Monday’s announcement, in Doha, of a unity agreement between the two major Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas, has been greeted with scepticism from Palestinian youth activists.
Through what is being termed the Doha Declaration, Mahmoud Abbas will assume the role of prime minister of a newly appointed government of “independent technocrats” to prepare for upcoming elections.
Brokered by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa the deal also includes agreements on the release of political prisoners, reform and elections within the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (the body recognised internationally as representing the Palestinian people), and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip.
Following the announcement, Hamas leader Khalid Meshal said: “We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing wounds and ending this chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation.”PLO
It is understood that a date for Palestinian Authority (the body administering Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, as agreed within the Oslo Accords) elections will be agreed upon at a meeting of all Palestinian political parties, to be held in Cairo on February 18.
Elections have not been held in the Palestinian territories since January 2006, when Hamas’ victory resulted in civil war. At the cessation of hostilities the Western-backed Fatah remained in control of the West Bank while the religious-nationalist liberation organisation of Hamas achieved dominance in the Gaza Strip — with each party establishing rival governments.
“Anything that promotes unity is welcome but this is basically similar to the agreement of last year,” explains Asheera Husari, referring an agreement reached between both parties, in April last year, to form a unity government, following talks in Cairo.
The sense of deja vu is hard to avoid given the last time Fatah and Hamas promised “unity” they also undertook to hold long-overdue Palestinian Authority elections within one year. These elections have still not taken place and the lack of a specified date for fresh polls under the Doha Declaration does not engender confidence that the parties will hold themselves to account to voters.
Husari, who was involved in the March 15 movement of young Palestinians who protested for greater Palestinian unity following the Arab Spring, feels the two major political parties are too comfortable with the status quo. “It is a problem because Fatah and Hamas are agreeing on how to administer the division rather than on how to end the division,” she said. “They are trying to lull people into believing that something will happen.”
The cynicism of Palestinian voters and the growing unpopularity of both parties is a key reason elections have not been held, according to Husari. “Their power is diminishing because people are tired of the polarisation,” she stated. “I think the current situation serves both parties as Fatah is losing popularity due to the corruption occurring in the West Bank and their loss of credibility following their failure to negotiate with Israel. While, Hamas are becoming increasingly disliked in Gaza due to the restrictions they are placing on the population there.”
Husari also expressed concern at the failure of the Palestinian political leadership to act as representatives for all Palestinians, including those living within Israel, as refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and the Palestinian diaspora spread across the world.
In recent months the leaders of Fatah and Hamas have undertaken grandstanding political manoeuvres designed to boost their domestic and international credibility, with Abbas’ bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood through the United Nations Security Council and Hamas negotiating the release of 1026 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in return for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The latest unity announcement was greeted with predictable chastisement from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “If Abbas implements what has been signed today in Doha then he has chosen to renounce the path of peace and embrace Hamas,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office read.
Netanyahu has repeatedly stated a refusal to negotiate with any Palestinian body legitimising the existence of Hamas and would view any unity government as antagonistic towards what the international community refers to as the “peace process”.
Following the continued failure of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a negotiated settlement to the conflict, due to Mahmoud Abbas’ insistence that talks can only resume once all settlement construction within the West Bank and East Jerusalem has ceased and Israel’s condition that talks must resume without pre-conditions, it seems the Palestinians have decided to focus on their domestic political concerns in the hope of delivering more tangible results.
*Nigel O’Connor (@nigel_oconnor) is an independent journalist based in occupied Palestinian West Bank