The reconciliation agreement between Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank is a great step forward for Palestinians but does it provide a viable political programme or vision to free Palestine?

Palestinian Unity Placards

Under the auspices of Egypt, delegations from the Fatah and Hamas movements met in Cairo recently to discuss ending their political divisions. Palestinian factions finally sealed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo on 4 May, raising hopes of ‘national unity’.

Representatives of thirteen groups, and independent personalities, signed the agreement after a year and a half of fruitless negotiations. Besides Fatah and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) have also ratified, despite reservations on some points.

The agreement signposts the formation of a “national unity government” with a prime minister and ministers chosen by consensus, preparation for Palestinian Authority elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a year, combining of the security forces controlled by the separate factions, and reactivating of the Palestinian Legislative Council (in which Hamas won an overwhelming majority in 2006).

In reaction to the deal, Israel blocked the transfer of $105 million in customs duties and other levies it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). This decision was criticised internationally and inside Israel as well. The European Commission granted an additional 85 million Euros to pay civil servants of the PA working in vital sectors such as doctors, nurses and teachers. France has made – a gesture by announcing an agreement granting 10 million Euros to the PA.

Ehud Barak, Israeli defence minister, criticised the government’s decision. He added that Israel can easily keep track of the use of money and make sure it is not transferred to Hamas without imposing a freeze.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls to Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA), to cancel the agreement with Hamas should be understood as evidence of how much Israel relies on its relationship with the PA. Israel doesn’t want to see that relationship jeopardised by this reconciliation agreement. It is definitely not in Israeli interests to see a united Palestinian national movement, which can now address important issues and speak to the international community with a single voice.

Why was this reconciliation possible now?

The reconciliation was firstly made possible by the regional context, especially revolution in Egypt. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, were two of the PA’s biggest supporters against Hamas. The revolution in Egypt and their removal also served to inspire and instigate mobilization among Palestinian youth in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah can also be seen as a tactic to thwart and ease rising Palestinian discontent against them. Youth protests associated with the 15th of March movement, in the broader context of the Arab Spring revolutions, pose a challenge. Only one day after the launch of the 15th of March movement, which gathered thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as abroad (demanding an end to the division that weakened the West Bank and Gaza), Abbas announced his willingness to travel to Gaza to engage in unity talks, while Hamas leaders were also declaring their readiness to discuss with Fatah officials.

Activists of the 15th March movement were nevertheless repressed and attacked the past few weeks by both security forces and thugs from Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah have tried to undermine the organisers’ efforts, accusing its leaders of receiving foreign funding and shifting the focus of the protests to the factional division for fear of “losing grip over power and authority”.

In addition, on the day of the announcement of the agreement, Hamas security forces violently dispersed nearly 100 youth celebrating in Unknown Soldier Square in Gaza for “failure to obtain prior approval to congregate”.
We can therefore say that this agreement reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is a first victory for the youth movement of the 15th of March fostered by the revolutionary atmosphere in the region.

Is this reconciliation agreement the first path to an effective path to liberation?

The reconciliation between the two rival factions is only one element in relation to the rest of the demands of the youth movement. This latter’s main objective is to rehabilitate the Palestinian National Council through elections which will include all Palestinians, regardless of geographic location and circumstance, and not just those of the West Bank and Gaza. The ultimate goal is to reconstruct a Palestinian national programme based upon a comprehensive resistance platform.

The reconciliation agreement didn’t provide any commitment to real reform and democratisation of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), to re-enfranchise and include the majority of Palestinians, who do not live in the Occupied Territories.

The deal between Fatah and Hamas does not solve any current problems or key issues with Israel and the direct collaboration between the PA and the Israeli state. Not a single point in the reconciliation agreement challenges the security co-operation between the PA and Israel occupation forces. The Palestine Papers, revealed by Al Jazeera in January, showed how deeply this collaboration went, including PA officials urging Israel to tighten the siege of Gaza, efforts by the PA to block Israeli releases of Palestinian prisoners, and secret committees to undermine the previous Palestinian national unity government established in 2007.

In the past, Hamas and groups on the left such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) rightly criticised the PA’s direct collaboration with Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and, until June 2007, in Gaza. This collaboration has targeted not just Hamas and PFLP members, but activists and organisations which resist Israeli occupation with non-violent means. Following the reconciliation agreement, senior Israeli commanders in the occupied West Bank appear to have continued their close relationship with their PA counterparts.

How will Hamas forces, which are Israeli targets, collaborate with PA forces, which are financed and supervised by the United States? No clear answer has been given. There will effectively be no true integration of Palestinian armed groups, but each faction will continue to control its own, under the umbrella of a superficial “Higher Security Committee” as written in the reconciliation agreement.

Hamas, which has been an important actor in the military resistance against Israel, seems today ready to join and participate in a “national unity” government which openly cooperates with the Israeli occupation army which attacks Gaza, assassinates Hamas’ cadres as well as members from other political groups, and arrests activists in the Occupied Territories.

Hamas has also, through this agreement, recognised the existence of the Palestinian president, thus reversing Hamas’ long-standing insistence that Abbas’ term of office had expired and that he was without legitimacy (his term actually expired in January 2009). Hamas also said it will not oppose peace negotiations led by the PLO, controlled by Abbas, with Israel.

This “unity” deal might re-introduce discussions between Fatah and Hamas, but it does not seem to put an end to the division. Both groups will actually continue to control their authority in their respective region. Recent events have also cast serious doubt on the freedom Hamas members will have in the occupied West Bank post-unification. After unification was announced, Israel arrested two members of Hamas in the West Bank. Furthermore, on 5 May, the PA security forces detained six Hamas-affiliated men.

Mahmoud Abbas told pro-Israel lobbyists visiting from the US on May 8, that there will be no Hamas in the West Bank, and that the PA will not share authority with them. Abbas was urging the Israel lobbyists to help convince the US Congress not to cut off the financial aid on which the PA depends.

Hamas has openly and repeatedly declared its will to be recognized by the international community. Hamas leader Khaled Mechaal declared, during the official ceremony of the agreement, that Hamas wanted the “establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital”, which is to demand a state on the lines of June 1967, the basis for negotiations in the eyes of the international community.

Hamas has failed to articulate, or to rally the Palestinian people around, a viable strategy to liberate Palestine. They have long signalled its desire to move away from armed struggle toward purely political means. They have stopped nearly any form of military resistance since its takeover in 2007 and even prevented military resistance from Gaza.

Hamas strategy has been to simply agree on a possible “two-state solution” – and desire to be recognised and included in the so called “peace process negotiations”. This agreement with the PA might actually encourage Hamas to turn its back on its role as a resistance movement, without gaining any additional leverage that could help Palestinians free themselves from Israeli occupation and colonial rule.

The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is, however, without doubt better than the division. A united Palestinian national movement is definitely a first path towards liberation.

This deal nevertheless fails to provide a viable political programme or vision to free Palestine. The agreement does not address the issue of uniting, including and mobilising all Palestinians throughout the world: in the refugee camps, in the Diaspora, the 1948 territories, not only the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The deal is a way to share the power of each group and protect it against the threat of a rising youth Palestinian movement with tactics and strategies to suggest a viable programme for the liberation of Palestine.

The path to the liberation of Palestine, as put forward by many in the global Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, involves addressing these issues, including all Palestinians and re-asserting their fundamental rights:

  • end of the Israeli occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands, as well as the dismantling of the apartheid wall.
  • end of Israel’s system of institutionalised racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens
  • for the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced, the great majority of the Palestinian people, to exercise their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes of origin and to receive reparations.

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