Palestinian reconciliation at the moment seems like a necessity for the divided rival Palestinian factions. However, the reconciliation faces real difficulties linked to the conflict between the program of the peace process and the program of resistance; the absence of a unified political program; and the ability of the Israeli side to disrupt and thwart reconciliation efforts. In addition, there are efforts led by Israel and regional-international parties to steer reconciliation towards marginalizing Hamas and disarming the Palestinian resistance.
There are multiple scenarios for the prospects of reconciliation, ranging from failure, to success, to the possibility of the continuation of the consensus government as a de facto government without concrete achievements, or the possibility of relative success on some issues, while other major issues continue to stall such as the PLO issue, the security issues. Things would most likely progress in the direction of the third or fourth scenarios.
Fatah and Hamas and all Palestinian parties require a great amount of willpower, confidence-building programs, and the strength to confront external pressures and prioritize the supreme interests of the Palestinian people to allow the reconciliation to succeed.
An Analysis of the Cairo Agreements of 25/9/2014
The Position of the Parties on Palestinian Reconciliation
Challenges Facing the Reconciliation
Reasons That Led To the Failure of Reconciliation in Previous Stages and That Remain in Place
Minimum Requirements for the Success of Reconciliation in Current Circumstances
The Ultimate Determinants of Palestinian Reconciliation From a National Palestinian Perspective
The Possible Paths of Reconciliation
Factors Influencing the Likelihood of a Given Path
On 25/9/2014, it was announced in Cairo that Hamas and Fatah had reached agreements over Palestinian reconciliation. Fatah’s Central Committee had formed a five-member commission to hold dialogue with Hamas over managing the coming period, following the assault on Gaza Strip (GS), even though al-Shati’ Agreements concluded before the war were sufficient to put the reconciliation train in motion.
The new Cairo agreements included general guidelines that had been agreed upon in previous agreements, and contained nine items including a follow-up committee, which will hopefully follow up the implementation of the new and previous agreements. This is seen as the starting point for a new phase of Palestinian reconciliation. However, the path of reconciliation is expected to hit many obstacles, and internal and external impediments, especially since the recent agreements like the previous ones were procedural. They did not include governing guidelines, such as a frame of reference that would control the implementation process, and they came in the absence of a joint political program that organizes Palestinian action in the coming phase.
– The agreement documents relied on constructing a large part of their provisions on the principles that were agreed upon in previous reconciliation agreements, which had not settled the differences between the two sides in the previous period.
– The agreement documents did not include a timetable and specific mechanisms for implementation.
– The language used is rather neutral, and makes appeals rather than imposes decisions. For example, one clause called on the international community to rebuilt GS, as though the task was the purview of the international community rather than the parties to the agreement.
– The salaries of the GS government employees soothes and postpones the dispute, but does not resolve what is essentially a natural right, which has now turned into a dilemma. Most probably, it is not the right approach to this obstacle.
– The clause related to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) does not unequivocally require it to convene. Instead, the issue was linked to an invitation to parliamentary blocs for consultations, after which the president convenes the PLC in light of the consultations.
– The side that deals with political action does not meet the required purpose. What is needed is a political program based on common grounds to manage the coming phase, and with a national partnership that includes all components of the Palestinian people.
The Position of the Parties on Palestinian Reconciliation:
Reconciliation is a key part of Hamas’s strategy. Hamas has made many concessions to make it succeed in multiple stages, despite internal disputes regarding the timing and handling of the reconciliation issue. In the latest meeting in Cairo and before it (in al-Shati’ Agreements), Hamas offered major concessions, despite the effects of the recent July/August war. It wanted to accomplish reconciliation to advance its strategy, in the midst of pressures resulting from regional shifts and the continuation of the crippling GS seige.
The Position of Fatah and Palestinian Authority:
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah are headed towards reconciliation because:
– There is an impasse in the peace process and Netanyahu government lacks seriousness in negotiations, as reflected in the failure of the Kerry plan.
– There are internal tension and concerns in the West Bank (WB), over an explosion there against both the PA and the occupation. Negotiations are at an impasse and the economy is in tatters, showing the PA as a party that protects the occupation without anything real in return. There is also rising support for the resistance option among Palestinians following the recent assault on GS.
– ‘Abbas has concerns over Dahlan’s role, with some sides threatening to bring him in as an alternative to ‘Abbas, and the latter’s fear from Dahlan’s movements in GS and the WB.
– It seems there is an implicit desire among powerful parties to end Hamas’s influence in GS, and dismantle its resistance platform, through a regional-international plan that begins with soft steps to reinstate the PA control over GS. The purpose: to continue the comprehensive attack on “political Islam” in the region, but in other means. It seems that the new rapprochement between ‘Abbas and Sisi, and the convergence between entities in the PA and the Arab “Moderate Front,” is pushing in this direction.
The Arab Position:
– The Arab states are preoccupied with their internal affairs. The Palestinian issue is not a priority on their agenda at the moment. The Islamic State militant group is a concern that comes ahead of Palestine for Arab states by many degrees.
– There is no serious opposition to reconciliation by the Arab parties, as long as President ‘Abbas controls most of its levers.
– Some Arab parties may believe that the current round of reconciliation is a tool to remove the Hamas government from GS, to weaken Hamas and dismantle its resistance platform.
The Israeli Position:
When it comes to the Palestinians in general, the Israeli side is divided among three factions:
– One that does not favor rapprochement with Mahmud ‘Abbas, and refuses his return to GS to solve the current Israeli predicament, and thus, is opposed to reconciliation.
– Another calls for rapprochement with the PA, and for working to bring it back to GS in order to dismantle the resistance program. This faction does not mind the implementation of the current reconciliation to the extent that fulfills the interests of Israel.
– A third faction that believes in bypassing the PA and ignoring the Palestinians, and reaching out to “moderate” Arab countries to forge a regional peace with them. This faction is not concerned much by Palestinian reconciliation.
The US Position:
Following al-Shati’ Agreements, which preceded the Cairo agreements, the United States (US) declared that it does not officially recognize the national consensus government, because a Palestinian state does not yet exist, as Kerry said. However, the US government said it would deal with the consensus government and would monitor its performance closely. The reasons for this position are:
– Washington perhaps wants to give the PA a dose of oxygen to survive after the impasse in the peace process, in order to keep the Oslo Accords alive.
This is especially important for Washington, as the resistance option has increased in popularity among the Palestinians following the recent war in GS.
– Washington may consider the current reconciliation as a good way to strip Hamas of political legitimacy through soft means, and through the ballot box.
– Washington may be seeking to obtain a broad Palestinian cover for the negotiations through the consensus government if negotiations resume.
The Position of the European Union:
– The European position has relatively been independent from Washington, since al-Shati’ Agreements. It is even possible that the Europeans themselves had compelled the US administration to soften its stance regarding the consensus government at the time.
– The European realization that the right wing in Israel is disrupting the peace process, and pushing measures that could harm Europe’s interests in the region. Perhaps the European Union sees reconciliation as a way to de-escalate a major issue in the region that must not be heated up amid the volatile regional climate.
Reconciliation and especially the national consensus government it produced faces many challenges, most notably:
– The absence of a political program: To be sure, it is difficult for the government of national consensus to function without a political program that serves as its frame of reference. Because the agreements reached are procedural and have no a binding reference framework, this government will face many difficulties in this regard.
– The security issue: The security doctrine of the security forces, and its current legal frame of reference, makes it difficult for these forces to serve an agreed upon national agenda. The performance of the security forces, especially in the WB, will thus continue to be the subject of sharp differences and conflict, in addition to the difficulty of reaching a consensus formula regarding security forces in GS.
– Elections: Holding and securing elections to high standards of transparency is not easy to accomplish. Furthermore, the Israeli position might constitute a major obstacle to holding elections satisfactorily. This is not to mention other procedural matters such as the electoral system, the nature of the electoral commission, and its powers vis-a-vis the elections of the National Council and other matters.
– The leadership framework: The existing regional climate does not encourage ‘Abbas and Fatah to give this framework an important role in managing Palestinian decision-making. It is also unlikely that Fatah would move seriously towards real partnership in the PLO leadership.
– The reconstruction of GS: This is not an easy task in light of the current positions of the Israeli and Egyptian sides, despite the effects of the latest war.
– The unification of the PA institutions in the WB and GS. This is an extremely difficult process given the state of division that has lasted for years, and the accompanying conflict in interests and attitudes between the two parties of the reconciliation.
– Israel’s domination of three reconciliation-related issues, namely security, the government’s activities, and the election process. This means Israel would be able to determine the rhythm of the reconciliation process, which represents the most important challenge to the entire process.
Reasons That Led To the Failure of Reconciliation in Previous Stages and That Remain in Place:
– The basis of division is the fact that the PA has to a large extent replaced the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in managing decision-making, and the fact that most Palestinian national action has been drawn into the Oslo “tunnel.” This is the recipe of division that the Israeli strategic expert Harkabi has developed to weaken the Palestinian position. In other words, the Palestinian situation has been commandeered by the Israeli strategy based on dividing the Palestinian national front into two parts: resistance and peace process. The Palestinian division has grown sharper as a result, exhausting the energies of the factions in the internal conflict.
– The absence of a unified leadership, joint national strategy, and weakness national partnership, in parallel with lack of institutional culture in governing the Palestinian national decision.
– The selective use of the reconciliation issue and exploiting it to advance a factional agenda or during crises.
– The Israeli ability to disrupt and thwart key issues, including reconciliation issues such as the national consensus government, elections, and reform of security forces. Subsequently, it is best to begin reconciliation with matters outside the influence of the Israeli side, such as the reform of PLO.
– Elections are regarded as the only key to ending division, even though they are nothing more than one of the instruments to end Palestinian division.
– The strong sentiment among Hamas and Fatah circles that it would not be possible for the two groups’ programs to converge on common denominators, even though the Prisoners Document represented a good experience in this regard, despite some reservations.
– The bullying approach and the power struggle, when the Palestinian situation is a national liberation project that requires solidarity and unity.
– Vulnerability to external influences, and submitting to the interests of some internal Palestinian forces.
– Some Palestinian forces are practically excluded from the reconciliation issue, making the management of reconciliation a subject of conflict between the two main factions.
Minimum Requirements for the Success of Reconciliation in Current Circumstances:
– A reasonable level of political will, and a joint action to neutralize internal and external parties seeking to disrupt reconciliation.
– Gradual implementation of its provisions, and lowering expectations by both sides of the conflict.
– Controlling and balancing performance and discourse, and showing patience by both sides in running the national consensus government, in the absence of a political frame of reference; i.e., a political program.
– Creating an Arab financial safety net to overcome any potential blackmail from Western and Israeli parties.
– The ability to make international parties convince Israel not to disrupt the work of the consensus government.
– Enhancing confidence-building measures to overcome the effects of division, and working according to an earnest and effective program to accomplish communal reconciliation, and ensure public freedoms within a reasonable level.
– Activating the PLC role, which is supposed to be the heart of the Palestinian political process and its central governing determinant.
– Agreeing to a mechanism suitable for all parties to reopen the Rafah crossing and lift the siege of GS. Without this, there is no meaning for reconciliation for a broad segment of the Palestinian people.
The Ultimate Determinants of Palestinian Reconciliation From a National Palestinian Perspective:
– Dismantling the state of Palestinian division and unifying the national front against the occupation.
– Achieving partnership in managing Palestinian national decision-making.
– Reestablishing the Palestinian political system on the basis of institutions, pluralism, and rotation of power.
– Developing a unified national strategy based on a unified political program, on the basis of common denominators.
The current landscape, and the attitudes of various parties, makes it possible to draft the progression of reconciliation along the following possible paths:
The First Path: The parties fail to achieve reconciliation, causing the situation to revert to the previous state, if not to aggravate it in both the WB and GS, but especially in the latter, because of:
– The inability to neutralize internal and external elements seeking to disrupt the reconciliation. Some Palestinian parties may even collaborate with external ones to serve a non-national agenda and achieve factional interests, with the goal of removing Hamas from GS.
– The continuation of the mentality of exploiting reconciliation for a factional agenda, and the absence of a reasonable level of patriotism.
– The failure of the consensus government to tackle the complex issues facing it.
– The inability of the parties to provide the appropriate climate at the level of discourse and political practice.
– The possibility of Israel successfully instigating internal dissension, especially in GS, leading to Palestinian strife. Ya‘alon has hinted at such a choice.
The Second Path: The reconciliation program succeeds as follows:
– The institutions of the PA in the WB and GS are unified.
– Holding elections in Palestine and abroad, or agreeing as regards representation outside Palestine on the basis of quotas.
– Overcoming the obstacle of the PLO, where all Palestinian forces would join the organization, on the basis of the current political map.
The Third Path: The consensus government continues as a de facto government without any concrete achievements in any of the reconciliation issues.
The Fourth Path: Achieving relative success whereby the parties solve some of the simpler issues such as elections, but fail in resolving difficult issues such as security and the PLO.
Factors Influencing the Likelihood of a Given Path:
– The extent of insistence Fatah and Hamas have, to overcome potential obstacles, putting forward positive initiatives, and implementing confidence-building programs.
– The popular Palestinian pressure in the direction of reconciliation and national unity.
– The extent of how much the Israeli government is convinced that the PA is able to control GS and remove Hamas from it, and whether there is a consensus among Israeli ministers over this policy, bypassing their conflicting positions regarding the PA and ‘Abbas.
– The continuation of the rapprochement between ‘Abbas and Sisi with a view to put pressure on Hamas and end its influence in GS.
– The extent of conviction Hamas has concerning its ability to manage the reconciliation issue without it leading to sidelining Hamas in GS and dismantling its resistance platform.
– The possibility of Israel pursuing the policy of engineered sedition, as a new tactic to confront the Palestinian reality in GS, and its adverse effect on reconciliation efforts.
Assessment: The fourth or third scenarios, in that order, are more likely to happen. The first scenario is also possible, as Israel might resort to sowing discord in GS, in the event smooth efforts seeking to remove Hamas from GS fail.
– The Palestinian components and parties from the entire political spectrum should press for the implementation of reconciliation on the basis of a unified national program, and form Palestinian societal bodies to support it and oppose all those seeking to disrupt it.
– There is a need to agree on a common Palestinian strategy and a unified political program to manage the conflict with Israel.
– There is a need to involve all Palestinian forces in the reconciliation process and decision-making.
– There is a need to deem reconciliation as the entry point to review the Palestinian path after the Oslo Accords, where national efforts must be unified against the occupation. A national conference could be convened to produce a national vision for the next phase.
– Arab and Islamic parties are required to make serious efforts to ensure the success of reconciliation and to end the Palestinian division, especially the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
* Al-Zaytouna Center would like to thank Mr. Abdul-Rahman Farhana for contributing to preparation of the draft upon which this assessment has relied.