By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
In May 2016, five years passed since the Palestinian reconciliation agreement was signed between the Fatah and Hamas movements, and other Palestinian factions. The agreement took three years of negotiations to conclude. But why does the project for reconciliation take such a long time without being implemented?! despite the dire need for it and the impasse this has caused the Palestinian national project to fall into?!
In practical terms, we have two rival partners that were “forced” to engage in reconciliation despite their sharp differences. There is a number of reasons and obstacles that have disrupted the reconciliation, with varying degrees of influence and importance, summarized as follows:
1. The ideological reference frame: There is no joint intellectual and ideological reference point that determines what should be one of the fundamentals and a red line that cannot be compromised, or be the subject of bargaining and what can be set according to political considerations, objective and subjective circumstances, and the balance of power. For example, Islamic groups reject for religious reasons the recognition of Israel or ceding any part of Palestine, while other factions have considerations related to realpolitik, interests, tactics, and interim action.
At first, it may appear that coexistence is possible for this setting. However, practical experience in the Palestinian case has demonstrated the existence of major obstacles. Some of the thorniest issues have been the recognition of Israel and giving it the right to exist on 77% of historical Palestine, something that Hamas rejects on Islamic premises, but the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has no scruples with, as an outcome of the Oslo Accords. Those accords established the PA and were the foundation of the dream to turn it into a Palestinian state. For its part, Hamas wants to exercise its right to serve its people and govern, without recognizing Israel, abandoning resistance, or accepting the agreements signed by the PLO. In other words, Hamas wants to impose new terms for the game, which is anathema to the Israelis and the Americans.
In terms of practice, Mahmud ‘Abbas and the leaders of the PLO and Fatah have called for forming a government that could lift the siege. However, Israel and the US are opposed to ending the siege before the Quartet conditions, developed after Hamas won the general election in 2006, are respected, led by the recognition of Israel,… again something Hamas can never accept.
2. Priorities and paths: The previous point has influenced the national program of each party and how it determines priorities and where it can make compromises, as well as each party’s strategic and tactical vision for their respective projects for peace and resistance, and which should be pursued first. Questions emerged over whether priority should be given to forming a national unity government and holding elections; reforming and reactivating the PLO; reforming the security forces; economic programs; lifting the siege and reconstruction; seeking recognition of the Palestinian state at the UN; the refugee issue; or to confronting Judaization attempts especially in Jerusalem. How each issue could be assigned a weight and on which basis it should be delayed or brought forward as well as questions over the number of issues that could be tackled simultaneously.
3. The lack of an institutional reference frame: that both sides could consult, that would determine the priorities of the national project, that would set decision-making mechanisms, that would represent the Palestinian people in the interior and in the Diaspora, and that would set the mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of power. Although the PLO is usually the entity that should play this role, Hamas, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PLO), and broad Palestinian segments… remain unrepresented in the organization, leadership of which has been monopolized by the Fatah movement since 47 years (February 1969). Therefore, the PLO no longer represents the true will of the Palestinian people. Currently, there is no single Palestinian entity that brings together all Palestinians, in which they can deliberate their situations, develop programs, and determine their priorities and plans.
The PLO institutions have been disrupted leaving it ineffective with the “encroachment” of the PA on its prerogatives. The Palestinian National Council (PNC) has not convened a real session since 1991, save for one in 1996 (despite flaws) during which most clauses of the national charter were abolished or suspended in line with the commitments of the Oslo Accords. In other words, this council has not functioned for 25 years, except to be “summoned” to endorse the wishes of the leadership, including by altering the original identity of the PLO and its raison d’etre.
Although the reconciliation agreement stipulated reforming the PLO to include all Palestinian factions, the conduct of the PLO leadership has usually obstructed the implementation of commitments related to reforming and rebuilding the organization’s institutions. The political conduct of Hamas, PIJ, and other factions, meanwhile, does not only seek partnership in leading the PLO, but also rebuild the priorities of the Palestinian national project on bases that reject conceding land and that protect the resistance option, which would mean reviewing the agreements signed by the PLO and abolishing or amending them. This would be anathema to Fatah’s leadership, which would seek to prevent such changes.
4. Arab influence: The influence of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia on Palestinian decision-makers is no secret. Egypt usually plays a key role in giving cover to the Palestinian leadership, and in the Palestinian internal arrangements. Egypt was previously behind the creation of the PLO and the appointment of Ahmad Shuqairi as its leader. It also had given cover to his removal and to Fatah’s ascendancy to the leadership of the organization, which it continues to dominate, in addition to the cover Egypt gave to the peace process taken by the PLO leadership. Furthermore, Egypt prior to the 25/1/2011 revolution (and after the 3/7/2013 coup d’etat) was largely responsible for the way Hamas was dealt with, and the attempts to isolate it, weaken it, and undermine it. On the other hand, Syria, prior to its current conflict (Started since March 2011), was an incubator for Hamas and resistance forces, which had a profound influence on the confrontation with the “Moderate Front.” The Arab countries, especially the ring countries surrounding Palestine, have borne a historic responsibility for deepening the crisis of the Palestinian national project, because of their restrictions on resistance activities, and the political and popular action of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians have been unable to organize themselves freely in these countries, while their elections were often disallowed or restricted.
5. Israeli influence: On the Israeli side, the entry of the PLO (and then the PA) into the “Era of Oslo” and the resulting arrangements on the ground since 1993, made Israel the “ever-present absent” party in the calculus of PLO and PA decision-makers. To be sure, the Oslo Accords meant that “resistance” leaders moved to live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS), and forced the PLO to abandon armed resistance in return for an authority whose crossings, imports, exports, finances, and movement of its leaders and cadres are controlled by Israel. At will, Israel can destroy infrastructure, occupy PA areas, arrest whomever it wants, strangle the economy, continue its policy of Judaization, impose sanctions, and blackmail Palestinians at all levels, economic, political, and security. Israel can disrupt legislative elections, arrest resistance supporters including Hamas MPs and ministers, and disrupt PA’s work mechanisms. This has given the Israelis a wide opportunity to place immense pressure on the Palestinian leadership and people, making Israel’s reactions and conduct a key determinant of Palestinian reconciliation and internal negotiations.
6. International influence: The Western position and the US position in particular has a significant influence on the Palestinian track. The absolute US support for Israel has been a blatant intervention and an attempt to steer the choices and attitudes of the Palestinian people. For it supported Israel’s occupation, violations, and practices against the Palestinian people, and it intervened to impose the conditions of the Quartet on Hamas and Palestinian resistance forces which include recognizing Israel and ending armed resistance, and accepting the accords signed by the PLO including the Oslo Accords, The US and its allies also sought to topple and isolate Hamas, designating it as a “terrorist” organization, and to delegitimize it, in addition to punishing the Palestinian people for freely electing Hamas.
On the other hand, the US biased position helped undermine the peace process, leading to an impasse in the efforts to achieve Palestinian rights or some of them through the Security Council or the UN. This helped create a real crisis for the peace process advocated by the PA.
An essential part of reconciliation talks focused on how to condition the forming of the Palestinian government to be in line with the conditions of the Quartet and US-Israeli possible “vetoes.” This also applied to holding elections and reforming security forces, etc.
7. The crisis of confidence: between Fatah and Hamas, or the peace camp and the resistance camp. The crisis deepened in the past years, further complicating matters. Through factional relations, especially between Fatah and Hamas, and over a quarter of a century, a huge crisis of trust has been cemented: There was the language of harsh accusations between them of failure and collaboration, and campaigns of security crackdown, arrests, and exclusions led by the Fatah-dominated PA in 1994–2000. There were the resistance operations carried out by Hamas and resistance factions, which Fatah saw as obstruction and foiling of the peace process leading to Palestinian statehood, and attempts at undermining, toppling, and obstruction led by Fatah and the PA against the Legislative Council, a majority of whose seats was won by Hamas, and the Hamas-formed government. There was also the state of division following Hamas’s takeover of GS and Fatah’s control of WB, followed by mutual security measures to guarantee each party’s control of its respective territory, while security coordination between Ramallah and the US-Israel reached maximal levels against resistance activities and Islamic factions in WB. Also, the state of lawlessness and mutual bloodshed deepened this crisis of confidence.
8. The cultural dimension: This is linked to the “diseases” of Palestinian society, especially those related to managing differences and the peaceful transfer of power, coexistence, and finding common ground away from factionalism and partisanship, and tendencies for monopoly, mistrust, and spitefulness at the expense of confidence-building programs and joint action.
9. The crisis of Palestinian leadership: as a leadership has not lived up to the aspirations of its people, falling in varying degrees into pitfalls of individual dictatorial rule, personal calculations, weak executive institutional work, lack of respect for legislative authorities, political clientelism, partisanship, opportunism, corruption, failure to take advantage of huge potentials of the Palestinian people, and failure to manage political differences, etc.
10. The geographical dispersion and fragmentation of the Palestinian people: This issue has made it difficult for Palestinians to meet, reach accords, and make decisions. Palestinians do not live in the same space, and are not governed by one polity. They have different circumstances with 2.9 million under occupation and Fatah’s leadership in WB; 1.85 million in GS under Israeli siege and Hamas’s leadership; and 6.15 million around the world. Despite the Palestinians’ aspirations to liberation, return, and independence, the different circumstances of their lives have impacted their culture, approach, and understanding of issues.
Thus, it is necessary to take stock of these impediments to realize the reason for delay and disruption in the implementation of reconciliation. However, when there is a real and serious will a breakthrough will be possible, provided that this is not limited to mechanisms, but also tackles priorities and paths.