Palestinian Reconciliation: Not a dream, but the bottom line

by Julie Webb-Pullman

From left - Yasser Khalaf, Al Ahrar; Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas; Khader Habib, Islamic Jihad; Dr Salah Abdul Al Ati, MASARAT; Facilitator, Management & Politics Academy

From left – Yasser Khalaf, Al Ahrar; Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas; Khader Habib, Islamic Jihad; Dr Salah Abdul Al Ati, MASARAT; Facilitator, Management & Politics Academy Photo: Julie Webb-Pullman

That is the view expressed by Dr Salah Abdul Al Ati, Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies (MASARAT), at a seminar held in Gaza City Monday afternoon to discuss the proposal for national unity his organization circulated to all factions and interested parties for comment in February 2016.

Attended by representatives from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Ahrar and a diverse audience, the seminar saw a spirited exchange of opinions and ideas, giving lie to the supposed repression of free speech in Gaza.

Abbas, Hamas, Oslo, Hamdallah and politicians in general all came in for criticism – along with the Palestinian people themselves.

“The division did not come from another planet,” said Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib, “but as a result of our own mistakes as Palestinians. There is no longer a concrete national project that we all agree on – THIS is what we really need.”

And this is what MASARAT has thrown into the ring to achieve it – a proposal that includes the following:

1. To agree that Israel is an enemy, and not a ‘partner for peace’;

2. Any agreement between the factions must include a full political programme that involves the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) being reconstituted in a democratic way;

3. All factions must disengage from regional agendas in accordance with what is best for Palestine as a whole;

4. The right to the armed defence of Palestine must remain; and

5. Outstanding files such as Gaza government employees, the Rafah border, the corruption file and the electricity file should be solved by agreement between all of the Palestinian factions.

Despite differences of opinion over the past, there was a surprising unity in their visions for the future, and the rough ideas of how to get there, as outlined in the draft proposal – as well as consensus on the fate of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas considers the MASARAT proposal one of the best put forward so far to solve the division, with a few reservations.

“Hamas wants to ensure that the overall dialogue is a national dialogue in which everyone participates – factions AND the people,” he said.

Dr Ati extended that sentiment to include Palestinians everywhere.

“At the end of March we will have received all the feedback from the factions and from others [academics and other interested parties] and will finalise the proposal, and release it to the public for everyone to consider,” he said, adding he hopes it will also be read and commented on by Palestinians all over the world.

Yasser Khalaf, spokesman of the Al Ahrar faction, expects that such a full dialogue will lead to an agreement that everyone accepts. “Partnership is essential in any decision,” he said.

The fate of the PA came down to two options: a fast exit, or a slow step-down. Both involve its demise – and a reconstituted PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian national project.

How to get there

A few voices from the floor said the factions have lost touch with the reality on the ground for ordinary Palestinians, although the proposal would seem to address these concerns.

“We do not want factions, we need one president with one government, and one resistance to protect all of us,” said one.

“The proposal is good, but it’s just an unrealistic dream,” said another.

So how make dreams become reality?

Abu Zuhri identified the need for political lobby groups in both the West Bank and Gaza to achieve reconciliation. “The legitimacy/illegitimacy arguments between Hamas and Fatah are not what we should be concerned about –reconciliation is what we should be concerned about.”

Khader Habib proposed a temporary leadership framework comprised of highly-respected people from every faction, and public figures from the community – an interesting departure from the ill-fated construct of a unity government of technocrats following the 2014 agreement.

“There should be principles governing ending the division,” he said. “So far, the previous agreement has solved nothing. Practically speaking, every leader in the West Bank and Gaza has been trying in a dictatorial way to impose what they want.”

“We want a full political programme involving everyone,” stressed Dr Ati, noting that in every faction there is a group benefitting from their faction so they want the situation to continue. “There is no other choice but unity – everyone must make sacrifices.”

As Khader Habib said, reconciliation has two conditions: true will, and that the necessary effort is made.

Although the Fatah chair remained empty, the overwhelming majority of those present expressed the desire and commitment to move forward, which, along with the draft proposal, show the will is there.

Will the final proposal result in a dream, a transformation of the current reality, or the nightmare of ongoing division?

Only Palestinians can determine this….