By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Reconciliation and ending the division are things that almost no two Palestinians disagree with. Everyone wants to see this happen to shore up the strengths of the Palestinian national project and end the Israeli occupation. This is in Fatah’s interests, as Fatah wants to restore its role and reestablish its control over the institutions and geographical areas where the Palestinian people are present.
And it is in Hamas’s interests, as Hamas wants to ease the blockade in the Gaza Strip (GS), regain its presence in the West Bank (WB), and participate proactively in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is also in the interests of Palestinian factions, and all Palestinians, and all supporters of the Palestinian issue.
Great joy will follow the formation of a Palestinian government. But after the all the joyous celebrations end and when the government led by Mahmud ‘Abbas or Rami Hamdallah…or others…begins its work, what will the situation really be like on the next day?
What will happen after the legitimacy of the Hamas government expires, while the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), where Hamas controls the majority, remains stalled until elections are held? What will happen as actual power once again is concentrated in the hands of ‘Abbas, who also leads Fatah, the PA, and the PLO? Will the implementation of the five points of Reconciliation Agreement (Signed on 4/5/2011) rely on Abu Mazen’s “good intentions,” without guarantees that would require him, or force him, to abide by the agreement?
There are a number of possible scenarios for what could happen on the ground, after the formation of the future Palestinian government, which we summarize into three possibilities:
First Scenario: Everybody Wins
This scenario assumes that Fatah and Hamas are sincere about implementing the Reconciliation Agreement. Hamas would give up power in GS smoothly, hand over the crossings in the Strip to the Presidential Guard, and allow thousands of Fatah supporters to return to their administrative and security posts. Fatah would not exploit the situation, and would release political prisoners in the WB, allow freedoms, and grant Hamas and other factions the freedom of political action.
Fatah would also not crackdown on resistance factions and infrastructure in GS, and would create a suitable environment for fair and free elections. It would take practical steps for rebuilding the PLO and operationalizing its institutions, through a national program involving all factions, taking into account their actual and political weight.
The leadership of the PLO, the PA, and Fatah would not cave in to any pressure from Israel, the United States (US), or the Egyptian regime, regarding cracking down on Hamas, marginalizing it, or disrupting the path of reconciliation. Both sides would take a responsible attitude that safeguards the supreme interests of the Palestinian people, managing differences in a civilized and institutional way, through the agreed Interim Leadership Framework. Media and incitement campaigns by both sides would also stop.
Second Scenario: Hamas Pays the Price
This scenario assumes that regardless of the terms of the Reconciliation Agreement, and the accompanying fanfare and reassurances, Hamas in the WB and GS has surrendered itself to the supporters of the peace process, without actual guarantees, meaning that it will pay the price in line with the path chosen by Abu Mazen and the leadership of Fatah and the PA.
This scenario assumes that Hamas would relinquish the legitimacy of its government in GS, and would therefore lose any official Arab, Islamic, or international support that dealt with it in that capacity, such as Qatari or Turkish support. Its officials would thus not be able to move easily politically, becoming once again only a political party in a political environment controlled and dominated by Fatah.
Fatah would return to the GS, take over power, and control the crossings. More than 50 thousand of its supporters would return to the security and administrative forces in GS, and a program for reinstating Fatah’s control on ministries and various institutions would begin. Fatah’s popularity would increase after coordinating measures to ease the blockade with the Israeli and Egyptian sides, which would welcome Fatah’s return and the end of Hamas’s rule of GS without paying any significant prices, when wars and blockades had failed to achieve that goal.
After the honeymoon—which the PA would have inaugurated, with some superficial measures to reassure the other party, until it can take over—ends, Fatah and its leadership would revert to the mentality of monopolizing the arena, which it has failed to change over the past 45 years. Fatah would readily comply with pressures from Israel, US, Egypt, and the Gulf countries, pushing towards the further marginalization of Hamas and trimming its wings.
This would suit Fatah’s mentality and political commitments arising from the Oslo Accords and the peace process. This would also suit the harsh counter-revolutionary wave seeking to reverse the Arab uprisings and decimate the Islamic trend, of which the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement is one of the most prominent engines. Hamas is also a major actor in this trend.
In addition to running the GS, Fatah would be able to supply tens of thousands of its members with the weapons they need, including many thousand pro-Dahlan members who have vendettas and scores to settle with Hamas, and who would seek to implement the agenda of the coup regime in Egypt against Hamas in GS.
Naturally, incitement campaigns would be readily rolled out in the pro-Fatah, Arab, and international media against Hamas and “political Islam.” Excuses would be created to discredit and attack Hamas, in order to either isolate it from the entire Palestinian process, or luring into participating in a toxic unfavorable environment, which would practically mean toppling and marginalizing Hamas.
Hamas would then find itself in a weak position and would be unable to defend itself. Emergent circumstances would not allow Hamas to retake the government or reactivate the PLC either, nor to take decisive military action in GS. To be sure, the coup regime in Egypt and Israel would stand alongside ‘Abbas’s Authority, and would not allow Hamas to retake GS again. There could even be cover for Egyptian-Arab troops to enter GS and uphold Fatah’s “legitimacy” in the Strip.
Since the leadership of Fatah and the PA are committed to the peace process and stopping resistance, measures to weaken and curb resistance factions would begin and be increased gradually, under the pretext of respecting the obligations of the PA under the Oslo Accords.
With Abu Mazen and Fatah having managed to take control of GS, the process of reforming the PLO and the security forces would be shelved indefinitely. The PA security forces in Ramallah (which would have expanded into the GS) would return to its old habits in chasing down Hamas and resistance activists. The elections would be manipulated according to Fatah’s whims. Hamas’s protests would be lost amid the noise made by many Arab media outlets—for we have seen with our own eyes how many lies and distortions this media has spread, especially in Egypt but specifically against the Islamic movement.
In short, this scenario would tell Hamas and its supporters: you are weak, under siege, and forced to accept reconciliation, and you must therefore pay the price. Indeed, political action is based on the balance of power and opportunities and interests, rather than goodwill.
Third Scenario: Gradual Reconciliation
This scenario recognizes that there are practical difficulties that need serious and mutual confidence-building initiatives between Fatah and Hamas. The scenario also recognizes that there is a possibility of disruption and derailment of the original track of reconciliation, to serve one party or another.
For this reason, this scenario would have reconciliation measures implemented in a gradual and smooth manner, where handing over of power in GS would be accompanied with measures related to civil and political freedoms in the WB, confidence-building steps, measures for reforming and reinvigorating the PLO, and reforming the security forces in the WB (not just in GS). In addition, the Interim Leadership Framework to be jointly led by Palestinian factions would be operationalized, while no elections would be held until after all measures for fair and free elections are in place. Furthermore, the residents of the WB and GS would be completely prepared to contend this election, while the formation of the PLC at home would be accompanied with the formation of the National Council of the PLO.
Discussion of the Scenarios:
The first scenario seems idealistic and unrealistic in light of the Palestinian experience and the current Arab, Islamic, and international reality. It is closer to being wishful thinking than a practicable scenario.
The third scenario seems more realistic and more suited for the Palestinian situation, which first and foremost needs a program for confidence building, and practical steps that would restore Palestinian national unity to a healthy state, before major events such as elections and so forth. However, this scenario lacks safeguards, and will come under intense pressure by the opponents of rearranging the Palestinian house, the opponents of Islamic groups, and the opponents of the resistance program.
The second scenario (where Hamas pays the price) appears unfortunately to be the most plausible. This is particularly so in light of the current political conditions, the composition of the leadership of Fatah and its commitments to Israel, US, and the peace process, and Fatah’s monopolistic mentality and historical adversity with Hamas and the Islamists. This is not to mention the current Arab counter-revolutionary, anti-Islamist wave, while Hamas seems to be in a weak state after losing the support of the “Refusal Front” (Syria, Iran, Hizbullah) and after the coup in Egypt.
What could increase the concerns regarding the realization of this scenario is the conduct of the PA security forces in the WB, and its involvement in the fabrication of accusations against Hamas in Egypt and the Arab world. Moreover, when Mahmud ‘Abbas visited Egypt, he expressed support for the coup and said that people “did not know how dangerous Hamas is until the MB movement in Egypt was toppled.”
A senior source in ‘Abbas’s delegation during his visit to Egypt even described what happened in Egypt as a “divine miracle,” and claimed that “the US and Israel had engineered Hamas’s rise to power”!! (Al-Hayat newspaper, 12/11/2013). Meanwhile, the activities of Muhammad Dahlan, who is strongly backed by the Arab Gulf states and the coup regime in Egypt, does not portend a calm and stable future for the GS, Hamas, or resistance forces.
In addition, ‘Abbas’s commitment to the peace process and the negotiations puts him in situation where he needs to extend his control over GS and Hamas, to shore up his legitimacy and representation of all segments of the Palestinian people, but without undermining the obligations arising from the peace process, or upsetting Israel and the US. This practically means hindering any real reforms of the Palestinian political house or bringing in Hamas in a meaningful way to the institutions of the PLO and the PA.
The Requirements of a Serious Reconciliation:
There is serious talk about reconciliation measures and steps towards forming the Palestinian government, with a view to hold elections within six months. However, several basic safeguards are needed to ensure success, and avoid creating a new crisis of the Palestinian national project and a new round of devastating internal conflict. Among these safeguards are:
1. Activating the joint Interim Leadership Framework of the Palestinian factions, to have a central and decisive role in the implementation of reconciliation.
2. Implementing a series of measures for confidence building on the ground in the WB and GS; allowing freedoms, releasing political prisoners, and granting the freedom of political work. This is in addition to ending security crackdowns, enabling the freedom to form NGOs, and creating guarantees for the PA and its institutions to work according to the criteria of competence and merit.
3. Refraining from tampering with the resistance’s infrastructure in GS, which should be seen as a Palestinian national achievement, and disallowing the return of security chaos to the GS.
4. Creating a suitable environment for fair and free elections in the WB (including Jerusalem) and the GS, only after all sides are ready to deal with this event, simultaneously with the re-formation of the Palestinian National Council.
5. Preparing for the elections in parallel with efforts to reactivate the PLO, to reform the security forces, and to realize social reconciliation.
6. Refraining from signing agreements between Fatah’s leadership in the peace process with Israel in a way that would adversely impact the entire process of reconciliation.
7. Any breach of the points above is considered a breach of the path of reconciliation, requiring halting the elections, reconsidering the interim government, and the re-activation of the PLC, which has been stalled.