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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh:

 The Palestinian reconciliation draft agreement still lacks the sufficient momentum needed to change it into a practical program to be implemented on the ground.

Sixth months have lapsed since the signing of the reconciliation agreement (3/5/2011); However, no genuine initiatives were presented for its implementation although the negotiations between the two sides took much of 2009, while responding to Hamas’ objections took from October to the end of April 2009, i.e., more than a year and half. Although the 4100-word draft was thorough and detailed, the agreement lacked any sign of life.

Should the current situation persist, it is not likely to witness any breakthroughs in the process of conciliation. Rather, there will be further delays in the formation of the government, the elections, the reconstruction of the security forces and the reform of the PLO. Accordingly, declaring the end of the state of division would be closer to a “truce” where the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would remain under the control of two different sides. Thus, the situation would be a moral transfer from declared “division” to “sharing” of power and influence in the two areas, yet the conflict would not be an overt one.  Doubtless, this is not what the Palestinians have been seeking to achieve. However, wishes and good intentions -if any- are not enough.

 Political Investment Rather than Strategic Move

Like the previous agreements in Cairo, Palestine and Mecca, the recent Palestinian reconciliation agreement lacked the genuine mechanism needed for its implementation. In fact, the agreement has left it to Abu Mazen, as the head of the PLO and the president of the PA to orchestrate the conciliation and implement its terms. Yet, the Joint Committee for Implementing the National Reconciliation, which was supposed to be formed of 16 members from the factions and the independent forces and eight members to be named by Hamas and Fatah, was not formed. Neither did Abu Mazen issue any decree regarding its formation although it was supposed to start its work following the signing of the agreement. In addition, the committee tasked with the development of the PLO was supposed to complete its formation and hold its first meeting upon the implementation of the agreement, yet neither was the committee formed nor did it convene. Moreover, no arrangements have been made so far whether regarding the legislative and presidential elections or the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Palestinian security forces.

Reading last year’s experience, one can notice that Abu Mazen and the PA leadership tactically employed the reconciliation agreement to create Palestinian consensus behind the PA leadership thus allowing it to appear as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Consequently, it would be able to seek UN recognition of the Palestinian State and use this consensus as leverage for its position vis-à-vis the Israelis and the Americans.

Indeed, Abu Mazen was able to invest in this point but he did not present any practical steps whether regarding the government formation or any other file. Rather, he only nominated Salam Fayyad for the premiership when he knew in advance Hamas’ rejection for this name. Consequently, much time was wasted to discuss his appointment.

It is most probable that Abu Mazen wanted to exclude Hamas from any role in the formation of the government to avoid irritating the Israeli and American side when the membership bid was being processed. Thus, Abu Mazen was not concerned about the implementation of the agreement pending the outcome of the bid.

However, should these policies continue, the formation of a national unity government would less likely be. In addition, it would not also be possible to reform the security forces or witness an atmosphere conducive to fair and transparent elections, especially if expectations showed the likeliness of Hamas’ victory where the Israelis and the Americans and other parties are trying to prevent such a thing.

The Actual Obstacles to Reconciliation

Practically, we are facing two contentious sides which had to enter the reconciliation despite their ideological differences, the lack of common institutional reference and a profound trust crisis in addition to the external intervention in the Palestinian decision-making.

To begin with, Fatah and Hamas do not share a common ideology which defines the red lines that cannot be trespassed and the issues which are subject to assessment in light of the political situation, the subjective and objective conditions and the balance of power. This was consequently reflected on the national program of the two parties and their priorities besides the strategic and tactical approach to the resistance and peace settlement files.

At first glance, it might seem easy to adapt to this situation. Yet, the Palestinian experience has shown a set of obstacles which need serious consideration. For example, the two sides have different approach to the recognition of Israel and its claimed right to 77% of the land of Palestine. The PLO leadership, on the one hand, perceives the recognition of Israel as a political entitlement under the Oslo Accord as well as the basis for the establishment of the PA and the dream of establishing the Palestinian State. On the other hand, Hamas rejects such recognition on Islamic basis while seeking to serve its people without conceding the right to resistance or recognizing the agreements signed by the PLO. Thus, Hamas wants to impose new “rules of the game” and this is what the Americans and the Israelis would not want to allow.

Practically, Abu Mazen, together with the PLO leadership and Fatah, calls for the formation of a government and lifting the siege.  Nonetheless, Israel and the US refuse lifting the siege before Hamas’ compliance with the Quartet conditions, the first of which is the recognition of Israel to which Hamas would not agree. Thus, one way or another, “a government which would lift the siege” would mean a government which recognizes Israel. Accordingly, the main reason for delaying the formation of the government is not related to sharing the pie or to the number of the ministers for this or that side. Rather, it is related to the government policy under the Israeli occupation and finding a magic formula which Hamas and Fatah would accept and the Israelis would, in the least, not object to.  

The same problem applies regarding the peace process which the PLO leadership considers it a strategic track, while Hamas perceives it a futile track compared to the resistance course. These two contradictory visions have different interpretations on the ground; whether how the Palestinian national priorities are defined or how to approach the enemy or how to deal with the Arab and international environment.

Another problem is the absence of an institutional reference to which the parties might refer and which determines the priorities of the national project and represents the Palestinian people. Although the PLO is supposed to assume this role, Hamas, together with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other forces, are nota members in the Organization, while Fatah monopolizes the leadership since more than 42 years (February 1969).

Although the conciliation agreement provides for the reform of the PLO and the participation of the Palestinian factions, the political practice of its leadership has often tended to disrupt any entitlements related to the reform of the Organization and the rebuilding of its institutions. Meanwhile, Hamas, PIJ and some other factions do not only seek to participate in the leadership but also to contribute to re-defining the priorities of the national project; based on the rejection of conceding the land while protecting the resistance path. This would mean the reconsideration of the agreements signed by the PLO and maybe cancelling or modifying a number of them. Yet, it is most likely for Fatah to oppose such an inclination and block any changes in this respect.

The external factor appears as a third obstacle in the conciliation process as the PA is faced with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the siege in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the PA is constrained by the Oslo Agreement which requires it to assume a role in the protection of Israel and preventing resistance work. At the same time, Israel controls the borders besides the exports and imports movement. It can also destroy infrastructure, occupy the self-autonomous regions, arrest any Palestinian, strangle the economy, proceed with the Judaization of Palestine and impose sanctions as means of pressure on the political, economic and security levels. Further, the Israeli authorities can foil the legislative elections and arrest the supporters of the resistance such as Hamas ministers and deputies in the Palestinian Legislative Council in a way that leads to thwarting the PA mechanisms.

The external factor could be traced in the American and Western influence whether in the Quartet conditions, the siege, the attempts to isolate Hamas, the dependence on foreign funding and US Generals Dayton and Muller’s supervision of the security forces in the West Bank.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, the deep confidence crisis between Hamas and Fatah is another problem which has worsened the situation. Thus, it is important to present positive initiatives to overcome the hostility between the two sides and bridge the gap between them.

Towards Genuine Conciliation

 It is clear that the solution to the problem is far beyond the conciliation agreement. In addition, although the agreement has helped in rounding off the sharp edges and finding a number of mechanisms to resolve differences and rebuild institutions, there is much more to be done which exceeds the tactical benefits of the agreement.

Should there be a will to achieve genuine national conciliation, it is important to answer the following questions:

– What are the priorities of the Palestinian national project and would it be possible to reach a common stance regarding the resistance and the peace process?

– How would it be possible to reach an independent Palestinian national decision without American or Israeli interference and without the conditions imposed by the Quartet or any other side?

– How would it be possible to formulate a “national contract” which defines the constants and respects institutional mechanisms, acknowledges political pluralism and the peaceful rotation of power, and ends the mentality of monopoly and domination?

– Is the PA still fit for the establishment of a full-sovereign Palestinian State? And does the peace process still provide a cover in this sense?

– Has it become necessary to reconsider the role of the PA and adapting it to serving the Palestinian people rather than the occupation interests, including discussing the possibility of resolving the PA and establishing a resistance force?

– What would Hamas’ perception of the combination of power and resistance be? And how would it be possible to implement its program of reform and change under the occupation, especially in the West Bank?

– How would it be possible to achieve integration and interaction between the role of the Palestinians at home and abroad and benefit from the tremendous potentials of this people? And how would it be possible to expand this interaction on the Arab, Islamic and international levels in order to consolidate the liberation and independence project?

These are a few questions which need to be answered by the Palestinian decision-makers. This needs, besides the good will and seriousness, mature visions that would be tailored with the help of research centers, think tanks and specialists in different fields. It also needs the formation of effective public opinion which presses towards the implementation of the reconciliation agreement. Further, it needs the rejection of partisanship so it would be possible for all sides to face the Zionist project.

We conclude that if the current situation persists, the chances for the agreement to achieve any tangible success will continue to be slim, and the employment of the reconciliation agreement will remain tactical. Ultimately, the current situation would represent a transfer from a state of “division” to another of “sharing influence,” while awaiting real reform to happen or the current circumstances to explode so the will and vision of either parties prevail.

The original Arabic article appeared on Al on 3/11/2011

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 4/11/2011