demanding that the rift end.
Many Palestinians, and indeed others in the region, blamed the rift for continued deterioration of the Palestinian position and the misery befalling the inhabitants of tightly blockaded Gaza and occupied West Bank.
The other is that the pretense of seeking reconciliation has been a handy escape from the crises each side has been confronting. Heading towards a reconciliation meeting helped distract and serve as a temporary relief.
In other words, each side is bluffing, and that explains the failure of each and every effort to accomplish real Palestinian unity, from the Mecca agreement of 2007 to the Doha reconciliation declaration, hailed as a major breakthrough last February.
But does any possible reconciliation, if the current attempt in Cairo is to be an exception, make any real difference with respect to the deteriorating Palestinian position, with Abbas panting for more negotiations while Israel continues to ethnically cleanse and colonise the land, and with Hamas steadily losing its compass?
The harsh reality is that under the current circumstances of both Hamas and Fateh, any possible reconciliation would be a deceiving gloss hiding underneath layers of faltering tactics, misguided policies and short-term calculations.
With the political crisis in Syria, Hamas has been forced to seek an alternative base to Damascus. It is widely believed that Gaza-based Hamas leaders were not happy with Mishaal’s February Doha deal with Abbas, but Mishaal may have needed to curry favour with his current hosts.
Under the pressure of circumstances, in both Gaza and Damascus, Hamas has been confronting fresh difficulties. The political bureau, as a result, had to abandon base and move elsewhere. That did not happen without a price.
What is needed, therefore, is not a fake reconciliation between two bankrupt political institutions. Neither Hamas, nor Fateh’s PLO should have a monopoly on Palestinian politics, particularly after having brought the situation to the present lows.
Urgently needed is a drastic revision of the entire Palestinian strategy to which all Palestinians under occupation or in the diaspora should be enabled to participate.
The current Palestinian leadership, which only managed to reap failures, should step aside and leave the floor for others to take over. How many chances should the PA, for example, have before it declares bankruptcy?
The PA should not be seen as an end by itself. It was created for a purpose: to lead to statehood. Everyone can see that it is further from that goal than ever before.
The PA has not only been a cover for the occupation to dig deep, colonise the land and make irreversible permanent arrangements on it for total annexation, it actually assists in this process. The PA is a convenient channel for the “international community” to pump aid, but this aid is no more than a disguised subsidy for the Israeli occupation.
Of course the current leadership is comfortable with its position and privileges, and perhaps sees no alternative. That is tragic and should not last. If this is all the PA can achieve, it is high time for it to go. As for Hamas, it too has failed to offer Palestinians any sort of alternative vision that offers hope.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on May 2, 2012