Palestinian reconciliation remains elusive after talks
Gaza City - After two days of reconciliation talks, Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas remained as distant as ever, maintaining a rift that has weakened the Palestinian negotiating position with Israel.
The early February talks, conducted behind closed doors in Doha, culminated in a brief statement that merely repeated previous demands. The statement, dubbed a “working paper”, said one of the main demands was to form a national unity government to replace a consensus government in place since June 2014.
Other demands included having presidential and legislative elections and convening the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, which has been dormant for more than 20 years, to vote on incorporating Hamas into the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the umbrella group representing all Palestinian factions.
The working paper was vague and failed to provide specifics, another indication that differences persist.
Jamil Mezher, a Gaza-based leader of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the working paper “is identical to the ones both sides reached before”.
“When they get to the details and the core issues, they get stuck and their working paper ends up being a failure,” Mezher said.
He offered an alternative: “Both must put all the outstanding issues on the table and have all factions attend to weigh in and proceed towards a tangible agreement.”
The Fatah-Hamas stalemate could increase tensions in the West Bank where young Palestinians, frustrated with Israel’s occupation, closures of the West Bank and a lack of job opportunities, violently protested following rumours that Israel sought to take over a sacred Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Jewish settlements are also being beefed up in the West Bank, with Israel taking advantage of a stalemate in peace talks. Israel, which regards Hamas a terrorist organisation, is assured of a weak Palestinian peace partner unable to even maintain a united front.
In Gaza, the absence of an agreement with the PA is likely to maintain an Israeli siege in place since 2007, which has isolated the Mediterranean enclave.
Political analyst Rajab Abu Serreya, in a telephone interview from the West Bank city of Ramallah, said both Hamas and Fatah “are going through difficult times”.
“While the PA failed to achieve its goal of Palestinian statehood through negotiations with Israel and now faces the threat of being dissolved, Hamas is under blockade and this is increasing the humanitarian crisis of the people in Gaza,” Abu Serreya said.
“The internal Palestinian front is also weak because the political partnership between them is obstructed.”
Gaza-based Hani al-Masri, head of the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, said general elections were “unrealistic at this point, in view of the current divisions”.
Masri said the success of Palestinian dialogue “should be based on a comprehensive package and a new vision”.
“The most appropriate is a road map for a solution, not to sign agreements,” Masri said. He said first a powerful unity government must be formed, followed by agreement on the cabinet’s political programme, strategies and priorities.
Once these conditions are established, he added, “further steps can follow according to set timetables, then an agreement could be signed”.
Fatah controls the PA, which rules in the West Bank, while Hamas wields power in the Gaza Strip. The two have been at loggerheads since Hamas won elections in the PA in 2006 and then violently took control of Gaza in 2007, driving the PA out.
Several Fatah-Hamas meetings have been held over the years and three agreements have been signed but none has led to change on the ground.
A Fatah official, who attended the Qatar meetings, said the gathering was “not a complete failure” as both sides inched closer towards agreement on the Rafah border post, which links Gaza to Egypt.
“Hamas agreed in principle to hand over the outpost’s administration to the PA’s presidential guards, while the current Hamas employees would retain their jobs at the border post,” the official added.
A Hamas official reached by telephone in Qatar concurred. He said the matter will be debated in a meeting soon in Gaza.