Published by Ceasefire Magazine. Protected by copyright, republished with permission.
Generally speaking, the inter-Palestinian “reconciliation talks” have become the new “peace process” – all process, no peace. But since the ongoing Egyptian revolution successfully dispatched ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, there seems to have been a substantive shift. Egyptian revolutionaries also managed to sideline former military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman (remember him?) under whose auspices Hamas-Fateh talks previously took place, and whose strategy seemed to be to deliberately alienate Hamas. Indeed, negotiations were constantly sabotaged and, Considering the fact that Suleiman has been extremely close to US and Israeli spooks, this is no surprise (see various Wikileaks cables, including 08TELAVIV1984which sums it up nicely: “there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman”).
But with Suleiman out of the way things have changed. Hamas-Fatah negotiations in Egypt seem to have picked up pace. Reports surfaced from Cairo Thursday that a deal had been struck between Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas could join the Palestine Liberation Organisation for the first time. There was also talk of elections in the West Bank and Gaza (presumably to the Palestinian Authority’s legislative body), with a promise to form a unity government by the end of January.
Why is this so significant? Well, for a start, Hamas has never been a member of the PLO, the umbrella body of the Palestinian national movement. Moreover, PA legislative council member Mustafa Barghouti was quoted by Ma’an news agency as confirming that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and his more secular Palestinian National Initiative faction had accepted “interim” PLO leadership positions.
Of course, there are many good reasons to be sceptical, to which I will be returning presently. But I’m in a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of mood, so first the good news. There is no doubt that the rift between Hamas and Fatah has caused great damage to the Palestinian national movement and to the Palestinian people in general. Factional clashes have claimed the lives of far too many Palestinians. If the factions can at least come to a sustainable entente, this could be mitigated. There are enough Palestinian prisoners in the dungeons of the Israeli enemy without the mutual political prisoners held by both the PA and Hamas. The rifts between Hamas and Fatah were deliberately engineered and widened by American empire, aided by its European and regional allies.
Despite that, far more fundamental problems remain. Palestinians require far more than an entente between their supposed political and military leaders. The Palestinian liberation movement requires a unified strategy that will embrace all the diverse strand of resistance, rejecting the false dichotomy between armed resistance and peaceful popular resistance. No doubt influenced by the wave of revolution in the Arab world this year, at the end of November Hamas signalled that it would now focus on popular resistance, while still retaining the right to legitimate armed resistance. This is precisely the stance of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. A more inclusive PLO could help trigger a paradigm shift to more unified strategy against Israeli occupation and apartheid.
But we come back to those reasons for scepticism. Firstly, the idea that Hamas should join the PLO is not new. The Islamic Resistance Movement has shown willingness to join since at least 2005. This talk of “reconstructing” the PLO has also been ongoing for a long time – on and off since the PLO was sidelined by the formation of the PA in the early nineties. Secondly, both Fateh and Hamas are making these moves under popular duress.
Furthermore, direct comparisons with 2011’s popular Arab revolutions against dictatorial regimes are not possible, since there is no Palestinian state. Nevertheless, both Fatah and Hamas suffer from a democratic deficit. Hamas was the legitimately elected political majority to the PA’s parliament, but its term has expired. More fundamentally, many of its MPs were kidnapped by Israel, giving Hamas little incentive to continue its embrace of parliamentary politics, as Western governments claim to be seeking (in reality, they just want subservience). Although originally elected PA president, Abbas’s term expired in 2009. He has said he won’t run again for president, but who needs to run for president when no elections are allowed?
Thirdly, and more fundamentally, there is the issue of “security cooperation”. Under this malign, American-engineered pact, the armed militias of Mahmoud Abbas imprison and torture Israel’s political and military opponents, even clamping down on popular demonstrations. All the while, Abbas makes empty noises of support for popular resistance. But where are his actions? What is to stop him leading a peaceful demonstration of thousands against the Qalandia checkpoint, for example? After all, he’s had no problem “rallying” Fatah supporters for stupid political-sectarian agitation or attacking Al Jazeera offices (remember his childish response to the Palestine Papers?)
There is nothing else for it. For the PLO to genuinely earn back the mantle of the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” two things must happen. Firstly, the Palestinian National Council, moribund for 15 years, must hold immediate elections open to the entire Palestinian population. Second, the PA must be dismantled. It was meant to be temporary anyway. Almost 20 years later, it is clear to everyone that it is a failed experiment. Scratch that – it has been extremely successful in achieving its real goal: co-opting the Palestinian political leadership into running Israel’s occupation by proxy.
Frankly, I am still very sceptical about this latest reported stage of the unity deal. But there is nonetheless a ray of light in all this. The Guardian reported Thursday that “Washington has indicated it will cut millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian security infrastructure if the current leadership unifies with Hamas”. Given the track-record of the malign influence of American money, this can only be good thing. We live in hope.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.