Recently, and not for the first time, there is talk of an inner Palestinian reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) and Hamas.
In late November a meeting was held in Cairo between Abu Mazen, the Palestinian President, and Khaled Masha’l, the Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas. Following the meeting both leaders formally declared that all of the problems and disagreements between the sides were resolved. It was reported that both leaders agreed to release each other’s imprisoned activists. Masha’l even promised the Palestinian President that Hamas was willing to adopt the concept of “civilian resistance” and to pause, temporarily, its concept of “violent resistance.” In addition, Masha’l committed that Hamas would prevent other Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip from “providing Israel an excuse to retaliate” – meaning he would prevent the shooting of rockets from inside the Gaza Strip onto Israeli cities.
Yet, in this region – as happens quite often – words and agreements are one thing and reality is another.
The day after the meeting, rockets were shot from the Gaza Strip into Israel. A few days later, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas arrested more of each other’s political activists. Both sides quickly went back to tough rhetoric and blaming and condemning one other.
So, it is no wonder that many Arab analysts and columnists express a great deal of skepticism regarding the odds for a real inner Palestinian reconciliation. In fact, their message is quite clear – it is all one big show.
Please follow these links to see a sample of what has been written in the Arab press regarding the reconciliation:
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority neither want nor can, reconcile. The inner Palestinian rift is deep and unbridgeable.
The biggest nightmare of the Palestinians in Ramallah, the center of the Palestinian Authority, is to find themselves under a Gaza-Style Hamas rule – Gazastan as some people call it. The biggest nightmare of Hamas is to lose its kingdom in the Gaza Strip; after all it provides Hamas with nice political and material benefits (I am currently working on an article that expands on this issue).
The Palestinian Authority, at least on the declarative and diplomatic level, expresses pragmatism and a willingness to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. Hamas has made it very clear – they will never recognize Israel’s right to exist and they are committed to continue the violence until Israel is destroyed.
As recently as December 13th in a speech celebrating Hamas’ 24th anniversary, Ismail Haniya, the Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, said that Hamas will continue the armed struggle against Israel and will never recognize Israel’s right to exist. He also urged Arab states to form an army to “liberate Palestine from the sea to the river” – to wipe away the state of Israel. As part of the celebrations, Hamas also proudly and formally declared its responsibility for the killing of more than 1,300 Israelis (most of whom were civilians) and the injuring of thousands.
There is only one common denominator between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Both are under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. The talks about reconciliation are no more than a tactical move, a publicity stunt if you will, by both sides aimed to help them to score some points with the Palestinian public.
Some people want to believe that a true Palestinian inner reconciliation is feasible and possible and that it will lead to a peace agreement with Israel. Unfortunately that is a wishful thinking.
As of today, the Palestinian inner rift is unbridgeable since the two major Palestinian political entities – the Palestinian Authority on the one hand, and Hamas on the other hand, stand for totally different and opposite beliefs regarding the two major aspects of a future Palestinian State: the political, cultural and social identity of such a state and its policy and attitude towards Israel.
A true positive breakthrough towards a real and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement can only take place after the Palestinians go through a real inner process of redefining their consensus on those issues.
A real and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace is predicated upon the building of a new consensus among the Palestinian people that reflects the understanding that the only way to reach real peace and to achieve a two-state solution is through negotiations – which inevitably require concessions and compromises.
The bad news is that Palestinians are not there yet. The good news is that the Palestinians – similar to their brothers in the Arab world – are now starting a process of rebuilding their national consensus as an outcome of the current events in the Arab world (named by some as “The Arab Spring”).
That process of rebuilding consensus will hopefully result in the potential for a real and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. However, it should be clear that it is a challenging, long and painful process, and no one can guarantee its outcome.
An authentic, lasting and stable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is not a feasible option today.
Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of moderate and pragmatic factors, on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, to initiate and carry out limited, implementable and measurable steps, agreements and understandings that will gradually lead towards the building of a mutual trust between the parties and that will provide a solid infrastructure upon which both sides will be able to build a real and lasting peace.
The realistic time frame for such a process is years.