Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Back to square one

Palestinian reconciliation efforts, which seemed so close to resolution, have seemingly crashed, with past agreements back on the table for negotiation, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Al-Ahram Weekly

Nahla Ouda, 42, was annoyed that her neighbour, Tahani, knocked on her door early on Saturday morning. Although they visit each other often, it was obvious to Nahla this time that Tahani was coming in unusual circumstances; indeed, as soon as Nahla opened the door Tahani was lobbying her to convince her children, Haitham, 20, and Eman, 21, to register as voters as soon as possible so they can vote in the coming elections. Nahla knows that Tahani, who is a Fatah activist, is not lobbying her so that Haitham and Eman can exercise their political rights, but because she hopes the pair will vote for her group if elections take place.

Tahani’s outreach is similar to hundreds of other activists in all Palestinian groups, where behind the scenes there is a secret battle between factions, especially Fatah and Hamas. Each group is keen on having the largest number of its supporters register in electoral lists in order to make greater gains. Each faction is doing this quietly so that its opponents don’t find out the constituencies they are trying to sway.

Ironically, Palestinian factions are dealing with elections as if they are certain to take place, which is a belief divorced from reality, especially in light of the modest outcome of the meeting of the temporary leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that took place in Cairo 2 February. It was obvious there is a wide gap between rival parties on the Palestinian scene. Informed sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the meeting finalised agreement on very little on any of the issues on the agenda, and that it should have been just a protocol gathering at the end of which the parties would sign an agreement on what was previously reached in the Cairo Agreement and Doha Declaration.

Surprisingly, however, all issues that were previously agreed on were reopened for discussion. The source said that the meeting was expected to discuss and sign the final details quickly, but instead debates began about almost every topic that was previously agreed on. This means that reconciliation has returned to square one. According to this source, there are five disputed issues that prevent a decision on election dates. These include the electoral system, whereby Fatah and other factions want to adopt a 100 per cent proportional electoral system in presidential, legislative and National Council elections, while Hamas insists that at least 25 per cent of representatives are elected through electoral districts.

Hamas and Fatah also disagree about automatically counting members of parliament as members of the next National Council without elections. Fatah wants candidates who win parliament seats in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to automatically become members of the National Council, while Hamas insists that separate elections should be held to choose the members of the National Council in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The sources added that the two groups also disagree on the competence of the Central Palestinian Election Commission, in its current composition, in overseeing National Council elections. They also disagree on dividing electoral districts for Palestinian Diaspora because some factions believe the Diaspora should have one representative, while others believe there should be several constituencies. There is also disagreement about the winning margin in elections.

The source was sure further disputes will surface once the rival sides begin discussing more complicated security issues that were postponed for a later date. Fatah and Hamas exchanged accusations about the influence of foreign factors in the failure of the recent meeting in Cairo. Hamas accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of not accomplishing reconciliation because he did not want to anger the US and Israel, especially since US President Barack Obama decided to visit the region in the spring and will meet Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Hamas sources said that during meetings in Cairo Abbas indicated that finalising reconciliation would depend on all factions accepting the “two-state solution”, which is a strongly rejected notion by Hamas and other factions. It is obvious that if reconciliation is preconditioned on complete consensus among all factions on the political agenda, reconciliation will never be achieved.

“Preconditioning reconciliation on the variable of negotiating with the occupation, which is expected during Obama’s trip to the region next month, is like making a bad bet on delusions that will never happen,” asserted Taher Al-Nunu, spokesman for the government in Gaza. On his Facebook page, Al-Nunu added: “The belief that the political map created by Arab Spring revolutions will change is political adolescence/immaturity.”

On the other side, Saeb Ereikat, member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and Fatah’s Central Committee, strongly denied a connection between Obama’s upcoming visit to Palestinian Authority (PA) areas and delays in national reconciliation efforts. Ereikat told Palestine Voice on Sunday morning that, “National reconciliation will not be postponed until after Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry visit the region. The US may not want reconciliation, which is its own opinion, but President Abbas’s position is that reconciliation is a supreme interest and our primarily goal of action.”

He added: “After Palestine was recognised by the UN, we are saying that today is unlike the past and Palestinian thinking should be based on new horizons according to that. Implying that Washington and Israel have placed conditions and a veto on reconciliation is disrespectful and we should never utter it.” He further explained that Abbas “insists on forming a competent government under his leadership as soon as the date for elections is announced, and that elections would take place within 90 days of this announcement.”

Ereikat further defended Fatah’s call for earlier elections, and rejected Hamas’s claim that elections ought to be preceded by an appropriate atmosphere and that among the sticking points on the path to reconciliation are political detentions and political freedoms. Hamas claims that while it released all Fatah members in its prisons, the Ramallah government continues to arrest and question hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank.

Khalil Al-Hayya, member of Hamas’s politburo, said the issue of freedoms in occupied West Bank is delaying reconciliation, noting that forming a new government and deciding on an election date depend on making progress on reconciliation, including the issue of freedoms.

“Agreement on freedoms is vital to create an atmosphere conducive for agreeing on a date for elections,” Al-Hayya explained, adding that agreement on forming a consensus government and its duration depends on agreement among factions on the conditions and requirements for holding elections for the National Council, legislature and presidency.

But while Fatah and Hamas share responsibility for the failure of the Cairo meeting, independent figures that attended the meeting blame both groups for the failure. Khalil Assaf, the leader of the Independent Figures Forum in the West Bank, blamed both groups for the collapse of the Cairo meeting. Assaf attributed the failure to the absence of sincere intentions by both sides.

“It is obvious that partisan and personal interests surpassed national interests,” Assaf said. “I blame both sides (Fatah and Hamas) for this failure, albeit to differing degrees. It was clear that Fatah was waiting for Hamas to make a mistake so it can be blamed, and vice versa. Unfortunately, those paying the price are the Palestinian people and those benefiting from this situation are the occupation, their schemes and settlements. Thus, I believe the people should take action and take it to the streets.”

He continued: “Unfortunately, what happened in the last meeting was like a student who went to take an exam on a subject he is vaguely familiar with, but didn’t study thoroughly.”

There was unprecedented optimism last week about reaching reconciliation in light of rumours of Arab and Islamic pressure on Fatah and Hamas to forge ahead. In the end, it seems that lack of trust and intervention by foreign parties capsized the Palestinian unity boat before it could reach shore.


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