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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

The track pursued for achieving the Palestinian reconciliation seems futile while there are no signs that the pending files will be settled any time soon. Apparently, the reconciliation has been faced with obstacles which might render its completion impossible.

Assuming that both parties to the reconciliation have good faith and are serious about its achievement, it seems that the “present absentee” in the agreement is Israel! Out of the five reconciliation files, three could not be completed without Israel’s consent or at least, its non-interference, especially in the West Bank (WB). These files included the formation of the Palestinian government, the elections and the reform of the security forces. Accordingly, Israel could foil or thwart the reconciliation process if things went against its will or conflicted with its interests.

Nine months have lapsed since the signing of the reconciliation agreement; however, the concerned parties failed to agree on the name of the prime minister who would form the unity government. Mahmud ‘Abbas nominated Salam Fayyad as his only candidate not because of Fayyad’s affiliation with Fatah or the lack Palestinian talented politicians, but because ‘Abbas wanted someone acceptable for the US and Israel. Thus, solving this predicament, as agreed on in the Doha Conference, was to entrust Abu Mazin with the premiership. Accordingly, he would be the prime minister, the president of the State of Palestine, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the head of Fatah and the Supreme Commander of the Palestinian Armed Forces! For those who do not know, ‘Abbas– born 1935–celebrated his 77th birthday on March 26.

Up till now, the Palestinian government which represents national unity and partnership among the Palestinian factions has not been formed. In fact, for such a government to operate properly in the WB, none of its ministers should be vetoed by Israel; in Gaza Strip (GS), it needs Hamas’ full blessing and in both regions it cannot work properly without Fatah’s approval.

Ultimately, if Israel holds on to its conditions, the parties to the reconciliation should respond; otherwise, there will be no government acting on the ground simply because of the Israeli occupation which dedicates its tools to kill the Palestinians, besiege them, destroy their houses, confiscate their lands, restrict their movement and disrupt their institutions. A few more months might be needed to reach some “magical formula” which would show that the Palestinians have succeeded in forming a national unity government. However, such success would not reflect an ability to impose the Palestinian conditions on the Israeli side but “flexibility” in dealing with its red lines.

Yet, would it be possible to hold free, transparent elections in a healthy environment in the WB, including East Jerusalem, without Israel’s consent or, at least, its silence? Let us assume, on one hand, that the elections were conducted and that Hamas won with sweeping majority, would it be possible for the movement to implement its reform and change program (while holding on to its Islamic and national fundamentals) under the occupation?

It is known that the occupation controls the PA’s inputs and outputs, occupies its land and sky, has the capacity to destroy its infrastructure, factories and economic institutions, and controls the movement of money. It can also disrupt the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), arrest Palestinian ministers, and curb the work of Palestinian apparatuses and administrations. Based on these conditions, it is only reasonable to ask about the likeliness of success of any resistance trend seeking to end the occupation and change the conflict formula.

Let us suppose, on another hand, that Fatah movement won the elections with sweeping majority. Would it be possible for the movement to present a new “magical” formula to put an end to the PA corruption and the nasty role pursued by the security forces against resistance forces? Would Fatah be able to come up with a solution to stop settlement building and the Judaization of Jerusalem? Would it be able to transform the role of the PA from serving the occupation’s interests to ending its presence and achieving the dream of a Palestinian state (with its peaceful tools)? Or would it proceed to take control over the GS and tame it within the Oslo framework which reflects the Israeli and American conditions? Or is Fatah only interested in restoring the constitutional and popular legitimacy it lost in the 2006 elections? And should this happen, are we going to face the same quagmire where one Palestinian faction controls the PLO and the Palestinian decision making since 1968 and disrupts the work of the Organization since more than 20 years? Are we going to proceed with the collapsing track of the peace process pursued by the PA? Would the Palestinian resistance be slaughtered with the new Palestinian “legitimacy”?

Besides the government formation and the elections, there is the problem of the security forces in the WB. These were trained under the supervision of the US Lieutenant General Dayton and rehabilitated to cooperate with the Israeli security forces. Consequently, they were involved in targeting resistance forces and members who were originally cadres affiliated with Fatah and other factions and who have a long history in resistance work.

Is it possible, in light of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian silence, to “restructure” the forces based on the reconciliation agreement and to redefine their role? Is it possible to purge these forces and prevent the presence of any elements that hinder the Palestinian national project and hamper any genuine national reconciliation? Is it possible for the security forces to employ Palestinians on the basis of their patriotism and competence rather than affiliation with a specific Palestinian faction and detachment from resistance forces and currents?

In the two governments formed by Hamas between 2006 and 2007, the security forces represented the source of tension used to foil Hamas’ experience and plunge the country into chaos and lawlessness. The independent Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi could not issue any orders to the security forces or even command a policeman. Till this moment, the security forces remain a real hindrance which triggers complaint from Fatah leaders as well as from Hamas and other resistance factions.

If the security forces continue to comply with the conditions of the Israeli occupation and perform functions incompatible with the reconciliation project, the occupation, together with these forces, would be able to foil the reconciliation and derail it. Then, the involved parties will have to stop dreaming about achieving genuine reconciliation.

In normal circumstances, choosing the prime minister in any country needs one or two days while the formation of the government takes one day or less. Indeed, forming the government is easier than the responsibility it would have to bear and the challenges it would face. It becomes more urgent in the presence of an occupation backed by super powers, as there is need for a high sense of responsibility and for rising above little issues.

If the selection of the prime minister took around a year, then the formation of the government might need another year or two awaiting the elections and the green light from Israel and Washington. A fourth and a fifth year might be needed to find out that we are unable to manage a national project under the occupation and according to the Oslo conditions, and that we need another track away from Israeli dictations and American determinants. So, why don’t we just admit that the current track is wrong and does not lead to a genuine outcome? And why don’t we seek another track which can be fruitful, regardless of being costly at the beginning, as long as it is worth of being invested in?

It does not seem that Mahmud ‘Abbas is in a hurry after he has reaped the political benefits of the reconciliation which made him appear once again a president acknowledged by all sides, including Hamas. In fact, ‘Abbas was able to present Palestine’s file to the United Nations after he refuted the accusations that he and his faction only represent part of the Palestinian people. Accordingly, he is re-forming the government in Ramallah under Fayyad although he himself was charged with forming the national unity government. If anything, this is a message demonstrating that this “story is a long one” and will take time. In addition, Hamas is being accused of being careless about the reconciliation since it is the ruling party in the GS.

Apparently, the best track to begin with, in light of such conditions, is the PLO file. If there is seriousness about resolving the Palestinian dilemma, the priority is for putting the Palestinian house in order and determining the national priorities. Then, the PA and its elections would be a manifestation of the national program and it might also be one of the tools to implement this program.

The focus on the PLO track is essentially important because the Organization represents the Palestinian people at home and abroad. Thus, its work and performance are not subject to the requirements of the Israeli occupation and do not fall under its mercy. Besides, the PLO can reestablish itself and activate its institutions while its representatives can work without having their efforts hindered or foiled and without getting arrested as is the case with the PA under the occupation.

In the period between 1964 and 1994, the PLO leadership was active outside the occupied Palestine. Additionally, the members of the Palestinian National Council who enjoyed full membership were mostly Palestinians living abroad while those from the occupied territories (after the occupation of the WB and GS) were not elected or known and they were not counted in the quorum since they were under the occupation which might take measures against them. We, accordingly, support an active and effective role to be performed by the Palestinians of the interior provided that they do not succumb to the conditions of the occupation.

The freedom to make decisions and to issue them within a national institutional framework is direly needed by the Palestinians. It is even more important than the mere formation of a government under the occupation and conducting elections under the occupation, and running people’s lives under the occupation. This is because the common to all these is the occupation and the limits set by the Oslo Accords. However, for the re-established and activated PLO the common ground is ending the occupation which cannot be achieved by a toothless, powerless authority produced by Oslo.

This article tried to focus on the dilemma of the course of the reconciliation agreement. It also tried to cast light on the possible (and certain) negative impact of the Israeli occupation on this track. It goes without saying that there are other dilemmas related to the ideological and intellectual backgrounds and the lack of one representative umbrella, in addition to the confidence crisis between the parties to the reconciliation besides the Arab and international environment, etc.

Bottom line is that putting the Palestinian house in order and arranging its priorities through the PLO represent the litmus test for the intentions and seriousness of both Fatah and Hamas and all other parties concerned with the reconciliation away from American and Israeli hegemony and dictations.

The original Arabic article appeared on Al on 24/5/2012

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 31/5/2012