Palestinian reconciliation and the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Last Wednesday Fatah and Hamas announced a national unity deal to end seven years of division (actually, twenty-five years, since Hamas’s founding) between the largest Palestinian parties. In terms of the agreement, a unity government will formed within five weeks, and presidential and parliamentary elections will take place within six months. The Israeli government responded by ‘withdrawing’ from peace talks, ending the nine-month Kerry initiative. Palestinians responded cautiously; after all, this is not the first such agreement. It follows unfulfilled agreements from 2012 (in Cairo and Doha), 2011 (in Cairo), 2007 (in Makkah), and, before that, 2005. A few commentators decried the current deal as ‘stillborn’, but there is hope, even if minimal, that it might yield positive results.

First, both groups are experiencing serious crises, and desperately need the deal to be implemented. For Hamas, the overthrow of Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, the loss of its base in Syria, a reduction of Iranian support, Saudi-led suspicion of everything related to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the closure of tunnels from Egypt, have all intensified the siege on Gaza and hemmed in the Islamist group politically, militarily and geographically. Fatah’s policy of negotiations, in exclusion to any other strategy, led to another dead-end, and more losses of land and political capital. With Mahmoud Abbas’s popularity dwindling, signing this deal allows him to claim legitimacy as the Palestinian national leader – even if his term as Palestinian Authority president ended in 2010. Both parties had viewed previous agreements as compromises and a loss of power; now, both stand to gain from implementation of the agreement.

Second, the agreement, on the Hamas side, was driven by the Gaza-based leaders of Hamas – as opposed to its exiled leadership, which is more important in terms of governance and which directly suffers the siege.

Third, this process was initiated and run by the Palestinian parties without any role for external mediators such as Egypt and Qatar. Fourth, Fatah regards the timing as advantageous because of Hamas’s current weakness. At this stage, if Hamas were to be allowed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fatah believes it can still maintain its dominance, which was not the case until the middle of 2013.

While the US administration maintained the standard Israeli line, and rejected the deal as ‘complicating’ negotiation efforts, journalists’ questionsto US State Department spokesperson indicated a general scepticism of that position. Significantly, the European Union applauded the agreement, calling it an ‘important element for the unity of a future Palestinian state and reaching a two-state solution’.

The Palestinian desire for unity and the legitimacy that might accrue from the deal and from new elections, bolstered by an EU position that is contrary to the US-Israeli one, should indicate to Palestinians that a unity government must rethink the negotiations approach, recognise the failure of talks and US mediation, and chart a new Palestinian strategy moving forward. Any strategy that deviates from US mediation will force the PA or PLO to contend with financial strangulation from USA and Israel, and other challenges. But this also presents an opportunity; in achieving such independence from the USA and Israel, the unity government could enlist the support of other international players. Perhaps it is time that Abbas and the PLO seriously examine options which they have previously mentioned only as threats to Israel, such dissolution of the PA, and debating a one-state solution. With it again made clear that Israel uses negotiations only as a delaying tactic to continue its settlement project, and has no intention of allowing the establishment of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, and following a twenty-one year ‘peace process’, such options are existential possibilities, rather than radical ideas. Many Palestinians have been pondering alternate paths to self-determination and sovereignty; the new agreement might convince political parties to join that discussion.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 13:26

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