The Palestinian partnership, especially between Fatah and Hamas, suffers a real crisis which casts the whole situation as a conflict over sharing power or a management of the division rather than resolving it.
The partnership has not been developed in a way that allows the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to accommodate all Palestinian sides under one umbrella capable of activating national work within a consensual frame of reference. There are no apparent signs of an imminent breakthrough in the development of a Palestinian partnership.
Further, the state of division between Fatah and Hamas will most likely continue to be governed by attempts to manage the ongoing conflict. Indeed, serious problems plague the course sought by the two sides to achieve effective partnership.
This is because the pursued track is much linked to achievements which could be easily foiled by the Israeli side, such as the government formation, the elections and the reform of the security forces. Hence, it is a priority to start with the reform process and enhance the PLO as an essential step towards a comprehensive national reform.
Not much elaboration is needed to express the need for a suitable and binding mechanism for Palestinian national decision-making. Indeed, there is a need for agreement among the different Palestinian factions on this mechanism since this is a national requirement and a popular demand and the natural track of mature serious revolutions.
The reconciliation agreement signed by the Palestinian factions on 3/5/2011 has created a state of comfort among the Palestinians. However, regardless the good intentions of the signatories, this agreement might be doomed to failure if key issues were not seriously and transparently resolved. In such case, the agreement would be shelved like former agreements such as the Cairo Agreement of 2005, the 2006 National Accord Document and the Mecca Agreement of 2007.
Apparently, achieving the reconciliation was hindered by serious obstacles while it was important to finish the five essential files agreed upon (the government, the elections, the PLO, the security apparatuses and the social reconciliation) during one year. Nonetheless, a year has lapsed and no genuine development was attained in any of these files.
Fatah was accused of being reckless regarding the reconciliation, which was only a means to overcome the possible negative repercussions of the Arab uprisings on the movement and on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Fatah was also accused of exploiting the reconciliation politically in its bid for UN full membership as the Palestinians appeared united under one leadership.
Accusations questioning seriousness towards the reconciliation were also addressed against Hamas, especially in the Gaza Strip (GS). Moreover, Hamas was accused of signing the agreement in compliance with the requirements of the Arab spring while in fact it was still persistent about monopolizing power in the Strip without presenting any genuine initiatives. That it was an attempt to break the siege imposed on the movement and to find new sources of funding after the disruption in its relation with Iran following its stance towards the events in Syria.
Thus, a number of researchers and specialists in the Palestinian issue asserted that the reconciliation agreement has transformed the Palestinian division to a sharing of power between the West Bank (WB) and the GS, or it has transformed the open conflict to a state of calm conflict management. Besides, each party seem to rely on time and change in conditions in order to impose its demands on the other party.
1. The conflict between the factions has important ideological and strategic aspects that are considered red lines and that affect the Palestinian national project. These include recognizing Israel, giving up on parts of Palestine, the peace settlement and resistance approaches and identifying the priorities of the Palestinian national project.
2. While some Palestinian forces, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas, represent a wide segment of the Palestinian people, they are not represented in the PLO. Accordingly, the PLO is no longer the genuine frame of reference which can enshrine the Palestinian people and its different factions, or manage the Palestinian partnership.
3. The recent years have witnessed an intensified confidence crisis, particularly between Fatah and Hamas, due to the conduct on the ground, mainly after the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PA and its commitment to security coordination. The crisis was further enhanced after Hamas won the legislative elections and the subsequent attempts aiming at foiling its efforts, in addition to the consequent chaos and division on the Palestinian arena resulting in Hamas control over the GS and the PA’s control over the WB.
4. The entitlements of the Oslo Accords made the PA highly susceptible to the Israeli pressures and blackmail. In fact, Israel has maintained control over the land, the borders and the movement of persons and funds. It would never alleviate its restrictions unless the Palestinian side would comply with its security, political and economic demands. Ultimately, the Palestinian decision maker fell under foreign pressures which should be considered upon taking any decision.
1. Sharing partnership: This means the continuation of the state of division while proceeding with the slow, formal procedures which do not resolve the main problem. This condition reflects the status quo.
2. A breakthrough which would boost the establishment of genuine partnership, perhaps after each side realizes that it is impossible to impose any conditions on the other side, or as a result of escalated Arab pressure if the Arab spring led to major positive changes especially in Egypt, or after the PLO leadership and the PA lose any faith in the peace process.
3. The return to the state of overt schism and the exchange of accusations between the two sides where each will blame the other of derailing the reconciliation process and thwarting it.
However, the most likely scenario remains sharing partnership in the months to come since there are no significant changes looming in the horizon that would push either side to reassess its choices and approach.
Al Zaytouna Centre thanks its General Manager, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 19/5/2012.