Giving up on reconciliation
After some hope of overcoming internal divisions, Palestinian factions are as far from reconciliation as they ever were, writes Saleh Al-Naami
The emotional state of Mohamed Motlaq, a Hamas MP, was clear to everyone as he met his eldest son Moaz when the latter was released after being imprisoned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's intelligence agency. What evoked Motlaq's emotional state was the sharp deterioration in Moaz's health because of the brutal torture he endured in prison. The MP said Moaz suffered the same torture that many Hamas activists suffer in the prisons of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and views it as a tax that Palestinians must pay because of continued political fractures. The families of Hamas members imprisoned by the PA confirm that their relatives are being tortured, while dozens of arrests and interrogations are reported.
The Palestinian scene is depressing. One month after signing the Doha Declaration facts on the ground are far from reconciliatory, which proves that tensions between the two main political groups -- Fatah and Hamas -- have deepened since the Doha Declaration despite meetings of the factions in Cairo. In fact, new issues of contention have come to light between Hamas and Fatah, making it impossible to reach agreement on implementing the Doha Declaration under current conditions.
Fatah has threatened Hamas with "unexpected measures" if it carries out the death sentence issued by a military tribunal in Gaza against a Fatah activist convicted of killing a leading figure in Hamas during confrontations between the two groups that started in mid-2007. Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasma warned: "If Hamas takes such action, it will exacerbate the Palestinian scene and destroy conciliatory efforts." Al-Qawasma said that the death sentence would "assassinate conciliation".
However, the interior ministry in Gaza countered that this is a man convicted of murder and that this type of criminal cannot be categorised as a "political prisoner".
Ehab Al-Ghossayn, spokesman for the ministry, said that all prisoners in Gaza were arrested for crimes of homicide or security violations such as spying for the enemy. This makes redundant the role of reconciliation committees that were created during Cairo talks between faction representatives. Members of these committees assert that talks are a smokescreen and that there are no grounds for reaching reconciliation.
"Contacts between the two groups are completely frozen," a Palestinian source who is close to mediation efforts between Hamas and Fatah told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The boycott between the two sides has not yet been resolved."
Evidence of the deep rift between Fatah and Hamas now includes ideological issues. A serious dispute between the two groups erupted after a fatwa (religious edict) by Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, banned Muslims from visiting Jerusalem while it remains under occupation since this is a form of normalising relations with the occupation. Abbas and Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Al-Hobash criticised Al-Qaradawi, countering that the edict complements the goals of the occupation that aim to isolate Jerusalem from Arab and Muslim circles.
Hamas defended the edict and described Abbas's objections as proof that he is assisting Israel in the Judaisation of the holy city. Ahmed Abu Haliba, a Hamas MP, said that Abbas is in fact "acting like a tour guide for Israel and does not care about the harm his statements are causing". Abu Haliba called on Arab and Muslim fatwa committees to issue proclamations similar to Al-Qaradawi's, and urged all relevant parties not to comply with Abbas's call.
Meanwhile, Fatah and Hamas leaders continued to hurl accusations against each other with each side holding the other responsible for the gridlock in reconciliation efforts. Abbas claimed that the reason for failing to implement the Doha Declaration is because of internal divisions inside Hamas, and the inability of the head of the group's politburo, Khaled Meshaal, to convince his fellow leaders to implement the declaration.
Abbas responded to the constitutional argument that although the Doha Declaration enables him to become prime minister of the coming national unity government this contradicts the basic laws of the PA. "I am not insisting on heading the next government," he said. "If it is illegal or problematic, I am not adamant about this position -- I have plenty of titles." The president added that he and Meshaal agreed on him being premier out of their desire to end the stalemate.
In an interview with PA-owned Palestine Television, Abbas asserted: "I accepted the position of PM in the next government because it is only a transitional government and its mission is to hold elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip." Abbas's interpretation of the recent meetings of senior officials in the temporary leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Cairo contradicted the views of Hamas on the meetings. He stated that the meetings aim to discuss ways of reviving the PLO and not how to lead the organisation, asserting that participants only have a mandate to deliberate the mechanisms needed to choose members of the National Council in the coming phase. Hamas, on the other hand, believes that the meetings have a mandate to decide the broad policies of overhauling the organisation.
On the issue of arresting activists from Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the West Bank, Abbas said: "I do not allow the arrest anyone based on their beliefs, affiliations or statements. Those arrested are smuggling weapons and explosives or trying to launder money, which we consider as crimes." He added: "It is shameful for divisions to continue; this is how I feel, as does Khaled Meshaal, and most of the people. Therefore our main goal is to achieve conciliation and not look for reasons to block us."
The official who was most critical of Abbas's statements this time was a Hamas leader who is an enthusiast for conciliation, and has a personal relationship with Abbas and other Fatah leaders. Ahmed Youssef directly held Abbas responsible for the failure to implement the Doha Declaration because the president succumbed to pressure by Israel and the US. Youssef, a moderate who has criticised most of his colleagues in Hamas, described recent talks in Cairo among faction representatives as disappointing and revealed that all participants left Cairo frustrated about the possibility of conciliation.
He added that the US and Israel know that implementing Doha would mean allowing Hamas to extensively influence events, by activating the role of parliament and contributing to the policies of the PLO. Youssef said that the US-Israel veto is the reason why Abbas is hesitating on conciliation and that the president is waiting for a more favourable Arab climate to help him overcome pressure from Tel Aviv and Washington to derail conciliation. Youssef, however, believes that it is no longer viable to sacrifice conciliation for the sake of negotiations with Israel.
"We can no longer procrastinate and wait while the extremist right wing government in Israel is quickening the pace of Judaisation of Jerusalem," Youssef insisted. "[Israel] is also flagrantly increasing settlement building in the West Bank which makes the two-state solution impossible." He further warned that the "appalling" condition of the Palestinian people because of internal fractures is "a ticking bomb" that demands conciliation to be reached and Palestinian organisations restructured.
More and more, many Palestinians are becoming convinced that they will have to live with internal division and its calamitous ramifications until change occurs in regional conditions that benefit the persistence of this painful reality.