The al-Shati’ refugee camp reconciliation agreement signed in Gaza on April 23, 2014 between Fatah and Hamas is the most recent chapter in the intra-Palestinian reconciliation saga. While it is promising news for the Palestinian people, the obvious challenge is whether it will be implemented. It seems that both parties are underestimating the extent of the damage that such a long conflict has caused to the Palestinian political and social landscape. I fear that after seven years, the division has become entrenched in every single aspect of Palestinian life.
Although it took many observers by surprise, the signing of the al-Shati’ refugee camp reconciliation agreement at this time could be due to a number of reasons. It could have been a tactical move aimed at supporting the Palestinian negotiators in their “peace talks” with Israel and the US administration. In this context, the agreement could be understood as a move towards gaining popular and national legitimacy before offering further political compromises in the peace process. Both Fatah and Hamas are currently undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and are eager to fend off rivals, like former PA security chief Mohammad Dahlan. In this context, the agreement offers them a much-needed boost of national credibility. At the same time, the move appears to have also been a reaction to some of the major changes happening in the region — particularly the ones in Egypt.
Assuming that the reconciliation agreement will be implemented this time around, and regardless of the reasons that led to it, the Palestinian people should continue to hold Fatah and Hamas responsible for the damage and harm they have caused over the last seven years. Both parties are responsible for causing damages to the national liberation cause, for fragmenting the Palestinian society, for committing human rights abuses and for causing additional suffering for the Palestinian people. Both parties helped the Israeli occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of oppression and repression in the lives of Palestinians. Therefore, the leaders of both sides need to be held accountable.
During a press conference held in the home of Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad responded to a question on who will guarantee the implementation of the agreement. He said to the journalist: “You, the Palestinian people.” In a rather energetic and passionate way, Al-Ahmad argued that “the Palestinian people should monitor the Palestinian leadership step-by-step, and that they must be strong in confronting those who had prevented the implementation of the unity agreement.”
Al-Ahmad failed to mention, however, the authoritarian transformation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security forces (this also applies to Hamas rule in Gaza), particularly in the aftermath of the intra-Palestinian divide. Al-Ahmad dismissed the fact that the PA’s security forces have been suppressing the Palestinian people while also guaranteeing the security demands of the Israelis rather than supporting the Palestinian people in their resistance to Israel’s colonial domination. This is most clear through the policy of security collaboration.
Certainly, Palestinians must do everything in their power to ensure that this agreement is implemented. But, they also must be aware of the challenges, and engage with them rather than simply dismiss them. For instance, there was no mention in the press conference of the security arrangements and the role of the Palestinian security forces in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This issue has been a major obstacle in every agreement and potential agreement since the divide began to take shape. Due to the absence of trust, each party wants to keep its own security forces and control the security apparatus.
It is not clear, either, why both parties need five weeks to announce a unity government. They know very well the composition and role of such a government. This delay will give the Israeli and US governments an opportunity to threaten the implementation of the reconciliation agreement.
Finally, as was noted by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouq in the press conference, neither party discussed their different political programs or resistance strategies in this round of talks. However, they did make sure to announce, once again, that a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital is the ultimate national goal for both Fatah and Hamas and all of those who participated in the reconciliation talks. Therefore the glowing discourse of Hamas about liberating Palestine from the river to the sea is replaced by the Oslo Accords framework for two-state solution.
After so many years of failing to unite, the Palestinian people remain suspicious about the viability of this most recent agreement, despite the consensus around the need for one. This reflects the deep legitimacy crisis and the very low level of trust that the Palestinian people have in their “leadership” and political factions. In fact, this is yet another golden opportunity for alternative voices, particularly Leftist and secular, to emerge and flourish.
To be sure, this unity agreement means that Palestinians are most likely to be punished by Israel, the US administration, and by other actors in the international donor community. We are already seeing signs of this. In order to face these challenges, Palestinians must stand firm and united facing all the obstacles and seek alternative approaches that will empower and enable them to remain steadfast, persist, and resist. At the political front, Palestinians need to have an open debate about representation and the role of the PLO. At the economic front, it is about time to utilize the model of resistance and steadfastness economy as the only viable model for a nation that persists under a prolonged military occupation. In other words, the alternative necessities moving beyond the framework of Oslo Accords in both political and economic terms.
Remember: when the Israeli government gets angry as a result of some Palestinian action, it means that the action was on the right track. After all, Israel is an occupying and colonial power that must be resisted and boycotted as part of Palestinians’ efforts to achieve self-determination, dignity, and freedom for all. Without, however, paradigm shifts and coordinated actions on the ground, including the (forced) realization on the part of Fatah and Hamas leaders that the phantom authority for which they have fought so dearly has been a key obstacle, none of this will come to fruition.
Note: This article was originally published at Ma’an News Agency.