Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal (front) prays with senior leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Gaza City, Dec. 9, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Every now and then, Fatah and Hamas launch new efforts to reactivate Palestinian reconciliation
. Although Qatar and Saudi Arabia take turns sponsoring Palestinian talks, Egypt remains the official patron in this regard.
However, reconciliation efforts today differ from previous ones. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi seeks to highlight his presence in this issue, especially after having helped to implement a ceasefire following the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to soften Hamas’s position to win favor with Washington. It appears that the Brotherhood has thus far succeeded in its quest.
The gap between Fatah and Hamas, the most prominent movement in the Palestinian arena, seems to have narrowed and become almost undetectible. But they still have a long way to go before achieving reconciliation.
Both movements remain obstinate
and refuse to make the slightest concession on their respective authority, whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian crises seem to drag on, and the Palestinian Authority has been gripped by severe political and financial deadlock. This has pushed Palestinians to accept a project that would draw the Palestinian cause to a close. Such a project could be along the lines of a confederation between the West Bank and Jordan
, or a state for Hamas in Gaza that would be affiliated with Egypt.
, a member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), explained the details of the situation in an interview to As-Safir
on the sidelines of a brief visit to Lebanon.
A long-term reconciliation
According to Mhanna, three facts ought not to be overlooked in achieving long-term reconciliation. First, ending division is an urgent national need. “Unity is essential for the resistance, as well as for those who wish to negotiate,” he says. Second, even if Hamas and Fatah were the original reasons for the division, they can’t put an end to the division on their own. This was apparent in the aftermath of the conferences in Mecca and Doha, and even after the Cairo Agreement in 2011. Third, reconciliation can be achieved through “public pressure on both sides,” according to Mhanna.
Nevertheless, the gap between the two groups seems to have greatly narrowed. It is true that Mahmoud Abbas has been espousing the wrong policy since the Oslo Agreement, but Hamas has also taken different steps in the context of the conflict with Israel. This is not something new to the Islamic movement, Mhanna said. “Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the movement, had previously declared that he supported a 30-year truce project, without recognizing Israel.
Hamas also signed the National Accord Charter, which recognized the state project.”
These facts have since proven true. Today, with the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, Hamas’s policy seems to be increasingly converging with Abbas’ policy, since the “brothers seek to become closer to the Americans” at the expense of the Palestinian cause.
In this context, Mhanna said that “the ceasefire agreement during the aggression on Gaza is further proof of this. The ceasefire has been sponsored by the US. Most importantly, the agreement provided for the cessation of hostilities on the part of Gaza.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood does not have any national project designed to liberate Palestine. It only seeks the establishment of an Islamic state,” Mhanna added. As a result, Egypt will work on taming Hamas to satisfy Washington and to make the Muslim Brotherhood accepted by regional and international regimes.
Despite the roles played by other Arab countries, Egypt has the upper hand in the Palestinian cause.
According to Mhanna, “one of the main goals of the regional axis — consisting of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt — is to drive Hamas out of the resistance axis and push it toward Sunni groups, which are more in line with US positions.”
Regarding the ambitions of the group’s political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, who some see as the moderate figure in the group compared to Hamas leadership in Gaza, Mhanna said that “while Mashaal is content with the authority in Gaza, he has his eye on the PLO, as he believes it is an important entity that would benefit any political force.”
Mhanna added that “the Oslo agreement sought to flatten the PLO, and has indeed succeeded in this quest, making it appear as if it was affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, while the exact opposite is true. Thus, when Hamas is introduced to the region, it will lose more ground, especially when the people find out that the Palestinian project no longer exists.”
Mhanna said, “Hamas remains obstinate when it comes to reconciliation, and Abbas gives it more reasons for this, especially when he insists on holding elections.”
The leader of the Popular Front believes that Hamas’s refusal stems from fear of the results, in addition to the commercial interests of its leaders. They do not want to give up any authority in Gaza without getting anything in return in the West Bank “while the project of Abbas is not strong enough, even at the diplomatic level.” Based on that, Mehanna concludes that “the two movements will sit together only to share the cake, not to develop a national project”.
The dangers of confederation
The Palestinian Authority has been weak since it originated. “It was originally designed with its entire details to be a subsidiary to Israel. This was followed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s policy against the poor, and Abbas’ negligent policy,” Mehanna said.
However, he stresses that Israel — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular — is not prepared for a peaceful project based on a two-state solution, especially since Israel tends to become more radical after legislative elections, such as those scheduled for Jan. 22. Thus the Palestinian crisis would grow greater and the Palestinian Authority would correspondingly grow weaker — especially since the occupation authority has withheld tax revenues and US aid, and Arab countries, with the exception of Algeria, failed to fulfill their promises of providing around $30 million.
Thus, Mehanna fears that Palestinians would be dragged into accepting a project eradicating the cause. He explains that “before the Oslo agreement, the Palestinians faced a severe economic crisis forcing them to accept the agreement.” He added: “It is feared nowadays that the financial crisis represents a new way to impose a project on Palestinians, namely the possibility of forming a confederation between the West Bank and Jordan, and to annex Gaza to Egypt. War in Gaza could also be a way to impose this sort of project.”
The popular front is always present
Although Fatah and Hamas control the Palestinian political scene, “the Popular Front
— despite its political and military decline — remains present in the heart of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza,” Mhanna says. This is particularly true since its leaders have not contaminated themselves with politics and are known for their integrity.
Mhanna enumerates some indicators confirming that “the largest leftist movement in the Arab world” imposed itself on the Palestinian scene. During the 2006 legislative elections, it won 5% of the seats, and came in third after Fatah and Hamas. The student and union elections gave them about 15%. Recently, the Front refused to ally with Fatah or Hamas in the West Bank local elections, and won 21% democratically.
Unlike other movements, the Popular Front does not show off its achievements, and secrecy still characterizes its activity, according to Mhanna. He notes that in the recent period, the occupation forces arrested three cells of the Front that were planning to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The actions of the Front always represent initiatives, not reactions.
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