By: Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh.
If partnership and reconciliation are a strategic decision for both Fatah and Hamas, then let them be clearer and firmer in dealing with their prerequisites. If the slogan of the said partnership is “partners in blood, partners in decision, and partners in fate,” then this means partnership in responsibility, partnership in legislative and executive branches, and partnership in drafting the national program, its paths forward, and its priorities.
However, partnership does not mean that the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, should monopolize the arena and all posts. Rather, it means that all factions, movements, and individuals should be included in the service of the national project, each according to their respective capacities. There is nothing wrong for free and fair elections to decide on the popularity and representation of each side, and to allow this to be reflected on their respective role in leadership institutions and decision-making. Simply, as reconciliation has its advantages, it has also its costs and burdens.
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If the leadership of Fatah (which is itself the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization—PLO and the Palestinian Authority—PA) is committed to the peace process, the Oslo Accords and its requirements, the Quartet conditions, the recognition of Israel, and to renouncing armed resistance, then let it be candid with Hamas and the resistance forces. Let it tell them “explicitly” that the desired partnership must not antagonize the Israeli or American sides, or the “Arab moderate” regimes and the opponents of “political Islam.”
Fatah must tell Hamas and the resistance forces: The partnership with you is a burden that the PLO and PA cannot cope with. Strong participation by Hamas and the resistance forces (each according to its real popular weight) in leading the PA, its ministries, and its institutions, especially in the WB, would be seen by Israel as a hostile act. The United States (US) and the “Western powers” will accuse the PA of having links to terrorism, and an Israeli blockade could be imposed. Israel could refrain from transferring tax revenues to the PA, revenues that are the backbone of its budget. Donor countries could withhold aid to the PA, and the work of institutions, movements of individuals, and imports and exports could be disrupted. In other words, partnership with Hamas and resistance factions would turn into a nightmare and a burden on people and their livelihoods.
In reality, the PA became, by time, an ad-hoc body whose major function on the ground is to “serve” the occupation rather than ending it. Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian factions must first agree on modifying the function of the PA in the direction of ending the occupation, before they agree on things like forming a consensus government or holding elections.
The disruption of the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), where Hamas has commanded (and still enjoying) a majority for the past eight years; the relentless effort and security coordination towards uprooting or marginalizing Hamas in the West Bank (WB); the blockade on Gaza Strip (GS); and three three major wars waged against it; are more than obvious signs that there is no room for Hamas in the administration and leadership in the WB and GS as long as it adopts resistance.
On the other hand, Fatah must be also candid with Hamas regarding the partnership in PLO leadership. Fatah must tell Hamas that its active participation in leading the PLO and shaping its decisions means that Israel, the US, and many western countries would accuse the PLO of terrorism, end the peace process, disrupt the PLO’s representation at the UN, and disrupt its representation in dozens of nations. It would also mean cutting off financial support and even withdrawing political recognition of the PLO.
Let Fatah be frank with Hamas and say that “political Islam,” which it espouses, and the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement school, which it follows, is causing regional and international hostility, and that Hamas should either alter its course or step aside, because we have enough problems and complications.
Let Fatah tell Hamas that given the current criteria and balance of power, their victory in the election would be a “disaster,” and their active participation in leadership and decision-making is a burden that Fatah cannot bear. That Hamas may not lead or participate in the government if the PA were to continue along its current paths that have been chosen for it, and which Fatah has no choice but to abide by. Hamas, as it should be told, regardless of its popularity, strength, and election victories, must remain on the sidelines because if it takes power then the PA would be in ruins!!
Let Fatah tell Hamas that if you don’t accept the existing equations, balances of power, and the rules of the game as dictated by Israel and regional and international powers, then do not “embarrass us, and you should make your participation “light” or “decorative.” Let your role be a marginal one, which would pave the way for conditional “national unity” under Fatah’s leadership, and in line with the requirements of the peace process.
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On the other hand, Hamas and the resistance factions must be more candid and clear with Fatah and the pro-peace camp. Let them say it explicitly that their active participation in the PA and the PLO will not back the peace process, but will use their participation as a means to disrupt the peace process in its current unfair path and stop the ever-increasing concessions to the Israelis, and will not stop armed resistance but seek to strengthen, legitimize, and protect it.
Hamas must be candid and tell Fatah that it is not concerned by whether Israel, Arab, and international conditions are favorable or not for the pro-resistance camp and “political Islam,” as much as it is concerned by expressing the will of the Palestinian people and not compromising its inalienable rights. Hamas must say that it refuses to realign itself in accordance with circumstances and equations dictated by Israel, the US, and the Arab weakness, and that its entry into the PA is meant to alter its function from a “functional authority” into a “resistance authority.” Hamas must say that its entry into the PLO is to toughen its stance and restore the foundations of its charter towards the liberation of Palestine.
It must say that it is unconcerned with appeasing this side or that side, as much as it is concerned with improving Palestinian institutional, military, political, economic, and social conditions. It wants to put the Palestinian political house in order to make new circumstances and impose new equations that would lead to liberation and independence.
Hamas and the resistance forces should be frank with Fatah and tell it, “Please step aside!” Forty-six years of leading the Palestinian people and monopolizing the PLO (beside 20 years of leading the PA) is enough. Your legitimacy was linked to “armed resistance” not the peace process.
Hamas must tell Fatah that its participation in or leadership of the PA or the PLO is not something to be decided by Israel, Arab, regional, or international conditions and equations, but by the Palestinian people. Hamas must stress that it is the right of the Palestinian people to change their leaders and reconsider the Oslo Accords and the function of the PA, and that if the Palestinian people gave Hamas confidence, then it has to be allowed to fully exercise its legislative, executive, and leadership mandate.
Hamas should be explicit in saying to Fatah that the peace process has led to ceding most of Palestine, disrupted the resistance program, and led the Palestinian issue to a dead end. Hamas should say that the peace process has been exploited by the Israeli side to confiscate more land, Judiazation, and building more settlements, and that it is not the right of Fatah’s leaders to sign agreements and concessions on behalf of the Palestinian people. Hamas should say that its entry and that of resistance factions into the PLO will mean ending the peace process in its present form, revive the resistance program, and restore Palestinian fundamentals.
Hamas must tell Fatah openly that it will not accept to be part of the décor, or a false witness in the Palestinian scene. Hamas must say that it will neither recognize Israel nor the Quartet conditions, and that it intends to carry on along the path of resistance and will not allow anyone to disarm it.
Hamas must tell Fatah explicitly that it is Fatah that have turned into a burden on the PLO, after abolishing or suspending most of the clauses of its charter, and encumbering it with an unfair peaceful settlement that contradicts the objectives and principles of the PLO. Fatah (Hamas must say) has disrupted most of PLO institutions, has dwarfed the PLO by turning it into a secondary body subordinate to the PA, has failed to accommodate broad segments of the Palestinian people into the PLO, and has turned the PLO into a Fatah outfit that expresses the ideology and attitudes of just one Palestinian faction.
Hamas must tell Fatah explicitly that it has turned into a burden on the PA, because the latter, instead of turning from an interim self-government body into an independent state, it turned under Fatah’s leadership into a functional authority serving the occupation more than serving the Palestinian people, cracking down on resistance, and spending more on security than on development. This authority has shackled itself to the policies of pro-Israel donor countries, and has built a rentier consumerist economy that perpetuates the occupation rather than building a productive resistive economy seeking to end the occupation.
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Thus, if each side adheres to its respective path (peace or resistance), Palestinian partnership will only mean sweeping the problems under the rug, or walking in a minefield where explosions will be set off by any decision or dispute; case in point: the issue of non-payment of the salaries of the GS civil servants appointed by the government of Isma‘il Haniyyah.
If Hamas is unable and unwilling to pay the price that Fatah has paid in the peace process, and if Fatah is unable and unwilling to pay the price related to accommodating the path of resistance, and to reviewing the Oslo Accords and the function of the PA, then each side will be a burden on the other, and will only deal with the other on an opportunistic basis with the goal of ultimately replacing or marginalizing it.
Conflicting paths can only lead to “problematic partnerships” and “mutual undercutting,” and will pave the way for regional and international exploitation of disputes, where one side would be backed against the other. This would practically mean the continuation of the schism, the continuation of Palestinian state of loss, and the squandering of energies and efforts all in parallel with the decline of Palestinian national action.
In the recent war on GS, the sight of rockets fired from GS into Tel Aviv and Haifa coexisted with security coordination between Israel and the PA in Ramallah, reflecting the futility of Palestinian partnership. Then not long after the end of the war, President Mahmud ‘Abbas and a number of Fatah leaders waged a violent campaign against Hamas and its leaders, despite the formation of a single unified Palestinian delegation to negotiate a ceasefire.
There is no value to the partnership if it doesn’t become leverage for the Palestinian national project, and if it is not based on joint objectives and paths that complement one another, and that serve the public attitudes rather than disrupt or impede them.
The existence of reconciliation or partnership agreements alone will not resolve the crisis of the Palestinian national project. The distribution of roles, or the expansion of the margins of managing differences can succeed in one degree or another, providing that the contradictions are not of a strategic and fundamental nature. Good intentions are extremely important in the partnership and in overcoming differences, though they are not sufficient to determine strategic paths.
Free and fair elections are an important gateway for any party that respects pluralism and the rotation of power, but they are not enough in the Palestinian context. There are actual difficulties that face them, such as the difficulty of holding elections in all Palestinian communities outside of Palestine, and also because the Israeli side has the ability to disrupt and thwart elections in the WB. Moreover, in the stage of liberation, we are in need of front-based work and to build alliances (while respecting each side’s weight), and we must caution against using elections to perpetuate factional division and disharmony.
What is important is for there to be a genuine solid will, where the Palestinian factions, particularly Fatah and Hamas, put the fundamental issues on the table. They can agree on a Palestinian national program, specifying which issues are “the fundamentals” that cannot be compromised, specifying the position vis-à-vis peace and resistance, and paving the way for a comprehensive rehabilitation of the PLO and its institutions. Such program would also define the nature and role of the PA, set priorities for Palestinian national action, and reject submission to external pressures, especially from Israel and the US. Only then will we be able to say that the Palestinian forces bolster one another, and serve the Palestinian interest together.