By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The visit of the Fatah and Hamas delegations to Cairo in late November (22–26/11/2018) doesn’t seem to have achieved a new breakthrough in the Palestinian reconciliation process. Last year, on 12/10/2017, Cairo activated this process until an agreement was reached to hand full control of Gaza Strip (GS) to the Palestinian Authority (PA), but soon the agreement was hindered, because of differences between Fatah and Hamas on the interpretation of its articles and implementation mechanisms. Last summer, Cairo made efforts to find new reconciliation ideas and mechanisms. And despite the fact it adopted the PA’s demands, it seemed more understanding of Hamas’s demands. Moreover, it facilitated the movement of people through the Rafah crossing. Over the last few months, Egyptian officials concerned with the reconciliation file, made visits to Gaza and Ramallah, and received Fatah and Hamas delegations…, however, the final outcome was still stumbling and elusive.
The core of the current difference is that Fatah (PA presidency and government) is demanding full empowerment of the PA government in GS. This means that the current authority in GS (Hamas) would hand over all affairs to the PA, which would be in charge of everything from soup to nuts, above and below ground, under the slogan “one authority, one security and one arm.” However, Hamas and most Palestinian factions consider resistance arms a “red line,” and that it does not fall within the government’s jurisdiction as per reconciliation agreements. It considers PA’s continuous imposition of punitive measures on GS, the threat of pursuing more of them by which the GS economy would be totally paralyzed, and the non-enrollment of employees appointed by Hamas in previous years (around 23 thousand)… are fire smoldering under the ashes, that must be resolved before the implementation of reconciliation.
While Fatah, in the reconciliation agreement implementation, focuses on taking control of GS, Hamas insists on considering it a package deal that must be taken in whole and not selectively. Whereas the rest of the Palestinian factions refuse the Fatah-Hamas “duality,” and the disruption of the Palestinian national project because of it.
It seems the Abbas’s sanctions policy and monopoly of power have contributed to damaging the reconciliation atmosphere. He has bet that his sanctions, which started in March 2017, along with Hamas’s financial crisis and the GS suffocating siege, would make Hamas submit to his demands. However, despite all of their harshness, these measures didn’t work out, on the contrary, when they were extended, they caused resentment against ‘Abbas and his government. Consequently, more factions demanded lifting the sanctions, and Fatah almost found itself alone in insisting on this policy.
Due to its monopoly of power in the PLO, the isolation of Fatah increased. For while there were Palestinian calls demanding the unification of forces to face “the deal of the century,” the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem and the ending of the refugees’ issue, Fatah insisted on not convening the unified leadership framework that includes all Palestinian factions, causing discontent.
At the same time, due to the insistence of one faction on dominating the PLO, the decline in the latter’s role, ineffectiveness of its weak institutions, its absence from the lives of the Palestinian people, and turning more into a “department” in the PA, the PLO could no longer provide an umbrella to the Palestinian institutional political action. This is not to mention that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), which represent a broad segment of the Palestinian population, are not represented in the PLO. Instead of implementing the articles of PLO relative to the reconciliation agreements, Fatah insisted on convening three sessions of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) during 2018. They were boycotted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and two of these sessions were boycotted by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Fatah insisted also on convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah under the occupation (Contrary to Beirut Agreement of January 2017), which the PFLP boycotted. Consequently, resentment increased among Palestinians towards the policies of Fatah.
The Return Marches in GS, which started on 30/3/2018 and continued for several weeks, and which won the public’s consensus, turned the public fury that ‘Abbas expected to be against Hamas into one against the Israeli occupation, ‘Abbas’s measures and everyone besieging GS. After mid-May, there were increasing Israeli concerns (and even Egyptian ones) that conditions may break out and tens of thousands of Palestinians would infiltrate the border. There were also fears that a collapse in GS may lead to chaos and security breach that would make the Egyptian and Israeli sides pay for it, while ‘Abbas would escape all of that. In addition, the international, regional and Israeli sides do not want an escalation in GS, for it may lead to a fury in the Arab world, thus spoiling the atmosphere for Israel who is seeking to normalize its relations in the region. Also, Israel doesn’t want a new GS war. Hence, all siege-related parties (except for the PA) became more inclined to disengage the humanitarian aspect from the political one (temporarily) and ease “reasonably” the GS siege; While actually recognizing that Hamas and the resistance forces cannot be subdued in the current conditions.
Consequently, measures to ease the siege were taken including easing the movement of people and goods, allowing fuel to enter, expanding Gaza’s fishing zone, providing more electricity, and transferring the Qatari grant… All of this didn’t appeal to ‘Abbas and his government, who saw that the opportunity to subdue Gaza is getting out of his hands.
As for Hamas and the resistance forces, they considered easing the siege the fruit of return marches, an entitlement that should be granted, and a one that is not linked to any political price, whereas ‘Abbas tried to connect between easing the siege and reconciliation agreement (as he understands it).
Based on that, and during the past few months, the Egyptians were active in trying to convince ‘Abbas to take control of GS, avoiding putting conditions on the resistance arms, and solve the issue of the non-enrollment of employees appointed by Hamas. The Egyptians tried also to convince Hamas to facilitate the handing over of power to the Ramallah government, calm things down and not escalate the situation with the Israelis. However, ‘Abbas kept demanding to fully “empower” the PA government in GS.
In the last round of talks in Cairo (Late Nov. 2018), no real development evolved, rather there were escalating statements made by ‘Azzam al-Ahmad and Hussein al-Sheikh. On 27/3/2018, the former (who is the Fatah official concerned with the reconciliation) said in an interview with the Palestine TV, that they do not trust Hamas and that a committee would be formed to “undermine Hamas’s authority.” This means that Fatah is still hoping to subdue Hamas, and that a reconciliation based on national partnership is not feasible, and Fatah’s 12-year old failure to subdue Hamas were not enough to convince it to stop such attempts.
Fatah—the one leading the PLO and PA, and the one enjoying international and regional support to its “legitimacy”—is still “managing” the reconciliation dossier. It is still betting that time, with regional and international environment opposing “political Islam” and resistance movements, and the advantage of its current status and position, would enable it to impose its conditions. This made the last round of talks futile. However, Fatah knows that time is not necessarily in its favor, for it is suffering real leadership crises, the peace process and the two-state solution have reached a dead end, it faces real crises in managing the PLO which has entered the “recovery room,” and in managing the PA that serves the occupation’s objectives more than the aspirations of the Palestinian people. It suffers from the fact that Fatah cadres are linked to PA’s daily obligations and its security coordination with Israel, and that due to ‘Abbas’s policies, it has become more isolated in the Palestinian arena.
Finally, serious return to reconciliation means application of all its files, based on the 2011 agreement and afterwards. It should be based on the national partnership of all factions, and the Palestinian decision must be a national one and not the prerogative of a particular faction. ‘Abbas must withdraw his measures against GS, stop insisting on controlling the resistance arms, and activate the unified leadership framework, while a well-established and effective Palestinian institutional structure must urgently be completed.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 14/12/2018