Fatah, Hamas seek to consecrate co-habitation through elections

There are signs the two sides have accepted the elections and resumed the reconciliation process, yielding to advice and pressure from outside parties.
Monday 04/01/2021
An employee inspects the main hall of the defunct Palestinian Parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 17, 2019. (AFP)
An employee inspects the main hall of the defunct Palestinian Parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 17, 2019. (AFP)

GAZA – Informed sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that the Fatah and Hamas movements intend to formalise their cohabitation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through elections, a step each side agreed to in order to manage changing regional and international developments that no longer tolerate the Palestinians' current state of division.

The sources pointed out that the two movements have gathered what looks like guarantees from opposite poles in the region, namely Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, in addition to powerful international sponsor Russia, suggesting that the forces accused of sponsoring the division are themselves now seeking to bring Fatah and Hamas closer.

Leaders of the two movements have exchanged positive messages over the past two days, and Hamas publicly agreed to hold elections in succession -- first with Legislative Council elections, followed with an election to decide the head of the Palestinian Authority and finally with National Council elections.

In a letter addressed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’s political bureau, said that the movement’s approval “is conditional on holding the elections in succession and coherence within six months from the date of issuance of the presidential decree that determines the dates for the elections.”

Hamas previously stipulated that the three rounds of elections be held simultaneously, which obstructed Palestinian reconciliation talks and deepened the division. It subsequently changed its stance and accepted Fatah’s proposal, whose details were outlined in Haniyeh's message.

What was remarkable in Haniyeh’s letter was that he thanked four parties which had almost incompatible positions on the Palestinian issue and its recent developments, namely Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Russia. The head of Hamas's political bureau considered that they had “provided guarantees for the completion of the agreement and the completion of this process.”

Abbas thanked the same four countries in addition to Jordan, saying that they “contributed by their good efforts to bridging the gap between the points of view,” a sign that the two sides had forged an agreement on elections and resumed the reconciliation process, yielding to advice and pressure from outside parties.

Palestinian sources confirmed to The Arab Weekly that the reason the four or five countries were acknowledged was to show support for elections, not necessarily to indicate an intention to work and coordinate directly together.

The sources noted that these countries moved unilaterally to encourage Hamas to accept reconciliation with Fatah, and the two movements wanted to “placate these countries with which Hamas and Fatah maintain good relations and receive from them various types of moral and political support.”

The two movements’ strategy is to try and gain some regional and international cover in order to convince the world of the seriousness of the new steps that will soon be taken soon, which will no loner tolerate evasion or procrastination, thus placing each movement face-to-face with its political responsibility.

Over the past few days, Fatah and Hamas delegations have visited the countries mentioned, and each side was advised by these countries' officials of the need to hold elections to provide political legitimacy to Palestinian leaders who are now ruling without a clear popular mandate, as the terms set by previous legislative and presidential elections have expired.

Marwan Kanafani, political adviser to the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said that the legal struggle between the two Palestinian factions is no longer just local, as all eyes are now directed at the US White House and on how the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will deal with the Palestinian issue. The dilemma, according to Kanafani, is that the Palestinian Authority's leadership “is currently without any electoral legitimacy, and it is necessary to renew this legitimacy.”

The Arab Weekly learned that regional and international circles impressed on the two movements that Biden’s Democratic administration will most likely hesitate to deal with unelected and undemocratic Palestinian counterparts, which could block any chance for negotiations to resume.

Ever since Biden’s victory in the US presidential elections, the Palestinian Authority has begun to soften its political positions, in an attempt to regain control of the Palestinian settlement process that was disrupted under Trump and his "Deal of the Century," followed by his drive to normalise ties between Israel and Arab countries, thus creating a dilemma for Abu Mazen.

Palestinians take part in a protest calling on Hamas and Fatah factions to conclude reconciliation, in Gaza city December 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Palestinians take part in a protest calling on Hamas and Fatah factions to conclude reconciliation, in Gaza City, December 3, 2017. (Reuters)

Kanafani told The Arab Weekly, that the way the elections were agreed upon is not reassuring, because they will reproduce the current situation, or more precisely, formalise it by backing it with electoral legitimacy, in the hope that such a move will meet the expectations of the Biden administration and those parties that believed that the issue of renewing legitimacy was unavoidable.

Kanafani questioned the feasibility of this step, saying, “As long as there is no neutral government that supervises the elections and provides adequate guarantees of impartiality, integrity and transparency, the result is that Fatah will continue to maintain its influence in the West Bank and Hamas its dominance in the Gaza Strip, with the exception of a limited number of seats here and there that may escape them just for show.”

Abbas welcomed the contents of Haniyeh’s message on ending the division, building partnership and achieving national unity through democratic elections with full proportional representation, and holding the legislative, presidential and National Council elections in that order.

Abu Mazen’s acquiescence suggests that he is comfortable with the new formula, as it provides him with a guarantee of his continued presence at the head of power, and gives him legitimacy greater than the legitimacy of a fait accompli or necessity, which ends the quandary that has always pushed him to hesitate in holding elections.

On Sunday, Taher al-Nono, Haniyeh’s media adviser, said that Abbas emphasised in his response to Haniyeh that he would work to provide the appropriate environment and a positive atmosphere to continue implementing all understandings, including the outcomes of the meeting of the two movements’ secretary-generals and of the Istanbul understandings.

Nono indicated that Haniyeh gave his directives to complete the dialogue through the approved channel, represented by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, to communicate with Fatah and all Palestinian factions in order to implement the national understandings and embody Palestinian unity.

Palestinian circles fear that Fatah and Hamas’s moves on the elections will end up depriving the latter of their true content and significance of representing the true wishes of the people. They pointed out that what the people are really looking forward to is a renewal in the Palestinian political body in line with the nature of the challenges, and do not want temporary reconciliation that can fall apart at the first sign of public disagreement between the two movements.

Other circles warned against the game of division of roles that Fatah and Hamas might decide to play, as it could easily derail the whole process in the event of an emergency, such as the absence of Abu Mazen, or military clashes between Hamas and Israel that could lead to a full-blown military confrontation and the failure of the expected reconciliation.