Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Reconciliation or conflict management?

Talks in Doha are bringing the question of Palestinian reconciliation back into focus. But despite the urgency, moral and political, few are optimistic of a breakthrough, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

During a meeting in Doha on 8 February, Fatah and Hamas delegations reached a “working understanding” of the reconciliation agreements to be implemented in a concrete timeframe that is now being hammered out. The two delegations are expected to meet again in the Qatari capital after intra-movement discussions about the understanding.

While the Palestinian people hope for genuine reconciliation to turn the page on the bitter division and the fallout on political, economic, security and social life since 2007, they are casting a wary eye on the Doha meetings based on past experiences, which have failed to deliver each time.

The dispute between Fatah and Hamas flared up after Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in January 2006. In June 2007, armed clashes between the two factions ended with Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip.

The two movements concluded the first reconciliation in May 2011 under Egyptian auspices and the second in February 2012 under a Qatari aegis, forming an independent unified government to assume preparations for general elections. On 23 April 2014, they signed the Beach Accord, ostensibly ending the division, although most of the terms of the agreements remain unimplemented.

Observers of Palestinian affairs believe that the chronic division is the primary cause of the hardship of the Gazan population and the eclipsing of the Palestinian issue on the regional and international stage. It has also left the current popular stirrings in the West Bank and Jerusalem, now entering their fifth month, without cover, leadership or even usefulness.

Observers doubt that efforts will yield an accord, given the difference in the projects on offer to restore Palestinian rights: while the Hamas project raises the slogan of armed resistance, the Fatah project focusses primarily on negotiations and popular resistance.

They believe the Doha round of talks is empty and will not end the division so much as produce an understanding on how to manage it. At best, the talks may lead to a national unity government, which upon formation would run up against the same obstacles faced by the national accord government, especially regarding Hamas control of the Gaza Strip and the salary crisis for thousands of employees of its previous government.

Fatah says that reconciliation is a strategic choice. Seeking national unity, it stresses the need for a national unity government and presidential and parliamentary elections to revive Palestinian legitimacy.

Fatah’s parliamentary bloc in the PLC expressed its support for efforts to end the division and the steps to make national unity a reality following the Doha talks. In a statement, the bloc stressed the importance of maintaining a spirit of cooperation and consensus on all issues related to reconciliation, which could establish a Palestinian national partnership capable of confronting the challenges facing the Palestinian people.

Faisal Abu Shahla, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and the High Leadership Body in the Gaza Strip, said that the objective of the Doha meetings is to discuss mechanisms to implement the reconciliation agreement and form a national unity government that would be fully responsible for all Palestinian issues, including security, civil servants, border crossings, the economy, and preparations for presidential and legislative elections.

Abu Shahla, also an MP, said no new issues would be discussed at the meetings. Instead, they would focus on implementing previous agreements signed between the two movements, whether the Cairo Accord or the Beach Accord.

“Hamas did not comply with the Beach agreement,” he said. “It put up obstacles for the accord government in Gaza and continues to impose its control in the Strip, including the border crossings.”

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), dominated by Fatah and Hamas, signed the Beach Accord at the home of Ismail Haniyeh, deputy head of the Hamas politburo, in Al-Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City. The accord called for the formation of a national consensus government within five weeks to include independent figures tasked with organising elections within six months.

The government was formed on 2 June 2014, but the remaining terms of the accord were not implemented, particularly the convening of elections, the activation of the PLC, the restructuring of the security apparatus, social reconciliation, and the easing of living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The consensus government blames Hamas for forming a shadow government in Gaza with Hamas-affiliated deputy ministers. Denying the charge, Hamas says that the government is not fulfilling its responsibilities to Gaza due to a lack of political will and discrimination against certain civil servants.

A Fatah leader stressed that his movement is holding to the Egyptians as sponsors of Palestinian reconciliation. “We are sticking with the Egyptian role in reconciliation,” he said. “There is full coordination between Egyptian and Palestinian leaders in everything related to the Palestinian issue.”

Abu Shahla said that a Fatah delegation, composed of two members of the Central Committee, Azzam Al-Ahmed and Sakher Bseiso, visited Cairo to consult and coordinate with Egyptian officials before going to Doha.

In contrast, Hamas believes that reconciliation must be based on what it describes as “immutable Palestinian principles”, as well as the foundation of resistance rather than negotiations or security coordination. It believes that Fatah’s call for the government to adopt the PLO programme contravenes the reconciliation agreement and that PLO commitments brought the siege and veto on Gaza. For Hamas, the reconciliation decision lies with President Mahmoud Abbas, who is ostensibly the president of all Palestinians.

Hamas is demanding a resolution to the problems of the Gaza Strip, accusing the current consensus government of pursuing a policy of sidelining Gaza and its employees.

Ziad Al-Zaza, a member of the Hamas politburo, said that his movement is making great efforts to reach a genuine reconciliation that could end the division and resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

In an interview on the Hamas-affiliated Aqsa satellite channel Sunday night, Al-Zaza said, “A meeting between Hamas and Fatah in Doha [on Monday] is uncertain.” He added that Hamas supports all talks that could end the division and resolve the people’s crises on the basis of participation.

“If we want to reach a genuine national consensus, we must find common ground and avoid sensitive political issues,” he said. Al-Zaza said that Hamas gave up its government and agreed to the formation of a consensus government, but that the latter did not do its job in Gaza and end its crises.

Regarding the issue of civil servants in Gaza, Al-Zaza said it was not likely that a unity government would be formed without finding solutions for Gaza government employees. “It’s unreasonable to agree to a government without resolving the issue of civil servants,” he said. “We don’t want to make these issues an obstacle. We aspire to realise what we’ve agreed on, without attempts at evasion.”

After it assumed control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Hamas appointed some 40,000 civil servants in various sectors, who are still working after the formation of the consensus government. They occasionally organise sit-ins and strikes to demand integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA) civil service, and for the disbursement of their wages.

Political analyst Akram Atallah says that, as usual, the parties went to Doha with intentions alone. No political concessions were made on which a political consensus could be based. In the absence of such gestures, he said, this round will produce nothing more than previous agreements.

Atallah doubts that the Doha agreements will lead to the implementation of reconciliation agreements and end the division. He said that all agreements in past years were administrative agreements that addressed matters such as the formation of a government, wages and border crossings, to the exclusion of a political programme that could bridge the gulf between the Hamas and the PA.

“The parties to the crisis have never come close to a real dialogue on the programme that would let us say we’re nearing an end to the division,” he said. “Otherwise, why the failure to this day, despite all the agreements signed between the PA and Hamas?”

According to Atallah, a reality has emerged in the Gaza Strip that is wholly at odds with the PA and its programme, obligations and the agreements it has concluded. These agreements constitute the identity of the PA and the basis of its operations. Its financial support and disbursement of salaries is determined based on commitments in these agreements. The real wage problem is not one of money but programme conflicts. In turn, he said, talking about reconciliation outside the context of the PA system means the parties will be frustrated every time.

“Does reconciliation mean that Gaza will again be folded into the PA or not?” he asked. “Hamas must answer this question, for it alone will determine the success or failure of efforts to end the division and rebuild the political system, of which the PA is a major component. This is reconciliation.”

Atallah said there could be no reconciliation without bringing Gaza back under the PA. “Has Hamas decided to abandon its programme in favour of the PA programme? That would allow optimism. Or has the PA decided to relinquish agreements for a programme close to Hamas?”

Atallah said that Hamas has not changed its programme, which is based on armed conflict with Israel and dedication to digging tunnels and manufacturing missiles. This is the exact opposite of the PA programme, which restructured the West Bank after 2007 in line with its foundation.

He pointed out that the PA put an end to any armed militia presence, including Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades under Fatah, the backbone of the PA. Would it then agree to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip and pay wages while armed wings still exist, most importantly the Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, which acts in contravention of the PA programme?

In a related context, Palestinian public figures and factions called on Hamas and Fatah to assume the national responsibility of turning the page on division and restoring national unity. In a statement, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, DFLP), as well as the leftist Shaab Party, urged Hamas and Fatah to work to ensure that the Doha meetings “do not cement bilateralism or act as an alternative to comprehensive national talks that can build a foundation for any agreement and establish a national, struggle-oriented strategy to support and prop up the ongoing uprising and just struggle of the Palestinian people to reclaim their legitimate, national rights”.

Jamil Mazhar, a member of the PFLP politburo, stressed the need for united efforts and energies to escape the bottleneck caused by Palestinian division. Mazhar said that the division has left Palestinians and youth despairing, frustrated and without hope, which has led them to flee this reality for the unknown, whether emigration by sea, a turn to crime, or thoughts of suicide to escape a miserable life caused by those that sow division.

He called for a revolution against those who put up obstacles to unity and the repudiation of the machinery of repeated reconciliation agreements.

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