The Fantasy of Palestinian Reconciliation / Pinhas Inbari

02 January 2012
A week-long negotiation session in Cairo brought about two major achievements for the PLO:

The nomination of an elections committee that would carry out and supervise two electoral campaigns, one for the local parliament - the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and another for the diaspora parliament - the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which are scheduled to take place on 4 May 2012. Its second achievement culminated in the creation of a "temporary leadership framework" composed of the heads of PLO leaders led by Mahmoud Abbas and, for the first time, Hamas and Islamic Jihads bosses Khaled Mashal and Ramadan Shallah. This largest ever leadership panel was presented as the summit’s major achievement and projected the perception of the two radical Islamist movements joining the national and secular PLO.

However, a deeper look at the real achievements of the summit reveals that its success does not lay in the pompous declarations of the organization’s strategic aims, but in much more modest and undeclared goals, such as the forging of an environment that would force the Fatah to name a successor to Abbas, in order to facilitate his intention to retire with dignity. The hidden message of summit, however, was that if Fatah does not name a successor to Abbas, his natural heir would come from Hamas.

The decision to convene the PLC next month is a clear challenge to Fatah's legitimacy as it is controlled by Hamas, who won by a landslide in the 2006 election. The agreement was perceived in its entirety as a personal settlement between the "outside" leaders, Abbas and Mash'al, concluded against the interests of the "inside" cadres both in the West Bank and Gaza. The summit photos are indicative of this division, showcasing the old diaspora generation of PLO leaders and those heads of Hamas who do not reside in Gaza, while the local PLO and Gaza leaders are absent, including prominent Hamas names like Mahmoud Zahar or Ismail Haniyeh.

Furthermore, the summit was meant to bring about a financial turnaround. It is an open secret that Hamas’ poor support for Assad’s regime in Syria has led to the severing of Iran’s financial aid to Gaza. The Iranian move has left a void which could quickly be filled by Ramallah, who could offer Hamas to finance the reconstruction projects in Gaza. While Gaza would welcome the arrival of extra funds, local Hamas leaders suspect that once Mashal delivers a solution to Gaza’s hardships, it will come at their expense.

Externally, the one result of the reconciliation talks that bothers the United States and Israel most is the agreement to release all political prisoners in both the West Bank and Gaza, and to continue the popular struggle using Molotov cocktails and stone-throwing, à la Bil'in Ni'lin, and enlarging the scope of the “peaceful” marches on settlements and IDF checkpoints.

This new reality threatens to replace existing security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority security organs and the IDF with a Fatah-Hamas body set up to organize the third intifada. Indeed, coordination committees have are already been established in several West Bank cities and in East Jerusalem for this purpose. Fatah, however, is divided on the matter, while Mahmoud Abbas’ stance is unknown. The Fatah cadres who rushed to establish these committees were met with strong insider objections by those who claim that the masses would not participate in the new intifada. Israel, however, is concerned it might find herself engaged in a confrontation with the Palestinians.

The security issue is the biggest stumbling block to the reconciliation project. Hamas cannot participate in elections as long as the Palestinian forces in the West Bank are in place and do not include a Hamas contingent, while the time left to establish a new security force is too tight.

The reconciliation agreement set up lofty targets such as elections in the Palestinian territories and the diaspora, reform of the PLO, and the unification of the PA under one government. However, no Western power, and certainly not Israel, will allow Hamas to join the West Bank Fatah-controlled security forces. Hence, it is clear that the aspiration toward unity is mere fantasy which will end in much more modest aims like the reconstruction of Gaza and the resolution of unsolved disputes.

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